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Make Leaving a Learning Opportunity

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Recently a reader asked for assistance with transitioning from a challenging situation. Here are some tips:

There will be many times in life where we find ourselves in situations that no longer serve us in the way they once did. Realizing that we are at this point is normal as we are constantly evolving--our interests and values change over time. This is especially true in our careers. The average person will hold about seven different careers in their lifetime. There will come a point when we are no longer satisfied in our position for one reason or another and will seek out new, more satisfying, opportunities. The key to making a successful transition is to learn from past experiences and apply the lessons learned to future career decisions. Here are strategies to help you handle the transition from one career to another with thoughtfulness and intention:

1. Reflect on lessons learned
What experiences, accomplishments and skills did you gain as a result of your previous position? What did you learn about your work values, skills, interests, strengths and areas of challenge? Based on what you learned, what are the key components your next position must have in order for you to flourish professionally?

2. Remain positive
It is crucial that you refrain from speaking negatively about any past coworkers, managers or supervisors. Do not share negative comments or criticisms about your previous boss or the organization. We do not have control over what people do, but we do have control over our response and how we act. Choose to conduct yourself in a professional manner.

3. Move forward
It is easy to feel stuck when a situation did not produce a desired outcome. Often times we find ourselves ruminating on past experiences focusing on the things that we should have done differently. While reflecting on past experiences is important in the learning process, it is most beneficial to concentrate on applying that new knowledge to make a more informed decision in the future. Questions to ask yourself include:
* "What did I learn from my past experience?"
* "How have I grown as a result?"
* "What would I do differently in the future?"

4. Research, research, research
After reflecting on the lessons learned from past experiences, the next step is to devote time and energy to gather more information in order to make more informed decisions in the future. In the job search, it is imperative to research career opportunities and identify the important aspects that you desire in your future position. A few basic strategies are to look at the school's and school district's websites as well as to conduct a Google search to find recent news articles about the organization's environment and culture. A second strategy is to reach out to your network and contact people who may have knowledge about the organization. These people could include past peers, professors and staff from your educational program(s), past coworkers and managers, even family and friends.

As educators, we should be lifelong learners ourselves, constantly searching for the lesson in each experience. We can take those experiences, gather as much information as possible, and make more informed decisions for ourselves in the future. This will ultimately lead to a more satisfying experience. Just remember: when a position no longer serves us well and we feel it is time to move on, it is imperative to: a) reflect on the experience; b) focus on the positive outcomes; and c) apply the information gained to future career decisions. This outlook will help us handle a career transition with grace and professionalism.

Shannon Wells
Career Counselor and Experiential Learning Coordinator
California State University, Sacramento, CA

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