5 Rules to recalculate your career in 2021

Mar 11, 2021 | Sector & policy

Ahead of ISE’s Development Conference, keynote and best-selling author Lindsey Pollak shares advice on navigating your career in the ‘new normal’.

When Covid-19 first emerged, I started to think about all the people thrown unexpectedly into career transition because of the pandemic, lockdowns and economic fallout.

For some reason, I kept imagining the situation as that moment when you’re driving a car and the road forks, or you make a wrong turn, or you miss an exit. If you’re using the GPS on your phone or another device, it will glitch for a few seconds and then a robotic voice will say:


Because of the pandemic, I imagined every working adult on the planet in our cars, hearing this voice, all at the exact same time.

I thought about recent college grads trying to find their paths after college. I thought about people laid off from longtime positions in ‘dying’ industries who now needed to reinvent themselves in new fields. I thought about individuals launching entrepreneurial ventures or freelance careers. I thought about stay-at-home parents planning to reenter the workforce, or those forced to leave it. I thought about people who weren’t sure what they wanted to do, but Covid made them want some sort of change.

Even if the pandemic did not lead you to a major transition, you’ve likely spent the past year making readjustments and pivots to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the world today.

We are all recalculators now.

Recalculating is no doubt a challenge—but it’s also an opportunity. That’s the theme of my new book, Recalculating: Navigate Your Career Through the Changing World of Work.

As I started to think about what happens when a GPS is recalculating, I felt a growing sense of optimism. After all, when the navigation app is recalculating, it’s demonstrating that there are multiple ways to get wherever you want to go. It factors in how far you’ve come already—you are never starting from scratch. And, if you decide to change your destination entirely, it can get you there as well. When you recalculate, you open up infinite possibilities.

My conversations and research for the book also revealed that recalculating isn’t just a singular action at a particular moment in time, like deciding whether to turn right or left at a crossroads. Rather, the most successful and happy professionals described themselves as frequent and deliberate recalculators. Some of their recalculations were big and bold; others were small and nuanced. But they treated recalculation as a vital skill in their professional toolkits—one that they applied over and over again to help guide them to success in the good times and the challenging ones.

Andy O’Hearn, who recalculated from a corporate career to a master’s degree in library and information science, then back to a corporate career, put it this way:

“Recalculation is not a phase; it’s a mindset. Or, in more common parlance, it’s not a bug; it’s a feature.”

As you consider your own recalculations in 2021 and beyond, consider these five rules of the road:


1. Embrace creativity

A successful recalculation at any stage of your life requires you to try new things and burst out of your comfort zone. You’ll have to consider working in industries you may have disregarded (or had never heard of) before. You’ll need to use your imagination to brainstorm new ways to describe your skills and qualifications. You’ll be required to embrace new technologies and experiment with different methods of communication. You’ll be asked to expand your network to include people who think, look, and work differently from you. If we’ve learned anything from the upheaval of a global pandemic, it’s that anything can happen and the world can change on a dime. Now is not the time to be rigid. Be relentlessly, unyieldingly creative.


2. Prioritise action

Recalculation cannot take place only in your brain. You must, must, must take action. When in doubt, send an email. When you’re frustrated, call a friend or networking contact. When you’re on the fence, apply for the job, scholarship or business loan. The biggest impediment to your success as a recalculator is overthinking.


3. Control what you can

I wish I could tell you how many résumés you’ll need to send to land your dream job. I would love to tell you the exact date when economic conditions will be ideal for launching a new business. I dream about giving you the single salary negotiation tip that will guarantee you the highest number possible. Of course all of these wishes are impossible, because so much in life is out of our control. Control what you can and do your best to let the rest go.


4. Know your non-negotiables

There is a possibility you’ll have to make some trade-offs as part of any recalculation. You might take a step back in seniority, or stop making income for a few months, or work in an industry you never imagined, or move back in with your parents or a roommate. None of this is inherently ‘bad’ or ‘good’, ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. But it is your job to decide what compromises are okay to achieve your goals.


5. Ask for help

You are never, ever alone in your current recalculation or at any point in your career journey. There are always people, organisations, websites, social media feeds, books, and articles that are here to help and support you (example: Lindsey!). All you have to do is ask. Don’t know what salary request is appropriate in a particular industry? Ask. Don’t know how to tie a tie for your job interview? Ask. Don’t know what Slack is? Ask. You know when people say, ‘Don’t hesitate to ask?’ Don’t. Ask early, ask often, ask forever.


Lindsey Pollak is a New York Times bestselling author and one of the world’s leading career and workplace experts, with a focus on early career success.

Register to hear more advice from Lindsey at ISE’s Student Development Conference on 16 and 17 March 2021

Lindsey will be discussing Recalculating: Navigate Your Career and Organization Through the Changing World of Work at ISE’s Student Recruitment Conference, 29 June – 1 July 2021.

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