How to Talk About Your Career When You Have No Idea What You're Doing

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThe holidays are coming. This means that there could be a lot of unstructured family time in your future, which you might be dreading.

Getting together for meals and merriment with well-meaning loved ones can be a real challenge when you're not feeling awesome about where you are in life. The same feelings can come up when you're trying to network with peers in the midst of a personal or professional transition.

It can be really difficult to talk about your career confidently and enthusiastically when you're just not sure what it is you're aiming to do.

But here's the thing:

It's okay to not know what you're doing.

It's okay not to know what kind of work you're interested in, or how you'll make a living, or what you're good at. A lot of people actually don't know this for themselves, they're just pretending like they do because it feels safer.

I commend you for not knowing, and while I know that's not a comfortable place to be in for very long, it means you've started the process of finding an authentic path, which is one of the bravest acts anyone can do.

So, now that you know it's okay not to have it all figured out, let's talk about how you're going to interface with Aunt Gertrude at Christmas Dinner.

I want to make the ideas below digestible so that you can easily recall them at your next networking event or family gathering. I'll give you a little acronym in case it's helpful: IFCBS.

I: Intend

Before you engage with anyone you're a bit nervous about talking to, get really clear on your intentions for the interaction. A lot of people (and I've done this myself) go into these conversations without having thought about it ahead of time and then end up feeling totally deflated and confused afterward.

So what do you intend to happen with your family or your network when you give them an update on your career? Are you intending to solicit advice? Are you intending to share without getting advice? Are you intending to be a little more open this time around, or maybe a little more reserved?

All intentions are good as long as they fit for you and are really clear in your mind's eye before you engage.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantF: Frame

How we frame our experience - to ourselves and to others - is incredibly important. Just the other day, I was working with a client who was feeling really nervous about seeing her family and having to explain that she "still" wasn't working. When she described what she'd have to tell them, she used a phrase like "Well, I still don't know what I'm doing, but I'm working with a coach, so I hope I'll figure it out..."

I noticed that and offered a different approach instead - something like "I'm being really intentional about my next step and I'm not ready to talk about it yet, but I'm feeling more energized than I ever have about the work I'm going to do."

Both of those sentences could technically be true, but can you see how they elicit different responses from others?

When I offered her that re-frame, her whole energy shifted. She sat up straight, took a deep breath, and took up more space in the chair. She came across as grounded and sure of herself, which was wonderful to see and will impact her family in a more positive way.

See if you can take what you normally tell people make it more powerful and positive. It might feel like you're faking it, but you're not - you get to decide how you frame your experience.

The more you hear yourself reframe your experience into one that's intentional and positive, the better you'll feel, which really impacts how you'll come across to others.

C: Curiosity

Family and friends can be really weird when we're in the midst of a big life transition like a career change. They often mean well but ask questions that make us feel small and defensive, like "What will you do with that degree?" or "But you can't make any money that way - how will you live?"

Curiosity is your friend. It's always your friend, but it's your bestie during family gatherings. Instead of getting hot and bothered because your dad is grilling you again about "when you're going to grow up," see if you can take a curious orientation instead. Ask yourself why your actions bother him so much. What is it about how you're living that causes him to act this way? What about his past is coming out at you?

The reactions others have about our lives is always about them. It is not about you. When you start stretching and making changes, it makes a lot of people around you uncomfortable because it can make them feel insecure about what they're doing with their lives.

Instead of getting defensive and allowing their insecurity to cause you pain, see if you can be like a scientist looking at the interaction objectively and curiously.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantB: Boundaries

Being in the midst of a career change is a precious, vulnerable, and scary time. You're working things out, and oftentimes, getting lots of input from people who want you to stay the same is a recipe for disaster.

You get to decide what you will and won't share with family members, friends, and people in your professional network. If you don't feel like explaining yourself to anyone, you can say "I'm really excited about where I'm heading, but I still want some time to figure it out on my own before talking about it with others."

Or you could say, "I really appreciate you asking, that means a lot, but I read on a blog that it can be helpful to keep the process private until I'm really sure of what direction I'm going in."

You can also be totally open with the fact that you're in the muck and mire of a transition - it's up to you. The point is that it's important to know what our lines are and, when those get crossed, assert our needs and confidently redirect the conversation.

There's no reason you have to be interrogated this holiday season. You call the shots, and you get to decide what you do and don't want to talk about.

S: Self-care

Taking care of yourself is always important, but it's 1,000,000 times more important when you're going through a major transition. This holiday season (and anytime you're doing work on yourself), make sure self-care is a priority. That could look like splurging for a massage while the rest of your family goes shopping, taking a lot of space in your room, going on walks alone, using mantras, or having a friend on speed dial.

The holidays can be a hard time for many of us, for lots of different reasons, but by taking extra good care of our spirits and bodies, it's possible to enjoy them and the fullness they bring.

Remember IFCBS this season and anytime you're in the midst of making a change that you're a little unsure about.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIf you're in the midst of a holiday gathering or professional event and are just feeling exasperated and like you really do want to make a change but aren't sure how, I'm around. You can always drop me a note here, join my Facebook group, or work with me in a more formal way.

I've been where you are and have felt that sense of dread knowing I'd have to update others on my career. I hope that maybe with this information, it will be a little less painful for you. Take good care of yourself this season, and please reach out if you need to.