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Chunking your move.

Sometimes the signs are all around you. You know, without a shadow of a doubt: it’s the right time for the next right thing. Other times, somebody lets you know it’s time to move on, and that might come as a complete surprise.

Either way, most of us have had or will have the experience of searching for a new position or even a new career.

Right now, positions are plentiful. The unemployment rate’s been under four percent for months now. And yet, the search can feel like a game of musical chairs. There might be a lot of open chairs … but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find one to sit on before all the chairs you’d choose are filled.

And you still hear stories about companies making changes, closing offices, letting people go.

Which means some of us have to find something new. And that can be a challenge. It’s easy for a person to get stuck “in transition”—it seems they can’t quite launch their next act. Or even figure out what their next act should be.

I know just how they feel.

When I got blown out at WLS after 18 years, I knew for sure I had to find another radio job. I didn’t know how to do anything else; I’d been in broadcasting since I graduated from college. I was so married to the mic, I often joked, “I have no marketable skills.”

It took nearly a year of conversations that went nowhere before I finally found a spot as John Landecker’s side-chick at WJMK.

Career stability was not my lot, as it turned out. A couple years later, when that gig caved in, I took a different tack.

First of all, I got some help from a coach. She strongly suggested that I stop dismissing my skills as not marketable. That kind of self-deprecating humor is sometimes not humorous. And I started thinking about those skills in a new light.

I bring what I learned in that process to my work with clients now. You know I coach individuals who need to talk about their work and its value in a more compelling way. Some of them are selling a service or product. And all of them are, at some level, selling themselves.

We often use a process I call chunking up and chunking down

You might want to try it. Here’s how it works, using my path as an example; you can substitute your own professional experience for mine and see how it applies.

If I labeled my work “hosting a talk show,” or “doing the news” or “reporting the traffic”… there really was no market for those skills, at least not in the Chicago market, and not in the way I did that work. The marketplace had clearly spoken about that.

That’s where I had to chunk down and get more specific

What did I really do when I went into the radio station? My mission was to gather information. And distill it. And write it up in a pithy, powerful way. And then deliver it with some style and a certain wry touch. I asked probing questions to develop information beneath the surface. I worked on a team with a bunch of boys. And I kept my sense of humor in the process—so I worked well as part of an ensemble.

Now those are skills that could be used in so many non-radio contexts, right? Looking at my work that way opened a world of possibilities.

At the same time, I also chunked up and got more general.

Instead of calling myself a talk show host or a newscaster or a morning show side-chick, I decided what I really was…was a conversationalist. Maybe even a performer. True, until then, I’d done most of my performing on the radio. But why limit myself? Why couldn’t I do what I did outside of a broadcast studio?

I might even be able to do it front of an actual, live, right-there-in-the-room-with-me audience, for example. Which, of course, is exactly what I do now. Or at least I did until I became a full-time caregiver for a husband in hospice…and at some point, I’ll do it again.

I never would have expected to wind up as a professional speaker and workshop facilitator. One of the best things about radio was not being seen! But this work is, in fact, a natural outgrowth of my first career in broadcasting.

Maybe you’re wondering what’s next for you?

You might sit down and ponder these possibilities; take time to write down what you come up with.

  • Get away from the label that goes with a job. You are not your title.
  • Focus on the specific activities your job entails. Chunk down.
  • Then think bigger–that previous position is a subset of what? Chunk up.

Chunking down and chunking up will help you set a new course, whether you’re emerging from a company that’s going in a different direction, relaunching a career after a break, or just feeling ready for a fresh start.

And you know me; I’m dying to hear how this goes for you. Leave a comment below,