By Kathy Miller Perkins*

If you stayed in the workforce during the pandemic, the way you work has likely changed significantly. It wouldn’t be surprising if these changes caused you to reassess your career goals. So, perhaps instead of revising your plans of attack for achieving long-held career goals, the time has come to rethink what career success means to you.

Hot times require reflection and rethinking
We are in hot times, defined by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) as "trial by fire." The pandemic, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest have brought us heat experiences, ready or not. According to CCL, complex and unfamiliar challenges with many unknowns and multiple interested parties characterize heat experiences. Do these conditions sound familiar? While the circumstances engulfing us are certainly threatening, this is a great time to slow down and reflect on what truly matters to us. We may learn that assumptions about our careers don't apply anymore. Now is the time to take another look at your goals.

Broaden your career focus and reframe your goals
If we have learned nothing else during these charged times, we now know that our world's conditions can change overnight. However, we also know that we must be hardy. By defining goals more broadly, we are positioning ourselves to bounce back, or forward, after the crisis has passed. The way we define our goals will influence our ability to accommodate when conditions change swiftly. If we keep our eyes on the more significant career picture, we will become more career resilient.

Consider setting goals that are more expansive than aiming to attain a specific position or title. For example, you might concentrate on the contribution and impact you would like to make through your work and set your goals accordingly. This approach could stimulate more ideas and open up new, unforeseen prospects for professional growth.

As our work's context transforms, new or changing opportunities for our careers are likely to emerge.

How to reflect, reimagine, and reframe
Here are some steps you can take to examine your career goals and explore ways to redefine them to position yourself for career growth in the new normal: 

Step 1: Define your mission

Consider shifting your focus from pursuing a precise and narrow career path to emphasizing how you can align your work with your values and strengths.

Now is the perfect time to reread or review Stephen Covey's foundational and inspiring book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey emphasizes the importance of creating a personal mission. He stresses the significance of knowing yourself and what gives you meaning in your work and your life. He advises us to connect with our uniqueness and, by doing so, define the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines with which we can express and fulfill ourselves. Uncover your life's big picture first, and then think about where and how your work might fit it.

Step 2: Slow down and examine your current goals

Your career is undoubtedly part of your life's bigger picture, as outlined in Step 1. However, too often, overwhelming demands fill our days. Who has the time to contemplate and explore? While life has been getting back to normal in many ways, many of us have not yet returned to the pre-pandemic pace. This is a good opportunity to take advantage of the slower pace to explore and develop greater insight into yourself and what you want.

Previously, you may have been so busy chasing goals that you lost track of why you were pursuing them in the first place. Ask yourself why you set these specific goals.Do you still care about them? Perhaps you will find that they have lost their luster as our new normal drags on.

Step 3: Identify the need underlying those goals

Our goals are connected with needs, either conscious or unconscious. Take this step to focus on those needs instead of the goals. As you uncover and examine the wants and desires that underlie your ambitions, you may discover more than one path for satisfying your life and work needs. Try out an adaptation of the 5 Whys problem-solving technique designed in the 1930s by Sakichi Toyoda, the Japanese industrialist, inventor, and founder of Toyota Industries.

Begin by describing your goal and ask yourself why it is important to you. What is the need you believe reaching it will fulfill? For example, perhaps you desire a promotion because it will provide you with a more significant opportunity to influence the direction and purpose of the organization that employs you. Or maybe you assume it will enable you to take more control over your work. Or perhaps you hope to oversee a team and seek to help team members achieve their goals.

Now, ask yourself why these needs are significant to you. Identify what these needs represent in your life. For example, maybe your need to guide team members represents the value you place in mentoring and nurturing the growth of others. Continue asking why until you run out of answers. The Toyoda method suggests asking the question five times. Chances are, your goals result from multiple underlying needs. Bring them to the surface so you can examine them.

Step 4: Dig deeper

Next, refer to your mission as you defined it in Step 1. How do your current career goals align with it? Where are the disconnects? This exercise often brings to light some discrepancies between what we claim to be our mission, values, and priorities, and the way we spend our time.

Since our goals tend to direct our activities, they should align with clear priorities. As you reframe your career goals, check for the connections. While your career is an essential aspect of your life, work will never satisfy all your needs. Moreover, unless your career goals are consistent with your mission, values, and ethics, you will experience the disconnects' discomfort and risk your credibility.

This reflection process will lead to greater self-insight and expand how you think about what is possible for your career. Gail Wagnild, from the Resilience Center, claims that the more we learn about ourselves, the more resilient we become. Self-knowledge deepens and widens our repertoire of skills and how we imagine applying them.

The ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty in our present circumstances require resolve and ingenuity as we create or recreate our professional futures. So take the time now to rethink, reimagine, and reframe your career.

Kathy Miller Perkins

Kathy Miller Perkins is a psychologist and a leadership and career coach. In her role as the owner and CEO of a consulting firm, she has assisted leaders of global corporations and educational institutions. Kathy directs a research program exploring the culture and leadership characteristics of successful purpose-driven organizations. She authored the book, Leadership and Purpose: How to Create a Sustainable Culture, and writes regularly for Kathy obtained her B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University and her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Kentucky. She is currently pursuing B Corps certification—a designation for businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

*Article reprinted and adapted with author’s permission from its original version in Forbes.