The eternal search for clarity, and why it is so hard.

Clarity: “clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity”.

The one thing we all seem to want, yet few of us ever have.

If I was to tell you that in the 6 years I have been helping people change and grow their careers, that this is the one thing they all lack, would you be surprised?

What all my clients are desperately seeking is clarity of direction and decision making.

So if you have it, I’m happy for you – hold onto it.

But if you don’t let’s explore why it’s so hard and why it matters. Starting with the latter – it matters – because if you don’t have it, your ability to make good decisions for your future (such as should I stay in this job/take that job) will be fraught with anxiety.

And if you’re a people leader and your teams don’t have it, you might one day be on the receiving end of unexpected leavers – and likely those you least want to go.

So let’s unpack a bit more what Clarity is & isn’t. At it’s best, it’s the ability to make a decision instinctively, without hesitation and regret, because subconsciously you know you are making it for the right reasons. When you see a decision you can clearly answer yes or no, with conviction and a sense of positive energy.

Without it, you never feel settled or certain. Because you have no clear path or plan you’re probably making changes irrationally or under pressure, often and randomly sometimes, and because of those changes you can never relax. This lack of clarity is unsettling and we manifest that as stress, anxiety, overwhelm and confusion.

So there is both a business case, and a wellness case for all of us – employees and employers, to take a beat and make sure we have it. Especially when it comes to making good career planning choices.

Here are some of the things I have learned can create a lack of clarity for people:

  1. Being conflicted: most likely, this manifests as doing something because you ‘should’ rather than because it’s what you ultimately want or need to do. And likely because that is in conflict with what someone who has a powerful influence in your life, wants you to do. That might be a parent, partner, boss or friend.
  2. Image or ego is getting in the way: particularly when it comes to our career, we are often seeking to use it as ‘beacon of our success’ as a human. So choosing to do something different, can feel like we are taking away our light. This gets amplified with comparison, which is the thief of joy. So our clarity about what we really want, takes a back seat to what we want others to think about us.
  3. Patterns from the past: we all carry around beliefs about how our life will work out. These are formed from our past experiences. These experiences create patterns – many sub-conscious, that can block us from seeing what is possible. Our brain is constantly serving up the familiar, so we become unsure when faced with a radical new possibility that looks unknown and risky, what to do.
  4. Lack of data: one of the questions I always ask people is “is that a fact or an emotion”. Having clarity of decision making comes when we are acting from a place of conviction. So often we are ‘assuming’ or being triggered emotionally by a situation, vs analysing the underlying facts and data that would lead us to a more clearer picture of what we should do.
  5. Anxiety or stress: Lets face it, we are living in uncertain times. This alone can escalate our feelings of fear or being unsafe, naturally. Then you layer on top of that the messages organisations latently – or blatantly – broadcast to employees about the pressures they are under, and it’s a soup of stress. This is not a good starting point for clarity of decision making. Separation from these conditions creates more calmness and rationality to come into light and guide your way.

I’m a big believer in talking about this stuff. If more employers did that I would gratefully be out of a job as a career planner! And we would all have more productive and purposeful workplaces.

If you think someone in your team is lacking clarity about their future, try getting them talking. Do some ‘strategic listening’ – listening to learn, and enable a better outcome for them. Tips for having a good dialogue include:

  • Listen without judgement: move to coaching mode vs problem solving. Help them find the answer, vs feeling like you have to solve it for them.
  • See beyond the obvious: what they say and what they do, might not be aligned. They may have things they are holding back that you need to allow them to explore deeper. Try giving them some activities to do to unpack the real problem or opportunity such as vision boarding, needs mapping, or ‘walk and talks’.
  • Find their creativity: All employees have more creativity that they don’t bring to work. That is often a great source of frustration, and can confuse them about whether they have a future in the firm. How can you help them unlock more passion in their work through enabling their creativity?

And if you want some help with some activities for your team or leaders, I’ve created a masterclass of career planning tools that will kick-start this initiative.

And finally some questions to ask yourself. These are my top 3 unlockers for your personal clarity about your career future – have some fun with these!

  1. What would you do if no-one could see you? Don’t let your ego or status stop you from doing what you really really want to do. You may never get another chance!
  2. What did you do when you first left school/university? When we are young our confidence, creativity & energy knows no limits. Thats when we are acting with most clarity. What were you doing? Could you bring some of that back into your work now?
  3. What are your core values, growth, and obsoleting values? Values lie at the heart of conviction & clarityEveryone thinks they know their values – but do they? Do you know what you are leaving behind as you and your career is changing? Do you know what you want to become more of? Explore these. And to help you out why not have a play with my Values Card set.

Authored by Melissa Jenner. Melissa is Founder & Director of START Now & host of Career to Love. She is based in Queenstown NZ, and works with organisations and individuals globally to create more purposeful and sustainable work.

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