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How to Navigate the Unknown When You Take a Career Detour

Posted: 07/13/2020 | Author: Angela Ozar for Creatives On Call | Tags: Guides and Resources

How to Navigate the Unknown When You Take a Career Detour

At Creatives On Call we have a front seat look at the ebb and flow of creative's careers that we work with. Especially during unpredictable times, we want to make sure our community understands that unknowns are normal, okay, and can be dealt with in a productive and proactive manner. Questions on how we can help? Reach out us here.


Detours. We expect them on the road but we never expect them in our careers. We think we’ll be at the same company for years. We think we’ll always want to work a full-time job. We think we’ll love the career we have chosen forever. But then life happens.

Life’s unpredictability guarantees at some point having to navigate through some uncertainty in work. There are several reasons one might take a detour in their career. For example, the need to take time off to care for an elderly parent. Choosing to be a stay at home mom or dad until the kids are raised. Following a new passion into a different profession.

We are here to help you successfully navigate a career detour whatever the case may be. Whether you are jumping back into the workforce after taking a hiatus, have been laid off, or you are contemplating a career change. Here are some tips to make your journey a lot smoother.

Avoid Comparison During Job Uncertainty

The first rule of the road is not to compare yourself to others. Don’t compare where you are in your journey to anyone’s expectations either. Our culture gives us a roadmap to the ideal career path and life. The truth is there is no one way to do anything, especially when it comes to jobs.

We are all individuals on our unique paths to different destinations. And by that definition, we are doing ourselves a disservice if we compare our journey to others. Comparing yourself to others, to what society dictates, and even to your expectations will make you miserable.

Embrace where you are and the possibilities that lie ahead. Instead of making judgments about measuring up, judge your circumstances by your happiness. What is most important is that you make the right decision for you. Avoiding the comparison trap will lead to happiness regardless of the situation you find yourself in.

Get Rid of Your Expectations When Looking into Job Transitioning

Throw your expectations out the window. And while you’re at it throw everyone else’s expectations about your life and career with it.

Much of what causes our dissatisfaction is that our circumstances don’t line up with our expectations. For instance, you didn’t expect to start a new career at 40 or be working a part-time job at 30.

It can be even more difficult to manage your expectations when you are faced with a loved one's expectations for your life as well. It might mean that you disappoint some people with the choices you make along the way. That’s OK. Be OK with not doing what people expect or want you to do. You are the one who has to live your life, not anyone else.

The sooner you get rid of your expectations, you will be able to enjoy the good surprises on the way to your destination.

Acknowledge Your Fears

The unknown is scary. That’s why we have such a difficult time with it. It’s hard to understand because we don’t know what will happen. What our brains don’t understand, fear inevitably follows.

The best way to handle fear is to acknowledge that it’s there. List everything that could go wrong. The worst-case scenario. And then imagine what will happen if the very thing you don’t want to happen does.

Examples include, I fail, I have to go back to my old job, I get laid off, I don’t have enough savings, etc. Identifying your fears brings them to light. Chances are you’ll find the worst-case scenario is not the end of the world. You’ll be OK.


Once you’ve navigated through the emotional and psychological challenges of facing a detour in your career, you can move forward with practical steps. Spend time self-reflecting. You don’t want to skip or rush this step. Self-reflection is important when you are at a crossroads.

Ask yourself these five critical questions:

  1. What are my interests?
  2. What are my skills?
  3. What are my strengths?
  4. What is my ideal work environment?
  5. What are my non-negotiables?

Answering these questions will help you identify the right path forward. The better you understand yourself, your values, and your desires, the closer you will be to finding the right opportunity and making the right decision for you. Another option to stay consistent while you are self-evaluating is to consider some strength's testing.

Knowing your non-negotiables is essential in this process. For instance, when you buy a house or go on a date, you have an idea of what you are looking for. You may even have a list of everything you want. Evaluating your options is easier when you can measure them up against your qualifications. If an opportunity has a lot of positives but doesn’t meet a non-negotiable on your list, the answer is clear.

Self-reflection will bring clarity to the next step you should take when you are faced with unknowns. It helps to ensure you move forward in the right direction without anyone else’s opinions or advice to clutter your decision-making process.

Research & Network During Job 

Once you’ve identified your next step, do research and reach out to your network. Research different careers and job opportunities if you are thinking about a career change.

What are the average salary ranges? What are the skills and qualifications needed? What types of environments can jobs be found in? Web searches and sites like LinkedIn, Payscale, and consultancies are great resources for career and job information.

Go beyond a google search and ask your network, friends, and family to see what you can learn from them as well. Your network is a powerful asset when facing the unknown in your career and if often underutilized.

Is there a place you are looking that is freezing the hiring due to COVID-19 or something else happening? That is another opportunity to grow. Read here about what you could do during the time of a hiring freeze to better promote yourself.

If you maintain relationships with people regularly, then when you are thrown a carer curveball, you can reach out and ask for help without any feelings of guilt. Your ask will be better received and people will genuinely want to help you and give you advice and contacts.

Be Ready

You can’t predict the future but you can ready yourself for what the possible outcomes may be. Be ready and open to options you never considered. 

Money is a big decision making factor. You want to be in the financial position to not let it be the deciding factor. Have an emergency savings fund (or start one) in case you lose your job, have to take a pay cut, get additional education, or take a hiatus from your career.

And be ready to relocate if needed. You never know what opportunity or circumstance might arise that will require you to move quickly.

Identify the areas you are open to relocating to. What parts of the country or the world are off the table? Is your home ready to sell? Readying yourself and your family to move at a moment's notice will help ease the transition.

Change doesn’t often come with a lot of advance notice. Think through the possible scenarios before they happen. Prepare yourself financially, logistically, and mentally to embrace what the future might hold.

The Upside to Unknowns

Navigating the tough terrain of a detour in your career is a challenge. It’s something you have never experienced and most likely something you didn’t plan.

Have a positive mindset and prepare for the twist and turns on the journey. Focus on the upside of uncertainty which is that it’s an adventure.

Yes, it may be scary, but like a rollercoaster, it’s equally thrilling and exciting. There is the possibility of a detour turning out beyond your wildest dreams. Some of the best things in life turn out to be in the unknowns. 

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