The dislocation to our jobs and overall well-being wrought by the coronavirus pandemic has been unprecedented in our lifetime. The issue has been compounded by a media landscape that has often confused and distressed as much as it has helped. Research from the University of California, Irvine, highlights the mental distress mass consumption of media during the pandemic has caused. The deluge of information, some of which will be wholly misleading, can cause paralysis at a time when we need to be acting.
Facing the uncertainty surrounding our future, now is not the time to get bogged down in confusion. Columbia Law School professor Alexandra Carter believes that the perfect way to break free of this funk is to take the first step, however small it may be, towards our new future. In her latest book Ask for More, she outlines how you can make progress in whatever your goals are, whether finding a new job, earning a pay raise, or changing your career.
She outlines a number of crucial steps to help you move forward:
1. Review your problem or goal – The first step is to identify the key problem you face. With the coronavirus, this could be the loss of your job, a reduction in hours, maybe even a crisis for your industry. Similarly, you may have identified a key goal you want to achieve for your career going forward. This may be a new job in your existing field, or a pivot towards a new career entirely. Try if you can to look back through your life to identify any moments in your past that led you to where you are today.
2. What are your needs? – Carter highlights that these can be tangible, i.e. what you can count, see, or touch, or intangibles, such as your values. Collectively, they are what is important to you, and any steps you take from here on should reflect these values. For intangibles, it is important to try and understand what that might look like. For instance, if you strive for fairness, this may be reflected in higher pay for some, whereas it is more reputational for others. Once you have identified your needs, Carter advocates exploring the various actions you could take to fully and completely meet those needs. “Give yourself permission to consider a world in which all of your needs could be met, and then make a list of concrete first steps to get there.”
3. Explore your feelings – Feelings can often appear inconsequential in major decisions and are relegated to secondary status behind our reason and logic. Carter believes this is a significant mistake, and by recognizing our feelings, we can craft better solutions. Now, more than ever, you are likely to be having a whole range of emotions, and it is important not to ignore them if you are to craft the future you want.
4. Consider past successes – Whenever you experience a setback in your life, it can focus your attention excessively on the negative aspects associated with it. This can cause you to doubt yourself and your ability to enjoy success in life again. Getting your career, and your life, back on track is not going to be easy, and you need to have both confidence and momentum for your efforts to succeed. Carter advocates looking back into your past to recall examples of times you have succeeded. What did you envision when you did so? What were your habits, actions, and mental state? Try and find not only the confidence from your past success but uncover some concrete actions you can employ to help you move forward. If you do not have similar prior successes to call upon, look instead for past successes in unrelated fields. This could be from your academic past or even your personal life.
As Carter explains, the key is not so much what your first step is, but that you make one. “Focusing on the first step can help us build momentum,” she says. “When steering ourselves toward a big and exciting goal, trying to design the entire solution from the outset can feel more overwhelming than productive. Being overwhelmed can lead even the most motivated people to give up prematurely or approach things in a haphazard way. Sometimes, we need that one step to help us build a little momentum.” The present time is nothing if not uncertain, but each day presents a new opportunity, and now is the time to take that first step towards a better future.