Are you eager for a career change or promotion? Are you bored of your work or fed-up with the stress, frustrations or blocks to your fulfilment? Or on the other hand, is it time for you to be recognized, to rise to a higher level of authority, and to broaden your scope in order to challenge your growth and development?

In our work with clients in these situations I have noticed two common thinking patterns that limit progress: Linear Thinking and Socialized Thinking. If your thinking is limited by these common traps, you are probably unconsciously limiting your own career development. 

Linear Thinking

Are you assuming that there is an ‘answer’ out there somewhere that will tell you the right strategy or the best steps to take in order to get your next role? As professionals trained in the fields of accounting, law, administration, engineering, banking or even sales and marketing, you have been trained to follow certain correct processes to reach your goals. Success in organizational life depends on following the standard rules and processes — to a point. When your next job change is not obvious — it is not a standard step from assistant manager to manager, or from expert to supervisor of experts — it means you’ve reached the end of the effectiveness of linear thinking and you will need to accept the uncertainty and unpredictability that is inevitable in a more complex system. 

Non-linear thinking means thinking outside the normal step-by-step approach. It means thinking in circles, diagonals, stripes or colours! When you dare to let go of Linear Thinking, it is a short step away to the second common thinking trap: Socialized Thinking. 

Socialized Thinking

What is the ideal career for you? Discovering and defining your ideal work is the first step to accomplish in your transition. The more your career goal can define what you authentically want, the faster you will be able to progress towards your true aspirations. But for many people, defining your ideal career is not an easy task, because you first need to free yourself from Socialized Thinking. 

Each society has defined which careers are deemed to be worthy and valuable depending on the beliefs and values of the society. For example, in the 60s and 70s in North America, careers in the medical, legal or engineering fields were highly valued because they tended to lead to high incomes and stable lifestyles that were the rewards of higher education. In the 80s and 90s, business careers became more in vogue as society valued high income more than professionalism. In current times, IT and entrepreneurialism are favoured, even idealized. In many families, careers in the arts are discouraged. Some careers are seen as acceptable for women but not for men. What careers do your society and your family value or de-value? Notice that is not necessarily true that artists earn less than engineers. While there may be some grains of truth behind societal career preferences, the true value of a career lies in the fit between the role and the individual. 

If what you truly want is clear and socially conventional, this trap may not apply to you. However, it is still worth checking a little more closely because it is easy and common to fool ourselves in thinking we want what is conventional. 

If the move you want to make is somehow unorthodox or unacceptable in the view of your family or social environment, or if you don’t know what you want, then you now have the opportunity to free yourself from Socialized Thinking. You get to make a choice which increases your level of personal freedom and self-confidence, to the degree that makes sense to you. If anything were possible, what would you want? 

To break free of Socialized Thinking, it is very valuable to have a career coach who will listen fully to your wants and needs, confirm your right to choose and the possibility of change, and then help you build a practical strategy to move you in the direction of what you most want. 

For example, does it suit you better to move to a position which could be seen as a demotion? Maybe you want to take a less demanding job which would allow you more time and energy for your home life or your passion (your true values) but it would mean lower pay and status (society’s values). 

Or maybe you’ve been working in a large famous organization which impresses people (society’s values) but you know you would be happier working in a small company with an intimate team and close bonds (your true values)? 

Or perhaps you work in a well-respected well-paying profession (society’s values), but you really want to spend your life helping others, being creative or making a contribution (your true values)? 

Will you decide to follow the dominant set of social beliefs and values, or will you dare to free yourself to set your own rules for your life’s choices? A career coach is trained to help you make these kinds of choices in the way that is right for you. It takes clarity, courage and a practical mindset. You’ll know when the choice is the right one if you don’t feel regret or suffer in wishing you had done something different. When you make a clear, free, mature choice, you are ready to accept the risks and downsides with confidence.  And you will be moving in the direction of a career that fulfils your life’s true purpose. 

Angela Spaxman
Angela Spaxman
Career and Leadership Coach , Loving Your Work
Angela Spaxman is one of Hong Kong’s leading experts in professional coaching. She is a highly effective and experienced executive coach, career coach, corporate facilitator and trainer. Angela’s leadership experiences, her decades of personal development, her well-grounded confidence and her natural curiosity give her great insight into how to manage, motivate and lead people to be at their best.