Whether chosen or uninvited, career change comes to us all sooner or later. For some, it arrives in the form of a pink slip, while for others it’s an unexpected pathway to fresh challenges. Change can also appear in the form of repeated whispers – deep intuitions that it’s time for us to move on or persistent reminders that our current role isn’t quite as satisfying as it once was.

Regardless of how change arrives, it always tends to wreak havoc on our life plans. But what if there were a roadmap you could follow to help you interpret the signs of change along the way and prepare for life’s next great adventure?
There is such a roadmap, and it’s called The Cycle of Renewal. First delineated by Frederic Hudson, PhD, in his best-selling book The Adult Years, The Cycle paints a picture of change that makes life’s inevitable chaos a bit easier to live with, especially when viewed through the lens of career transition.
Most of us begin our work lives in Hudson’s Getting Ready phase. In this chapter of life we explore possibilities, investigate options, and network our way into opportunities. Eventually we land a job and begin the Achieving phase, a season characterized by high-energy, focus, dedication, and goal attainment. While we may spend months to years Getting Ready, we may invest decades in sequential Achieving roles.
Sooner or later, though, something unexpected happens: We get laid off, our roles shift based on organizational realignments, or a new promotion or lateral opportunity comes our way. Perhaps we get the promotion we’ve been pursuing for ages and find that now we have it we don’t want it anymore. Or we do want it, but find it doesn’t meet our expectations any longer.
Non-work issues can intervene to upset our career applecart, too. Maybe our spouse wants a divorce or we receive a frightening diagnosis from our family doctor.
Welcome to The Plateau – the sudden dividing line between Achieving and The Doldrums that invites us in a new life direction. The Plateau passes quickly and propels us into The Doldrums, a dark chapter of life in which we may feel burdened by grief, negativity, or fear as we struggle to come to terms with the unexpected change of The Plateau.
This phase of change is filled with opportunity, but our options are often obscured by emotions; in fact, it’s not uncommon to experience the full range of grief as we attempt to let go of our most recent achievements and prepare ourselves for our next role. As we move through The Doldrums (which can take days to months), we approach The Decision Point.
While we may not be aware of the choices available to us, The Decision Point usually offers us at least two: To continue on the path we were on with slight adjustments (i.e., a similar role in a new company or industry) or to pursue a more significant shift (i.e., go back to school, change careers, or embark in a very different direction). If we choose the former, we pursue the only “shortcut” in the Cycle – the short road across the middle as we move fairly quickly from The Doldrums back to Achieving. If we choose the latter, we enter Cocooning.
The shortcut offers us the opportunity to shorten our career transition by “recycling” our skills and experiences in slightly new directions. We head into a job search, land a great new role, and start Achieving all over again. At some point, we approach The Plateau once again and find ourselves pushed back into The Doldrums, where we eventually arrive back at The Decision Point.
We may repeat this series of mini career transitions many times throughout our working lives. Sooner or later, though, a larger change looms and Cocooning beckons. When we recognize it’s time for a deeper shift we’re ready for the in-depth introspection, reflection, and values-sifting that Hudson terms Cocooning.
In this phase, which often occurs at mid-life though it isn’t restricted to the second half of life, we reflect back on our careers to date. We review those passions, interests, and values we have explored, claimed, and discarded as our careers have evolved. If we recognize the gift inherent in the cocoon, we embrace new possibilities while we prepare to risk new realities. Cocooning takes months to years to work through and inevitably leads to personal “reconstruction” on some level.
This means that sooner or later we find ourselves propelled back into the Getting Ready phase preparing for a new Achieving chapter. If change is never-ending, so is the Cycle of Renewal. While that means we’re guaranteed to experience more chaos ahead, it also gifts us with as much revitalization as we care to experience.

BlueSteps members: If you’re interested in exploring the cycles of your career or working with a certified coach to assist you in moving from stage to stage, contact BlueSteps Executive Career Services for a complimentary consultation with Cheryl or another of our coaches. We can help you move more swiftly through the cycles and land in the most satisfying Achieving stage of your career.


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