I Never Thought I'd Be Here at This Point in My Career

10/08/2009 06:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Imagine how you would feel if you scheduled a trip to Italy, spent a lot of time planning the trip, got on your plane to fly there and finally landed in... Holland?

That feeling of disorientation is what many people in the workforce are experiencing these days. They planned for a specific career path, but found themselves in a very different situation due to forces beyond their control.

Tim is a typical example. He is 47 years old and for the first 20 years of his career, things moved along "according to plan". Tim had charted a career course for himself and was very happy with the way things were going. He had made several job changes during those 20 years, each of which represented a move upward with more responsibility and greater compensation.

All of a sudden, he was downsized and found himself scrambling for work. He consulted as a stop gap measure and was shocked that it took him the better part of a year to find his next job. When that company folded, Tim couldn't believe that he was back on the market looking for work.

To his credit, he formed a small consulting company with some associates and is doing well. For Tim, the greatest adjustment has been to reconcile his expectations of where he would be at this point in his career with what he is actually doing.

As recruiters and coaches, we meet with people like Tim all the time and our advice to them is this:

1. Find the Opportunity! The expression "Life is what happens while you are busy making plans" has never been more true. Expect the unexpected in today's turmoil-filled world. With that turmoil comes unexpected opportunities, so be open to seeing them when they appear. When they do materialize, look for ways to leverage them. Best selling author Napoleon Hill wrote in his timeless classic Think & Grow Rich, "Every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit".

2. Gain by Losing. Many people came to view success as the accumulation of "things", houses, cars, iPhones and expensive vacations. If you have to tighten your belt and can't afford to splurge as much, look for the upside. Less dining out can mean more time at the family dinner table. Who knows, maybe your teenagers will start talking to you again :)

3. Make Lemonade! Lots of people have been given lemons in this new environment of uncertainty. Some will respond to this by complaining that things aren't like they used to be, while others will realize that the old rules no longer apply and that it is perfectly acceptable to start on a new or revised career path in whatever stage of your career you find yourself. Starting new or shifting gears may not yield the same level of financial compensation you had hoped, but it may turn out to be significantly more rewarding on a personal level.

For all the Tims in this world, when you find yourself in a new situation (Holland) when you had planned on something very different (Italy), just realize this: if you make the best out of where you are now, you'll be well positioned to land in the right place.

Fred & Gladys
Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success