Congratulations! You’ve realized it’s time for a new job. But not just any job. You spend 40 to 60 hours a week at work. So now you want to be fulfilled and happy with your work. It’s true that you do have financial obligations. Yet money alone isn’t enough anymore. Maybe you’re tired of office politics or the constant struggle to be best. Maybe you want to spend more time with your kids or working on your home. Maybe the commute is wearing you down and you want to work from home. Or maybe you’ve done all you can or want to do in your career and want to explore some other options.

It could be that you’ve been forced into realizing that you can no longer work as you have in the past. Maybe you’ve been laid off or fired – before you had a chance to quit. Maybe you’re having a hard time finding another job in your field. And just maybe you’re having difficulty getting motivated to even look for something new.

If you’re in any of these situations, it’s time for a work transition.

Many people have gone through work transitions. Transition is different than change, according to William Bridges in his landmark book Transitions. A change is usually easy to make and takes a short period of time. A transition is much deeper and more thorough. It often takes a long time, usually involves some amount of struggle, and perhaps even causes emotional pain. Bridges talks about transitions as involving an ending, the neutral zone and a beginning.

Ending means closing the most recent chapter in your life. It can mean coming to terms with the reality that you are no longer the same person you were, or that you no longer like the same things you did, or that you are no longer suited to do the work you once did. It can mean accepting that you now have other priorities, or that you are physical unable to work at your old pace. It can involve processing feelings of shame or guilt or embarrassment. It can require recognizing the compromises and sacrifices you’ve made and realizing that you no longer can or will make them. Bridges suggests that it will be almost impossible to begin something new until you end the old, and experience supports his belief.

The neutral zone is the time and space between ending and beginning. It can be strange and disorienting as well as a time of great self-discovery and excitement. I call it the hallway between one door closing and another door opening. Sometimes the hallway has no light and you can’t see where you’re going. You feel my way along the wall, trusting that there will be another door. Meanwhile, you learn as much as you can about your likes, dislikes, hopes and disappointments, childhood dreams and unfulfilled aspirations, adult satisfactions and congenial environments. During that time, you discover the kind of work you really want to do and set on the road to finding the job that is your “right fit.” You form an “intention” about work that is grounded in your commitment to finding fulfilling work that fits into your life needs and priorities.

Beginning is almost the conclusion of the transition process – but not quite. For beginning something new involves a period of adjustment, of settling into the new space and work. You make a commitment to yourself during the neutral zone, that you only will take a job that is the “right fit” for you. During the beginning, you must constantly monitor yourself to confirm that the new job really meets your “right fit” criteria. If it doesn’t, that’s OK. Nothing has been wasted and you haven’t made a mistake. You’ve gotten more information about yourself that you can use as you prepare for a change.

The point of a work transition is to discover what you want to do, how you want to be, what kind of environment is best for you, how you work best, and who you want to work for and with. You create your own set of criteria, based on your own talents, skills, achievements, pleasures, and satisfactions. Those criteria become the yardstick against which you measure any potential job. There is a “right fit” job for you, like a glove on a hand. Your work involves defining the hand for the glove to fit. It’s exhausting, demoralizing, and stressful to try to bend yourself to meet the job’s needs and requirements. It’s far better to find a job that suits you.

Goal: JOB. Finding out what suits you is the purpose of this journey. Begin by identifying your goal. It can be just as undefined as a “JOB” as long as your intention is for a job that fits your preferences and needs.

Begin Search. The search starts with you identifying some possible options for work. Naturally, some options are related to your previous work simply because that is your area of expertise. Other options may be long-deferred dreams, or returning to something you once loved. Still other options may not emerge until later in the process. It’s not an exact science.

Information Gathering. In this phase, it’s essential to gather as much information as possible about the various options and especially about yourself. This is the gold mine you need to explore.

You can find out a lot about yourself by using some of the tools developed by TransitionWorks and others, such as the lifetime inventory of accomplishments. This involves listing your most satisfying achievements – things you are proudest of and did really well – and then teasing out similarities among them. You could discover that you love working alone, even if you’ve had to work in groups throughout your career. You could discover that you love being in charge of a team, or that you love working with your hands. Other tools can help you identify things for which you have a passion, or themes running through your work of which you were never aware.

You also need to learn more about your potential work options. You need to find out the state of the industry or field, what skills are needed, common work environments, geographic restrictions, pay scales, and more. The Internet and other media are great sources of information, as are friends and neighbors. As a result of this research, you may discard some options, refine and narrow others, or uncover a new option.

The outcome of this phase is your first statement of intention about work. You will come up with a three to four sentence summary of what you’ve learned about yourself and what you’re now interested in doing. You can have more than one interest at first. Your goal is to narrow down your intention so you can eventually come up with your “right fit” criteria for your next job.

You may discover that you need to “dual path” – pursue a job to pay the bills while also pursuing your passion. You may find that your passion requires more expertise, education, investment or sacrifice than you have or can afford right now. You don’t have to put it aside; you can work toward it. Sometimes, pursuing a passion makes a “day job” more tolerable.

Networking and Information Interviews. Networking can sound intimidating. Yet you do it every day without thinking about it. Every time you ask someone to recommend a plumber, you’re networking. Every time you send your friend to another friend for advice about something, you’re networking. Every time you meet someone at a party and end up calling that person later, you’re networking.

In this phase, networking is solely for the purposes of gathering more information about the various options. Using your statement of intent, you let your “natural network” know that you want to learn more about your areas of interest and ask for their help. Your “natural network” is family, friends, neighbors, trusted colleagues and former colleagues – people with whom you feel comfortable. Ask them if they know anyone who works in your area(s) of interest to whom they’d introduce you. All you want is 20 minutes of that person’s time to learn more about what s/he does and the field in which s/he works.

Another “natural network” may be people you don’t know at all – yet. Two people I know targeted companies working in the area in which they wanted to work. They wrote e-mails and letters to people at those companies, introducing themselves and their passion for the field, and inquiring about whether they could talk to someone at the company about what the company did. After many unanswered e-mails, both got responses from two companies. One got a job that previously didn’t exist – the company created a job for her! They did so because she presented the company with a solution for a problem they were just realizing they had. Her research and thinking allowed her to come up with ideas that the company desperately needed to implement – and she was the right person to implement them. The second person is negotiating with a company for a position they would have to create for him.

The lesson: go with what feels right to you. If you’re not comfortable contacting people you know, OK. What’s important is that you begin putting your intention out into the world somehow. “Out in the world” is the only place people can get to know what you have to offer.

It’s best if you have some idea of what you think you could do in the area of interest, so people have enough detail to grab onto. If your intention is too broad (“I want to learn more about TV”), it’s hard for people to think of people you could interview. A better statement of intent is “I want to learn more about TV production, especially what goes into making a reality show or a talk show.” This gives your contact enough information to think of people who work in TV production, on reality shows, talk shows, and even cooking, travel or home design shows.

Networking and practice interviews. There is a stage where you start narrowing your efforts and search. You engage in more networking, moving farther afield. With feedback, you refine your statement of intention so it really captures exactly what you want to do. This means eliminating some previous options. Usually now you know enough to draft your “must have” list. In this stage, too, you’ll want to go on “practice interviews.” This involves applying for jobs that seem to meet at least 50% of your criteria with the goal of getting interviews. You may not know if you actually want the job yet you also never know when practice will yield a real opportunity. So put your heart into the effort and at very least, use every interview as a chance to practice responses to hard questions. Interviews are your opportunity to learn more about field and yourself to further refine intention. You also get to assess jobs according to your “must have” criteria. The more interviews you go on, the more opportunity you have to say “no” to a wrong fit job. Keep networking to get closer to actual jobs that meet 75-80% of “must have” list.

Interviews and evaluating opportunities. On interviews for real jobs, it’s important to interview them, too. Your “Must have” list includes things like industry and/or occupational preference, scope of responsibility, preferred compensation, work environment (physical and social), hours required, etc. Evaluate opportunities based on that criteria. Be flexible early on in discussions to keep your options open. Too much rigid adherence to your must have list too soon in the process will result in you being eliminated from the hiring process and you will not get to learn enough to decide if you do or don’t want the job. Practice faith that you will find the right fit. If you don’t get a job offer, figure out possible reasons. Was it the right fit for you? Is it a blessing in disguise? Did you really want it? Did you believe it was meant to be yours?

Job offer assessment and ensuring “right fit.” How does this job meet your “must have” list? If you’re dual pathing, does it allow you enough time to pursue your passion? You do get to say no to the wrong fit.