The young woman on stage is well-dressed, confident, and articulate. She commands attention with her careful words. And she has great hair. Really great hair. From my perspective, she clearly has her life together.
“How do you pivot when things get bad?” she asks the audience. “What would things be like a year from now if nothing changes? What do you do if your back is against the wall?”
I’m skeptical. Can she really teach me about pivoting my career, my life, in a more systematic way? Isn’t she too young? Am I too old? What can she possibly know? As a prior (and likely future) pivoter, I’m not convinced.
But then she says, “I had the perfect dream job. The one that looked perfect on paper. And I was burnt out. I spent every day agonizing about what to do next.”
I’m intrigued. The imperfect perfect woman is Jenny Blake—career coach, business strategist, speaker, and author of Pivot: the only move that matters is your next one. And that perfect job? Google.
Unlike a lot of career coaches, Blake doesn’t encourage big movements, instead taking a more pragmatic and strategic approach. She positions pivoting—a methodical shift in a new, related direction—as a mindset, as a skillset that can be improved. “No matter your age, life stage, bank account balance, or career level,” she says, “you can learn how to pivot strategically into your next opportunity or grow within your current role.”
“No matter your age, life stage, bank account balance, or career level, you can learn how to pivot strategically into your next opportunity or grow within your current role.” - Jenny Blake
Blake uses visual narratives to explain the proper way to pivot. “You build a branch to where you are now, to where you want to go by leveraging what is already working.”
The “should have” jobs
Blake admits that she “should have” spent more time branching out in her first job at a Silicon Valley start-up. When she found herself at a career plateau, she “should have” had a conversation with her boss about new opportunities, but instead chose to pivot out of the company instead of pivot in.
And several years later, at that perfect-on-paper Google job, Blake again struggled with wanting more. This time though, she stayed in the role longer than she “should have,” listening to the masses that this was career mecca. “I had this stupid idea that you are only allowed two big crises in your life—a quarter-life and a mid-life. And I was just being a spoiled Millennial brat.”
Many of us find ourselves, at some point in our career, in a job that “should have” been something more. It should have been fulfilling, should have been life-changing, should have been filled with upward mobility. And often we exit—we pivot—out of these roles by force or desperation, without the proper strategy in place to prevent the “should have” from happening again.
That’s the crux of the Pivot Method—it’s not about the when or the why, but rather the how you pivot your career (and life) when you hit a plateau.
The Pivot Method
Pivots have varying degrees, says Blake, depending on where you are in the process. You are either in your comfort zone, your stagnation zone of no pivot, the panic zone of too fierce of a pivot, or in the optimal stretch zone. By better planning your pivot, you can motivate beyond comfort, keep yourself out of stagnation and panic, and spend copious productive time in the stretch zone.
Your plan should play out over four stages:
This is the branch—the map—of where are you now and where you want to end up one year from now. Don’t stretch your branch any further, or it will break. (The typical 3-5 year plan, says Blake becomes too out-of-date by the time you get there.)
Spend time on this section of the plan and don’t rush it. This is your meditation. If doubt and naysaying voices creep in, you are on the right track.
Questions to ask:
What are you currently enjoying most? What is working best? When are you most in the zone? What has you jumping out of bed?
What does success look like one year from now? How do you want to learn and grow one year from now? What does your ideal day look like?
What is the wild and crazy idea?
Here is where you bridge the gap between now and what’s next. This stage requires exploration and talking with other people. Here is where you are most likely to take feedback personally, so make sure you’re honest with yourself and don’t fall trap to “compare-and-despair.”
Questions to ask:
Now you get to take some risks—albeit small, low-impact risks. The pilot phase helps you gather feedback on your plan. The pilot is a cycle: plant, scan, and pilot, and plant, scan, and pilot for as long as you need.
Questions to ask:
Do you enjoy it? Can you become an expert at it? Can it expand?
By this point, your risks have been reduced and you should be almost to your goal, provided you’ve repeated and honed the first three steps. Now it’s time to pull the trigger, says Blake. “Build first, then your courage will follow.”
Bring out the glue stick
Right now I’m staring at my personal pivot plan. It’s not organized into four neat stages, rather it’s a jumbled mess of words and pictures glued onto a (once) bright pink piece of poster board. It’s my vision board.
Blake says that there will be one person, one moment, one conversation, or one question that causes the pivot. While my pivot began brewing after completing Marcus Buckingham’s “Loved It/Loathed It” exercise, it wasn’t until I sat on the floor with ten other executives clipping magazines and gluing down “scraps” that my pivot became real. And to my surprise, I saw a lot of things on my vision board that I wanted—that I already had—that were already working.
There will be one person, one moment, one conversation, or one question that causes the pivot.
“Your vision board should focus on how you want to feel,” says health coach Elizabeth Rider. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to include the material stuff, too. However, the more your board focuses on how you want to feel, the more it will come to life.”
It sounds trite, but the physical and intentional act of building a vision board motivated me to make conscientious and holistic steps toward the right things.
“The purpose of your vision board is to bring everything on it to life," explains Rider. "First, think about what your goals are in the following areas: relationships, career and finances, home, travel, personal growth (including spirituality, social life, education) and health. From your goals and aspirations, think about what you want on your vision board. You’ll be amazed at how things just start popping up all over the place once you set the intention for what you want and how you want to feel.”
You are never too old
It turns out, you are never too old to pivot, and you are never too old to create a new vision board.
“I personally like to have one central vision board that I look at every day in my home office, and I have a few small ones that I’ve made at retreats that I keep around too,” says Rider. “Each area of our lives affect each other, so starting with one central vision board usually makes sense.”
For years I carried around my vision board, rolled up in a cardboard tube, from house-to-house and state-to-state. A few months ago I pulled her out, smoothed her down, and had her professionally framed. She now hangs in my office, as a reminder of a pivot done right. And while I expect I’ll soon start thinking about a new vision board, for now, I’m happy in my comfort zone.
As Blake reminds us, we have more than one pivot inside us. We can cycle through the pivot method as many times as we need, as often as necessary. And no, we are never too old for a glue stick.