4.3 million people left their jobs in August. Have you seen the articles about this? Four. Point. Three. Million. That set a new record. For as long as the Labor Department has been tracking the “quits rate,” no month has ever topped this past August.
It’s been dubbed “The Great Resignation,” but it could also be called “The Pandemic Pivot.” Workers are leaving their jobs for lots of reasons, but some are leaving because they want more fulfillment. They’re looking for more balance in their lives. They want out of a toxic work environment or to get away from difficult bosses and coworkers. They’re tired of not being seen and affirmed.
They’re taking advantage of this particular moment in time to pivot. The trigger was the pandemic—as traumatic as the past year and a half has been, the silver lining was the opportunity for many people to make changes in their lives. Needed changes.
The pandemic has been like a ginormous permission slip. Everyone’s life got flipped upside down in 2020. But it gave us all permission to rethink our lives, to reset our priorities. For many of us, it was a period of great introspection. It opened our eyes to the idea that we don’t have to think about our lives the way we’ve been taught to think about them.
The pandemic was a huge pivot for the entire world—for the workforce, for employers, for families. I was speaking to my sister-in-law recently. She’s an HR exec and she was talking about how hard it is to hire right now. Companies are being forced to rethink how they work. After spending 2020 and 2021 working from home—or working on the front line—people’s mindsets have changed. We’re all looking at work—and the role it occupies in our lives—in a different light.
But here’s the thing: even in normal times, the road to success is paved with pivots. Lots of pivots. Big ones, small ones, medium-sized ones. To be a true Career Free Agent, you have to constantly pivot. You have to be like a ballerina. It doesn’t take talent or years of training to see that a dancer can’t execute all those spectacular turns and soar through the air from a position of flat footedness. You have to be up on your toes if you want to pivot and turn.
Being a Career Free Agent means being up on your toes, always ready for the next pivot. Not all pivots are alike, however. There are crisis pivots, opportunity pivots, and strategic pivots. And the differences are crucial.
We often think of crisis pivots as the toughest kind of pivot, because they’re the ones that are forced on us. They come out of left field. We don’t see them coming. We don’t have a say in the matter. But in a way, they can be the easiest sort of pivot because a crisis pivot takes the onus off of you. Like the pandemic, a forced crisis pivot gives you a permission slip to go ahead and implode your life. You don’t have to find the courage to make a big change—you’re being forced to.
On the other hand, the opportunity pivot is the one many people view as the best kind of pivot. It falls out of the sky like manna from heaven. It’s a stroke of good luck. You feel like you just won the lottery! But take a moment and pause. When these opportunity pivots come around, you’re reacting to someone else’s offer. You weren’t expecting this opportunity. Maybe you weren’t even looking for it.
Often we grab onto these “too good to pass up” opportunities only to find ourselves—five years down the road—stuck in a job that doesn’t feed our soul. That never fed our soul, because it was never a good fit. And now those golden handcuffs are feeling mighty tight.
An opportunity can be good—but not good for you. It’s okay to acknowledge that—and to say no to it. The perfect person for that “too good to pass up” opportunity is out there—leave it for them while you hold out for what’s right for you.
By now, you’re probably asking, “So Cheryle, what is the best kind of pivot?” The answer is: a strategic pivot. They are the best—and can be the most spectacular—turns in your life. They’re also the hardest, because these are the pivots where you invite the change. You choose to topsy-turvy your life.
And embracing change is hard! Even when we desperately want the change. We are risk averse creatures. It’s simply human nature. We resist change to the point where even when we’re absolutely miserable, we’ll stick with what we know.
But hear me out—strategic pivots are what phenomenal careers are made of. When you make a strategic pivot, you’re making changes based on your terms, on your goals, on your own path in life.
Back to those 3.4 million people who left their jobs in August. Maybe you were one of them. Or maybe you’d like to be one of them, but are thinking it’s impossible to leave right now. You have responsibilities. People to support. A roof to put over your head. Not everyone can just swan out of a job on a dime. That works in the movies, but in real life—not so much. In real life, it helps to have a plan. It helps to have a strategic pivot in mind.
Now sure—when you’re miserably unhappy in a job, sometimes the answer is to get out. When the environment is toxic or you’ve tapped out all the opportunities for growth there, the best option may be to leave. But oftentimes, we feel like we are either all in or all out. That the choice is to stay and suffer—or run for the exits. But look around. Is there something in the middle for you?
I wrote a blog post a few years back titled “Bloom Where You Are.” In it I shared some of my experiences working in a very toxic job. A job where I faced sexism, misogyny, and racial bias nearly every day. But instead of leaving right away, I looked at the parts of that job that reflected things I cared deeply about. There were still places where I could have an impact, where I could use my powers for good.
I submitted a proposal to the health department to create a program to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment targeting African Americans, and aggregate resources. It was called Brothers and Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS. I continued to engage with community leaders and organizations, and actively sought initiatives outside of my role as Communication Director that were aligned with my values. I was still working for the governor. The environment didn’t change, my perspective did. I found fertile soil in me, planted seeds, nurtured them through self-investment, and I blossomed. I was profiled in Today’s Chicago Woman magazine, and my community engagement around economic development and activism helped me land my next job as the first black woman to lead the Chicago Urban League.
In short, I made a mindset pivot. Mindset pivots can help you thrive in situations that are not really designed for you. So do a pivot check. What things could you be doing in your career and personal life that will position you for new opportunities in your company (or industry, if you’re an entrepreneur)? There’s always room to grow. What can you be reading to elevate your mindset? Are there podcasts to listen to? Are you studying the people who inspire you? Audit your network. Is it time to expand your power pack?
Hey, I’m doing the work myself. I get up at 5AM now. I have a stack of books and Audible books to read that are exposing me to new concepts to stretch and challenge me.
Have you been—as Brene Brown says—“armored up for too long?” When you protect yourself, you’re keeping out the good stuff, too. You numb yourself to new growth and new opportunities.
Or maybe your pivot audit reveals that you have skill sets that could use some leveling up. Are there new skills that will put you more in sync with who you are on a soul level, what your natural talents are, and where you want to go? I’m doing this myself right now. I love technology and all the gadgets, but I’m learning that I need to focus better because I have limited time. Technology needs to enhance my life.
Developing and deepening your skill sets does not mean you have to go back to school. You don’t have to get another degree. There is so much information to be had online. Download the Masterclass app, for example, and take a class. Dust off your Clifton Strengths report or your enneagram. Reacquaint yourself with yourself! We all have latent talents just waiting to shine. Writing is one of mine. I used to dread writing. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I began to feel more secure about my writing ability—because I realized that I could take my creativity (one of my natural talents) and express it in multiple ways.
Are you in need of a soul set pivot? Is there some soul work you need to do? Listen, I am not a morning person, but recently I got serious about my soul work. Guess who gets up at 5AM now? It’s in the stillness when you connect with your soul. Find that stillness. For me, it’s the early morning before the distractions of the day begin. Because you know what I realized? I was giving the best part of the day to other people and giving the worst part—the end of the day when I’m tired and hungry—to me. I was dropping workouts. I wasn’t journaling. I was leaving the crumbs for me. I had to reverse that. Now I reserve the best part of the day for my soul and for me.
It’s the small, consistent pivots that we perfect and tweak over time that define massively successful lives and careers. We’re in harvest season now. Let’s be grateful for the blessings and lessons of 2021, but let’s get ready for 2022.
Here’s my challenge to you. It’s the fourth quarter of the year. You’ve done whatever you’re going to do for 2021. It’s time to tee up 2022. What kind of pivots are you going to make in the new year? The small ones. The midsize ones. Even the big pivots. But here’s the thing about big pivots—they often take care of themselves when you start making the smaller ones.
Here’s your homework. Come up with three pivots you can make in one of the above areas—mindset, skill set, soul set. Even if you think you don’t have the courage for the really big pivots, identify the steps you need to take. Then take the steps that match the courage you do have right now. Make the smaller pivots. When you take one step, it gives birth to more steps. Success begets success.
When you are a Career Free Agent, YOU are the one in command of your career. Want to learn more? In my Career Free Agent Masterclass, I’ll show you how to have a career that feeds your ambition and your soul, gain new skills without a degree, gain confidence to move into a new career or launch a new business, build a network that powers your growth, and make a career pivot without taking a paycut.