Career phases and life stages: how to find alignment

Career phases and life stages: how to find alignment

Sometimes, we get the feeling that something isn’t quite right in our lives and careers. In these cases, it can be helpful to think about whether we need to find better alignment between our career phase and life stage. Here’s how to go about it.

From the time we first start working, we are led to think of our career path as linear. However, this one-size-fits all model is not always applicable – after all, we’re individuals with our own lives and needs, and the choices that are right for others are not necessarily right for us. The choices that were right for us in the past may not be right now.

A more helpful way to think about a career path is not as a line, but as alignment between career phase and life stage.

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed, guilty, like you’re always compromising in different parts of your work and life, or simply that everything’s not quite right, then it can be a sign that you are out of alignment. This can have a significant impact on you and ultimately your health. 

The key is finding the right plan for the right time.

What it means to be out of alignment

When talking about aligning career stage with life phase, a common example to which many people can relate is parenthood. Not just women, but increasingly men, are seeking better congruence between their family commitments and career. 

When people get caught up in making career decisions based on where they feel their career should go – for example the next promotion – then they can neglect to think whether that move is in alignment with their life and parenting phase. They should be asking themselves questions like: what work commitment do they want as their children are in the infant and toddler stage? And how does this change as they move through primary and high school?

Alignment is also applicable at any time in our life, and in fact is a topic that all of us must keep revisiting as we age.

As another example, take aligning to your life phase in mid-late career. This often starts with asking questions of yourself about how long you wish to stay productive. It’s fine to stay and keep on with your full-time corporate job if that’s what you want. 

However, it’s also important to take into account other considerations based on your life stage, such the need to look after your health and the health of significant others. It can be just as valid to decide you’ve had enough and to explore other options such as part time.

Another important aspect of aligning with your life phase is of course financial.  We pay for our choices and can be a factor in your decision. Yes, it’s all well and good to be told to follow your passion, but this doesn’t necessarily pay the mortgage. With the cost of living rising and Australia’s average owner-occupier mortgage now $600,000, financial obligations are a valid consideration!

In other words, dreams must be realistic. Considering how a career decision will impact all parts of your life at a certain time is as important for your overall happiness as following a dream.

How to get in alignment

As with any serious career decision, the process starts with brutal honestly. Particularly with yourself.

This means fully understanding who you are, the phase of life you are in and what options are realistically open to you. 

Try mapping out the following steps:

  • Decide on your priorities. This can include family, flexibility, income, learning and career development.
  • Consider whether your current employer can provide what you need.
  • Think about whether you have asked the right people the right questions. Sometimes we assume we must look outside our organisation to gain what we need – this is not always the case.
  • Research whether what you want exists in the market, and if so where you can find it. Try talking to recruiters, talk to ex-colleagues and talk to peers in your industry.

So don’t be tempted to think linear is the only way. Alignment can be far more fulfilling in the long run.

If you’re interested in more information on this or other career topics, please contact us. Or why not try our free Career Change Ready Index

Andrea has spent over 25 years working with organisations, leaders and employees at every stage of a business and career life cycle. She has created positive impact for organisations through her work with executives, leadership teams, and diverse functional teams within the arts, education, government and media organisations as examples. With over 15 years experience within career development and coaching, her direct knowledge of individuals fears and challenges and insights across a broad spectrum of sectors and organisations, creates a unique understanding of what employees need to thrive.