I know, this sounds like an oxymoron, but think about it. Do you remember what it was like, when you were a child, learning how to ride a bike, and how you felt.
You sat on the bike, feet on pedals, hands on handle bar, and as you pedalled for the first time you wobbled as you struggled to gain your balance. Over time, you needed less support from your parent, the training wheels were removed, you were free and independent, with a big grin on your face and sense of achievement. Would you believe me if I told you that preparing yourself for a BA role change or career move, with the assistance of a mentor aka safety net, can transform a daunting, scary experience into a lesson in appreciating your skills and capabilities, and create within you an appetite for change?
As a member of ‘Generation X’ I have performed a variety of job roles and made several career changes during my working life. A few years ago, I found myself at a career crossroads. I had a growing sense of dissatisfaction in my job role and wondered ‘is this the best it’s going to get’? Like many people faced with change I stonewalled and drew on a wealth of excuses to justify my unwillingness to face my fears. Eventually I came to the realisation, that if I wanted things to change, I needed to take action. Summoning up my courage I contacted a highly respected member of my professional network, to seek mentoring.
Committing to change
Signing a formal mentoring contract, was a symbolic act of me committing to change. It reflected a conscious decision to confront all the excuses that were holding me back. I committed to engage in honest, robust discussion, respond to constructive, direct feedback, and to challenge my comfort zone, with the safety net of my mentor. Setting the scope and purpose of the mentoring was key. We agreed that the primary purpose was to reimagine my BA career role drawing on my existing skills, capability, and untapped potential, and identify a transition path to this role. Sharing the responsibility for embarking on this change, alleviated much of my concern about which path to take, and which steps to take first.
Where am I now?
Working together, we conducted a skills and capability stocktake. This validated skills, identified untapped potential and skills which needed ‘refreshing’. Conducting this activity with a respected professional helped me develop of sense of legitimacy of my skills, as I had always had the nagging feeling that I wasn’t a ‘real BA’. I can’t be the expert in everything related to BA, so play to my strengths. He challenged my perception of my real and perceived limitations and highlighted skills which I forgot I had, that could be applied in a future role. We talked about how I felt stuck and my options for getting unstuck.
Where do I want to get to?
My mentor worked with me to envision future roles which played to my natural strengths, abilities and skills. These roles were shaped by several factors including, whether I was willing to move to a new city or region, my target job market, optimal working hours and the value I placed on work/life balance. Being clear about the changes I was willing to make to steer my career in the right direction, determined future role options. Identifying the relative importance of extrinsic job factors, such as recognition by peers and salary versus the intrinsic characteristics of the job such as the level of autonomy, ability to influence, leading a team, being a technical specialist, contributed to the development of my job profile. Being able to articulate the ‘look and feel’ of a successful and satisfying career provided me with a goal to work towards and a sense of excitement about future possibilities.
How do I get there?
By analysing my skills and experience gap, my mentor and I mapped a transition path to my desired role. This included building new skills, refreshing old skills, and personal growth activities to create resilience and enable me to face my fears. This included the notion of ‘courage cards’ which I was to ‘play’ each time I engaged with my fear. Early on I would borrow courage from those around me and adopted the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ approach to enable me to challenge my comfort zone. We had a few robust discussions about the importance of failing and learning from failure. Understanding how to take these risks in my target job market was important. I work in a highly regulated environment, which has a low risk appetite, strong focus on accountability and governance. To enable me to progress within this market, we identified qualifications relevant to my desired role.
Moving along the Transition Path
Building resilience and a willingness to engage with fear, were key learnings. ‘The only way is through’ was my mentor’s guidance when I expressed reluctance about challenging my comfort zone and my limitations, both real and perceived. I played my first ‘courage card’ by facing my fear of public speaking. Through participation in Toastmasters I rediscovered my love of public speaking and mentored other members to achieve their speaking and leadership potential.
I found that over time each time I played a ‘courage card’, I relied less on the safety net offered by my mentor and trusted my own judgement and ‘gut instinct’ about the next step. I thought less about the fear, and instead anticipated the sense of achievement in tackling something that had previously seemed insurmountable. That is not to say that there weren’t bumps along the road. My previously unblemished record of securing every role I have ever applied for, was broken. At the time I was devastated. But with the benefit of my mentor’s wisdom, and challenging my perception of failure, I can see that my skills weren’t the right fit for the role.
Studying and attaining certification as a Certified Business Analysis Professional, enabled me to formalise my skills as a highly analytical thinker and problem solver. I learned that many of the approaches I had innately applied to analyse and understand problems were universally accepted ways of conducting Business Analysis. I gained an appreciation for the breadth of skills and knowledge to be a Business Analysis, and where my skills fit within that context.
Taking a leap of faith… and landing on both feet
Late last year, I felt ready to make an enormous leap of faith. I evaluated a potential role against my job profile and identified that it was a good fit for my skills and strengths. I confidently interviewed for and successfully secured my desired BA career role. I played my ‘courage card’ and resigned from a permanent role which offered certainty and financial security. I traded this for a new job role with a high degree of financial uncertainty that allows me to be autonomous, innovative and creative. Was I scared of making the change? Absolutely, but the sense of pride and achievement in having faced my fear and secured a new satisfying role made facing the fear worth it. I have never once challenged the wisdom of this decision, as it has enabled me to explore my potential more fully and fulfilled my desire to take on a new career challenge.