Many experienced alumni come to a point in their career when they say they are stuck or ‘at a crossroads’, having reached a critical decision-point in their careers. They often feel unsure and unclear. Despite having numerous qualifications and a healthy number of years of professional experience on their resume, this new period of uncertainty can hit hard. It takes some people back to how they felt during their undergraduate days of not knowing what is ahead. Making decisions about the future can be overwhelming. Often the outcome is outside any direct control, a difficulty for people who like to live their lives in a fairly structured way.

Living with uncertainty is unbalancing, especially if the circumstances involved significant change: relocation, family or health issues, redundancy or career transition. Sometimes, all of these life-changing transitions come at once.

As a career coach, there is a temptation to help people develop an action plan. The mechanics of career development are tangible action items: review the resume, update the LinkedIn profile and develop interview skills.

But sometimes, there is value in sitting in that mud puddle of uncertainty or indecision for a little while longer. Sit in it, bathe in it, let the mud wash over you, maybe put on your gumboots and jump and splash a few times. Because the mud puddle can be fun. Really. This doesn’t necessarily mean avoidance or denial.

Take this opportunity to explore. Look at what you know and think about what you don’t know. Don’t make hasty decisions based on very little data. In order to map out viable career options, you need to do some investigation. Be a spy. Gather information from a range of sources and spread your tentacles far and wide. Allow yourself to go off on tangents. Take the pressure off. Give yourself a few weeks. Stop submitting job applications that are not targeted, not thought through and are unlikely to yield a result. If you can, give yourself time to be wholly within the ‘explore’ stage. The mud-puddlers paradise!

Dream a little – what is it you actually want to do? Have your previous roles met your needs in terms of career interests, use of your skills and your values? How else have you always wanted to contribute? Think laterally about related roles that could be of interest. Design some smart questions and arrange coffee catch-ups. Ask your networks and branch out from there. Search job boards with your ‘blinkers off’ – look at where you might want to be in 3-5 years’ time rather than focussing on the immediate future.

Develop a list of organisations you would like to target. Articulate your strengths and skills and what you can offer to specific types of roles on your wish list. Talk to entrepreneurs. Keep an open mind about where your next opportunity will come from. Carry a notebook and record tips, ideas, contacts and options.

Now you can come out of the puddle, shake yourself off, review what you have discovered about yourself and talk to a career coach about your next steps.

Career Conversation is a column produced by Alumni Relations providing career development advice and insights. ​​