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Manage career transition by pivoting from your comfort zone

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

There’s an iconic scene in Friends where Ross enlists the help of Chandler and Rachel for a complicated task: carry his huge couch up the narrow stairwell of his apartment. At crucial junctures Ross exasperatedly and repeatedly shouts “PIVOT!!!”

It’s a ridiculous and hilarious scene that exaggerates an important lesson I’ve been thinking a lot about lately:  the art of making multiple pivots in order to achieve your goals, especially when there are circumstances out of your control.

Pivoting is not a new concept especially in the business world. But I don’t think we apply it enough to the way we approach our own personal growth. The thing about pivoting, is that it’s not only about the strategic act of turning, but the fact that it opens you up to multiple possibilities – much like how a pivot table in Excel allows for the processing of data in multiple ways. Personal pivoting is akin to an exercise in processing your life data towards different outcomes and imagining possible futures for your life and career. 

I think most of us have difficulty imagining that for ourselves. 

We grow up trying to achieve a singular vision for our life, without taking into account all the possibilities that result from future industries and skills. Instead, we are fed the mantra of ‘follow your passion’, which assumes that passion is a singular linear force instead of a multifaceted and dynamic energy. This is a dangerous myth, because it ignores the reality that life is messy and complicated with enough plot twists to star in its own telenovela. 

Maybe instead of asking kids ‘What do you want to be when you grow up’, we should ask them ‘What do you want to learn’. Often we end up getting too fixated on defining ourselves by the roles and long-held industry paradigms rather than how to apply the skills and knowledge learned to something new. Imagining new pathways for ourselves is both exciting and terribly frightening, because it’s uncertain territory – it’s probably the reason why most people tend to avoid it. Or why it’s a journey mostly entrepreneurs take. But we, the collective work force, simply can’t ignore it anymore. 

The post-COVID 19 world will feel a lot like that scene from Friends. 

I believe that we as people and brands, now more than ever, need to learn how to master the art of the pivot. I believe it’s the only way to survive and thrive in these uncertain times and get out on the other side without letting our anxiety overwhelm us in the process. The virus is going to kill a lot of traditional jobs and businesses and force everyone else to stop resting on their laurels and adapt. Adaptability has always been a key trait in HR blogs but now it’s a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. How do we even begin? Pivot from your comfort zone. 

“Pivot from your comfort zone.”

This is a mantra I coined for my talk last year at the Spikes Asia Marketing Academy. My topic was ‘How to create a career out of chaos’, which now feels more apt than ever in this current COVID 19 climate. It was inspired by my own unconventional career path, which has included a lot of changing lanes, lateral moves and jumping into the unknown.

One technique I use to manage uncertainty and the anxiety that it comes with, is to use my comfort zone as a psychological handrail. Sure, it sounds counter-intuitive, but I see a comfort zone as a source of inner strength. It’s that one element of certainty – a past skill, experience, attitude – that we can lean on to reassure ourselves that we’re not totally blind-sided by new circumstances. It’s a way of slowly re-calibrating ourselves to a new reality, until one day we can confidently take our hand off the rail. 

Another aspect of pivoting from your comfort zone is understanding and then accepting (the harder part!) that a career is not a linear path heading to 1 destination. Rather, it’s a system of interconnected pathways designed to help you explore the depth and breadth of who you are. And the handrails? It’s the connective tissue that allows you to flow from one area to the next with ease and confidence. 

A good friend of mine recently told me “I don’t think there’s such a thing as a perfect job.” I have to agree – because I believe there’s only such a thing as contextual jobs. A job or a career that’s ‘perfect’, if only for right now. One that marries your future potential with the opportunities of the present. 

As we navigate this new uncharted territory together, may we all practice how to pivot from our comfort zone. 

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