Re-framing as a Career Success Strategy: How to Get Things Done in Baby Steps


For an audio-visual version, please click on my YouTube channel:

TL;DR: When overwhelmed, re-frame (decide on one action you can take in the next 15 minutes to 55 minutes, and do it. Repeat.)

Re-framing is one of the most useful tools in career & life success that I had the privilege of learning during my graduate studies in Counseling. It is now a tool I almost daily use to help students learn to implement concrete, doable action steps when they feel overwhelmed by the ‘whole’ picture and are stuck in decision-fear mode.

As the word implies, “re-framing” is about shifting the frame of reference. The idea is to re-focus our thoughts about, and our responses to a situation or experience so that our minds can inhabit a productive, action-planning, decision-oriented place.Think about “re-framing” as the difference between using a telescope and a microscope. With a telescope, we see huge swaths of the universe. With a microscope, we see the nucleus of a single cell. The universe and the cell are both facts of existence, irrespective of which lens we choose to use. If we zoom in to focus on a specific part, this does not mean we have erased the more complex whole that is beyond the purview of the lens. What we have done is re-frame our focus to free up our cognitive and emotional energies so that we are able to take concrete action (what I call “baby steps“).

How does re-framing work? What does this look like in practice? Here’s one example. A student comes into my office, sits down, and blurts out, “I have found this amazing job in Philadelphia that is perfect for me, but I am too scared to apply because I don’t know if I am ready to move out there.” This student’s experience is of both excitement and dread; excitement about this opportunity, and dread about a decision that may (or may not) have to be taken a few weeks, probably months from now on, depending on the action steps she takes NOW.

So, we reframe. Refocusing from the large, amorphous “I am not sure if I am ready to move,” we focus on immediate, doable, measurable, practical baby steps (each of them working on an If <–> Then logic):

1. Have you printed out the job description?

2. Have you read the job description aloud, slowly, a few times to get a solid grasp on the position details?

3. Do you have a draft cover letter where you make a strong case (to yourself, first and then to the hiring managed) about why you might be an excellent candidate?

4. Do you have a draft customized resume that clearly speaks to THIS position and the responsibilities put in conversation with the knowledge and skills YOU will bring to the position?

These concrete action steps may take anywhere between 7-10 days (or more) to complete depending on the student’s schedule, and where in the cycle of the semester we are. But, they are framed more solidly than “I don’t know if I am ready to move.” Re-framing questions shift our focus from the large, abstract, sometimes scary and overwhelming place to a place of concrete action steps in the pursuit of which we can directly channel our energies — emotional and cognitive — more effectively.

Once we have completed steps 1-4, we re-frame, re-focus, and take the next few concrete steps. Then the next few, and then the next few. Re-frame, take action. Repeat.

And when (if) it comes to a point when a decision has to be made about moving to Philadephia (or not), then we do some more re-framing and re-focusing and take a few more decisions and action steps.

Thus goes the process of guiding our (sometimes) unruly minds along the pathways of our career and life journeys.

Action step challenge for my readers: what situation/experience can you re-frame today so you can set up specific, doable, measurable action steps in the next 24-48 hours? Leave a comment in the blog post, or on my YouTube channel (link at the top) and let me know!

Have a wonderful, blessed evening.

With all my love, — Maya   

Instagam: @maya.sanyal; @alka.devika

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