I had no idea I was kicking off a spiritual adventure when I quit my job to travel abroad in 2018. I’m grateful for the lessons learned — and I have lots. Here are 10 ways to navigate and thrive if you’re questioning your career or life direction, sensing that something is missing, or have other tell-tale signs of a career, existential, spiritual, or identity crisis — or if you’re experiencing multiple at once.
1. Know that feeling lost, confused, or down is a normal and necessary part of the process.
This is where people often start, even if these feelings are accompanied by a sense of excitement and a renewed sense of possibilities and freedom. Old beliefs, identities, and behavioral patterns are starting to break down. It can feel disorienting and crazy scary as you think about your options. There can also be a sense of loss and regret as you come to recognize the error of past ways as well as missed opportunities.
2. Take self-care seriously.
Self-care is as much about meeting your needs in the moment as basic routines. And the fact is, you may be unclear on what you need as you enter into a transformative change process. You will need more than you would if you were holding steady. My blanket recommendation is to give yourself plenty of quiet time as well as cultivating supportive relationships (see #8). Experiment with new structures, routines, and practices to empower and nourish yourself. Notice the impact so you can build on what’s working, make adjustments, and iterate.
3. Be willing to let go, but don’t let everything go.
Letting go of things in your past that don’t serve or no longer interest you is critical to start creating the things that do. As long as you’re not avoiding pain points, ultimately it will empower you to appreciate past decisions, activities, and accomplishments for the strengths and positive qualities they reflect in you. Restorying and repurposing your career isn’t a requirement for change, nor should it feel obligatory, but in one way or another your past is always going to be a part of you. Give yourself credit and take advantage where it serves your path forward.
4. Capitalize on current assets to invest in yourself.
Existential and spiritual wayfinding can take time, and time is usually of the essence when it comes to career transitions — unless we’re willing to undergo big changes in lifestyle (hello, pandemic!) and/or financial assets. When I left my job I projected expenses and made sure I had liquid assets to cover 12 months with no income. And when I got back to the States I returned to consulting as an independent contractor for cashflow. You don’t have to be as cautious and calculated as I was, and I know people who took on debt and have done well for themselves. The main thing is that you’re taking care of your needs as you maximize new opportunity. If you’re open to it you will move forward in one way or another. It’s a matter of your desired path and experience.
5. Pay attention to inner guidance and intuition.
There’s often a tendency to seek out guides and mentors during major transitions, and these can be incredibly helpful. But in the end no one knows what’s best for you. Spiritual and existential crises require incredible self-trust, because no one will travel the same path you will. Also know that there is nothing really “logical” about them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not real, valuable, and ultimately resolvable. It takes practice to get good at using our guts as our minds can easily misinterpret them, but they’re there for a reason. Also know that emotions, reactions to our environment, and intuition are not the same thing, and that “signs” are possibilities and projections rather than something to take literally. Professionals trained to be supportive and objective, like coaches and therapists, can help you to sort out your signals.
6. Allow yourself to learn and grow.
Exploration with intention is a powerful catalyst for anything from run-of-the-mill career transitions to full blown spiritual awakenings. Setting limits on yourself will only delay (or completely block) your process. That said you don’t have to try everything if you’re being pulled in multiple directions. Consider sequencing your learnings, setting learning objectives, and/or picking your top 3 areas (e.g. career options or business offerings) to explore. Also know that not all of your interests are going to turn into income, and that’s OK. When I traveled abroad I gave myself total permission to do whatever I wanted, without regard for career or monetization, and even though I didn’t pursue any of those things as a career I’m a richer and more well rounded person for it — not to mention it helped me with #7. Be willing to pick up new tones and flavors.
7. Tune into your natural strengths, interests, and values.
This is a critical step for integrating your learnings into a career or business that feels aligned and fulfilling. Become a detective of what you do naturally well, what attracts and lights you up, and what you care about. Also know that just because you are complex doesn’t mean the solution has to be.
8. Deepen into trusted relationships and seek out new ones.
We learn about ourselves in relationship (often to our work and especially to other people). Having people who are unconditionally accepting as you transform and reinvent is a huge asset. And in many cases, the people who disapprove or seem skeptical at first aren’t “haters,” they just don’t understand or are fearful themselves. Find people who see the best in you before you do even. Establishing relationships with people outside of your social bubble, particularly if you look up to them or they are a few steps ahead of you on a similar path, is a great way to support yourself. Our relationships are hugely impactful, and it takes a village to raise a new you.
9. Embrace new beliefs, and avoid dogmatism.
I’ve come across extremism in various forms over the years, including during my travel year and even in the coaching profession. As you shed old beliefs you’ll generally take on new ones. Know that all beliefs are in the end just beliefs, so use what speaks to your heart and is in the moment, useful. Just don’t take it as gospel. Also while most people are positive or benign there are indeed wolves in sheep’s clothing out there. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, they just have unresolved issues that express themselves in ways that are more likely to harm others. We can all be wolves, in other words. As you explore new relationships make sure you’re clear on boundaries and agreements, for example if you’re hiring professional support.
10. Be kind to yourself.
Career, spiritual, and life crises feel like rollercoasters. You often won’t have a lot of clarity or skill in the domains, perspectives, and habits you’re growing into. Feeling awkward, unsure, and clumsy is part of the ride. Give yourself grace, keep a sense of humor, and appreciate your courage. Reinvention needs a lion’s and a child’s heart, and it is beautiful.