Episode 72

The Sunflower Model Career Transition Guide

Have you ever wondered how many people change careers after a job loss or by choice? Studies show that, on average, individuals undergo a career transition about five to seven times during their lifetime. The problem is that each transition is not without its own challenges. So, what does it take to navigate these waters successfully?

In this episode, Ashish Kothari, Founder of HAPPINESS SQUAD Podcast, offers a comprehensive guide to career progression, specifically how to secure promotions or transition into new roles and leveraging the "Sunflower Model" to achieve professional growth and success.

The episode serves as a comprehensive guide for listeners to reflect on their current positions, identify what they truly want from their careers, and make strategic moves to achieve those goals while maintaining personal well-being and a sense of purpose.

Things you will learn from this episode:

  • How to assess your skills
  • The importance of feedback and coaching
  • The concept of Job Crafting
  • The benefits of open vs closed networks

Tune in now and discover the secrets to the smoothest career transition! Check out our latest article here for insights and strategies that work.



Hardwired for Happiness: 9 Proven Practices to Overcome Stress and Live Your Best Life.https://www.amazon.com/Hardwired-Happiness-Proven-Practices-Overcome/dp/1544534655


Hi, dear friends. Welcome to yet another episode of the Happiness Squad. This is a special episode. It is the third episode in our series on how you can use the sunflower model to achieve any goals that you have in your life professionally or personally, or overcome any obstacles or hurdles that life has thrown your way in pursuit of those goals or aspirations that you have.

In our last episode, we talked about how you can use the Sunflower to navigate a job transition. Let's say you lost your job recently in all the different layoffs we've experienced, or you consciously decided to change your job.

In this episode, I want to talk about the other aspect of jobs, which is if you are in your job, how do you achieve more career success, professional success? How do you get promoted or maybe transition from a role at your company that you have been in to something else that now you're being called to?

That's what we're going to explore today. We're going to use the nine petals, the nine practices of the sunflower, as guideposts, helpful tools to help us along in this journey.

If you want to learn more about those nine practices, you can go to the Feb 27th episode where we covered those nine practices in detail. But for now, let's dive in.


Any of the journeys that we start, we always want to start with awareness. Awareness is so key because we see the world as we are and not as the world is.

And oftentimes, there are underlying beliefs that are how you might be making sense of the world, stories you might have about yourself and about others that are just that, they're stories. They might not be realities, or at the very least, even if they are the realities for you, they might not be the realities for others.

So now when we want to get promoted or change careers, it is equally important what others think about us in terms of our superiors, our collaborators, and others who can either be helpful aids in our progression or annoyances that we sometimes might find ourselves to be.

And so awareness is always a good place to start. In fact, the first question from awareness that I invite you to ask yourself is:

Why is it that you really want that promotion?

Why is it that you really want that role change?

It's really important to start from there because so many times we feel that we want to move up. We want to get promoted because we are chasing some societal definition of what it means to be successful. And if I'm successful, I will be happier. In many cases, that turns out to not be the truth.

Now, one of my dear friends, Bina, who I've been collaborating with for taking some of her work to India, has a beautiful story that brings this to life. She is unbelievable. She loves design. She's super creative, and she really thrived in her role in merchandising at one of India's leading companies on fashion apparel.

She, in fact, did so well that along came a promotion. She was asked to go from head of merchandising to leading the entire brand. She was made the CEO, the president for that brand. She took the role because everybody around her said, "Hey, congratulations, you've arrived, isn't this what you've been waiting for? Wonderful!"

What she found very quickly was that in that role, from merchandising, where she loved to choose what products their store carried, the design of them, she could even design her own and get them manufactured.

Now she had to deal with quarterly earnings. She had to deal with financials. She had to deal with a lot of HR issues across the company. And very soon it led to her dream job becoming her nightmare job.

Understand your why

So again, step number one is always really important to go back and understand why is it that you need this promotion or this role and make sure it's for the right reasons. Make sure it's because it is something that you want.

It might be that you're bored of your existing role and you want to grow. It might be because you want to move from an individual contributor to a people leader role and you want to be able to help others. Whatever it is, just make sure that you know that the why is very, very clear.

Assess your skills

Second step, once you've validated why you want the role, is to really then get a real, honest assessment of where you are and what capabilities, skills, experiences, and demonstrated impact might you need, the gap that you might need to close between what the role demands and your current state.

Now you can understand and get an understanding of what the expectations are from the role from the job description, but very rarely do job descriptions fully cover what's expected to get there.

So the best way to do that is to connect with others in that role. Explore what they're doing, what they're working on, what has helped them get there, connect with others who might be your superiors, other collaborators in other functions who could help you in that role.

Understand from them and also get a true assessment of where you are, not what you think, but ask for feedback. Ask for input from your bosses, from other people who will have a role in evaluating you to make sure that you're ready.

And don't just ask for feedback. Ask for their support, ask for their sponsorship, their mentoring, helping really enrolling them in putting together a tangible plan that over the next quarter, 6 to 12 months, two years, whatever the timeline is, helps you close the gaps and truly grow the skills and capabilities required, the experiences to make sure that you will be ready for the next role.

Ask for feedback

The third equal part, if you are a people leader, is that many often when we think about the next level role, so if you might be a VPGM, a vice president general manager for a brand, and you're looking for a president role, or you're leading a team of six to eight people, and now you're looking to lead a department.

Oftentimes we think it is all about the technical, but the more tenured you get, it is more about your leadership than about your technical skills.

Now there is so much extensive research. One in particular from Tasha Urich, but you can find so many other researchers who have written about this, who have published this in the Harvard Business Review.

The higher you go up, the bigger is the gap between your own assessment of your strengths and how you show up versus how your leaders, how your peers, how your subordinates experience you. So rather than go based on what you think, engage a coach, ask your HR teams to help you get a true 360-degree assessment.

Now an instrument that I find that is incredibly helpful is the leadership circle profile. It is really powerful because it really allows you to map your own journey, your own development as a leader along two key dimensions.

Creative vs Reactive dimension

The first is a creative versus reactive dimension. The reactive dimension is really all about how much do you use the tactics of controlling, complying, and protecting to get things done. Creative is about how often do you use relating, inspiring, achieving, leading authentically with a high degree of self and system awareness to get things done.

As you can imagine, the first gets things done in the short term, but it's really energy draining. The creative scales because it creates energy into the system, into the teams you lead.

Task vs Relationship dimension

The other two dimensions are task and relationship. Are you too relationship-focused and hence maybe not able to get things done as fast? Or are you too task-oriented? And sometimes the success is at the cost of relationships. Now an ideal state is a balance between task and relationships. Like two wings of a bird, if you really want to fly, you want to be even.

So this instrument is really effective because it really gives you an orientation holistically about how you're leading. And it's one of the only instruments I've found that is strongly correlated in terms of more creative you are, the more effective you are, more balanced you are, the more effective and it ties it to business performance.

So, if you want to achieve, one of the key things that is always critical to move to the next role is we are seen and we deliver against expectations, we are able to perform at a higher level, and we do that through leading others. And so this tool, this instrument can be really effective if you truly engage with your peers, with those who work for you.

With those who are superior, you can even actually invite your clients or your suppliers or customers. You can invite your family members. You can actually get a really good holistic view into it.

And you know, friends, the best part about it, it's grounded in the adult development theory developed out of Harvard.

And so while you're doing this to figure out how do you close the gaps to get promoted, in effect, what you're doing is you're investing in your own development to grow as a human, to elevate your consciousness, to elevate your stage of development from what often we find, which is socialized.

We make sense from how the world and how the society and the functions, norms and values are. We're just starting to find our own inner voice. So regardless of why you're doing it, this instrument can give you that analysis and give you a path to continuously develop.

So that's awareness. Really, really important.

Know your ‘why’.

Know truly the gaps that you need to bridge so you can build a plan to close them in terms of technical skills and experiences.

Know where you are in your own vertical development so you can find the right support and invest in the right set of actions that you can take to develop vertically as a leader.

So those are some of the most important elements.


Let's go next to the second petal, which can be really, really helpful in our progression in our careers.

Now, we know from research that those individuals who find meaning in what they do, their jobs are not just a way to earn a paycheck or just a way to get promoted, but truly they find meaning in what they do. They are more adaptable. They are more resilient. They progress much faster. They are more productive. They create just a higher impact.

And so my invitation, dear friends in the second petal, is really infuse more meaning into what you're doing every day. If you find that your job only 30 percent of the time provides meaning, don't accept that as status quo. Really take actions to change that.

And there is so much that you can do individually. And there's so much that your immediate team can do if you engage them the right way. So how do we do that?

Know if your job is giving you meaning

So look, the first thing and foremost is actually knowing truly is my job having meaning for me? And is it still serving me on my life's journey?

We are not born to work. We work to be able to live our best lives. And ideally, the work we do, something that we spend most of our waking hours doing, should be in service of something bigger, in service of a broader calling. If not broader calling, at least in line with that IKIGAI.

Ikigai is about the intersection of what I love, what I'm good at, what the world needs, and is it willing to pay for? So we shouldn't be miserable and suffer through those jobs that are really important.

And my advice to you is take every six months and really set back and really think about the career, the job, the company and say, is this still serving me? Do I still want to continue on this path? Or do I want to make a change? And again, before you decide to change your company, see if you can fundamentally make changes to what you do every day.

Job crafting to fill it with more meaning

And that's where the second instrument comes in, which is really powerful. Now, there is a powerful intervention, a tool that was developed by Professor Jane Dutton and Mamie Brzezinski. You can research it. You can find it, on the web. It's called job crafting.

Job crafting is a really, really powerful way for you to do this for yourself, but also for your team, which is to craft your job to fill it with more meaning. There are three ways in which you do that.

The first is task crafting. Take a look at what you do every day. Think about those things that drain energy and think about those that create energy. See how you can actually change what you do every day to be able to do more of what you love and find other ways to deal with those that and drain your energy. You might automate, you might outsource, you might actually re delegate it to other people who enjoy that work.

We are not all born equal, we don't enjoy all the same things. There might be somebody else who's very happy to take something you don't enjoy anymore off your plate because it ties in what they like.

Second is relationship crafting. Think about people at your job that give you energy. You enjoy working with them. You find them inspiring. And see if there are ways in which you can spend more time with them.

And finally, purpose crafting. Look, friends, if there is any company that you work for that actually is revenue generating, it implicitly means that they're providing a service that is making a positive difference to someone.

We don't like to share our money, give away our money to something that doesn't provide value. So they're probably creating some positive impact out there. It's just that when we are sometimes three, four, five levels below the hierarchy in a company, our day to day work is not in touch with that bigger why.

So step back and evaluate and have a purpose dialogue with your team. Have a purpose dialogue with your peers around how what you are doing every day is making a positive difference in the world and really use that as a way to reconnect with meaning.

Remember, meaning is really, really important. Those who have a ‘why’ can survive any ‘how’. A beautiful saying by Frederick Nietzsche.

Explore lateral moves

The third is before you decide to change your job to change your company because you feel that what you want to do, you're never going to get here, really explore lateral moves. See if you can take initiatives in areas that you want to go with, even if that is not something that you do today.

So you might be in operations, you might be running a production line, but you really want to do more work around innovation. You're creative, you want more of that in there, and your immediate job environment doesn't allow you to do that. That's okay.

Reach out, explore and have a conversation with somebody in marketing, or somebody in R&D, or somebody in innovation to see if there is a way for you to get involved.

Maybe just initially as a subject matter expert on the implications of the product or the service they're creating that you would have to deliver. Eventually, in terms of an ideation source, potentially, even as a consumer of the product.

If you can't immediately build those relationships, ask your superiors, others in the company that you do know, or your HR teams who might be able to make the connection. We are always one or two degrees of separation, dear friends, away from people that we want to connect with that can help us.

So just because you don't know them, shouldn’t stop you.


Which brings me to the third important point. community, which is our eighth practice, our eight petal. Now we know that those who have high-quality relationships are more successful.

And so if you want to progress and be more successful in a career, it's never too late to start investing in your relationships. You can always start, even if up until now you haven't done it, you can start now.

Most immediately, what you can start to do is truly, as we mentioned, in terms of purpose and what you want to do, find people in your company who could act as good mentors, sponsors, or give you access to some of these opportunities. You will be amazed when you ask for help, when you ask for people to share their experiences, how willing they will be.

In parallel, start to deepen and broaden your network for the long term. I wanted to share this research that was done by Ron Burt, who was an esteemed professor at my alma mater, Chicago Booth, where I went for my MBA.

Now, Ron studied the effects of open versus closed networks on professional success. Let me define these two for you.

Open vs Close Networks

Open networks are networks that are filled with what are called weak ties. So weak ties are relationships with people that you might not interact with as much. Strong ties are those that you interact with very closely.

So think about your immediate working team. Think about people you collaborate with right away. They might be your most common friends that you hang out with.

In contrast, weak ties might be relationships that you have that are, with people in the industry. You might meet them every once a year at the industry conference. There might be others who you went to school with.

You don't work with them all the time. You don't see them all the time. But, they know you and you know them. Think about your suppliers and your customers. Again, somebody you might not interact with all the time in your role, but are in your industry.

Now, what he found was that those individuals who had a lot more weak ties, in effect, had open networks, did much better in terms of success than those who had closed networks or a lot of strong ties. Now, why that might be? It all comes down to the access to information that open networks give us.

Let me give you a really simple example from my own journey in my time at McKinsey, on my path from associate to partner.

Now, at any point in time at the firm, I always had my feet in three or four different boats. Why? Because I was curious, I enjoyed that work, I wanted to connect with people, I wanted to learn.

So, a lot of my work in my earlier days was in procurement. And so I made sure that I knew a lot of folks in procurement, the leaders, the managers who are doing that work.

I also was interested in product development and in particular, one of the areas called design to value. And so I spent a lot of time building and getting to know people in product development.

From an industry point of view, I was interested in two distinct industries. I really liked consumer products. I like the fact that whatever we did, the impact we had for clients, we could see the impact on the shelf. I could actually share that with my spouse to say, this is what I did.

In addition, I liked industrial companies, companies that made really large machines. You see, I was an engineer. I got my bachelor's and master's in chemical engineering. And so that really intrigued me as well.

Now, this is a very different profile than somebody typical in a consulting role. We choose a function or we choose a sector and we stay in it.

Now, you can imagine the benefit that I had because of my investment in these relationships across four areas. Implicitly, I had more access to information. I had more access to opportunities for staffing that came up.

But more importantly, I could also cross-pollinate ideas, innovations, best practices that I was seeing in these different areas and bring that to my industry colleagues or bring an industry trend to my procurement colleagues around where the industry was going and where we need to start to focus.

So think about doing that in your own context. If you're a marketing person, really build the relationships with folks in operations in procurement, in manufacturing, in supply chain. Truly understand the world from their eyes.

If you are in manufacturing, you know, understand and get to know folks in, again, other departments, get to know folks in innovation.

So you can start to kind of engage and learn more about what's coming down the pipe and what might be the implications for manufacturing or connect with your procurement team and see how, through your innovation, through your expertise, you can be helping them make their suppliers become more productive or come up with new ways that are net value creating.

Keep in touch and meaningfully connect

So always constantly be thinking about cultivating more open networks. Now, one of the simplest ways that anybody can do this is to stay in touch or reconnect with our friends from our younger years, from times when we went to college, from our prior jobs, or even from times that we went for our master's degrees, our MBAs.

Each one of them, when we take time to connect and keep in touch, that's the beauty of weak ties, we don't need to do a lot, but when we at least once a year, if not every six months, meaningfully connect Check in with the others.

See how you can be helpful to them in their journeys. Who can you connect them with in your networks? That quality of network, that relationships that you will build, will continue to serve you and keep you in good stead as you progress in your career. As I mentioned, it's never too late to get started.

Even if you haven't kept in touch with your friends from business school and it's been 10-15 years, that's okay. Find the 10 people that you spent that you enjoyed, see where you are.

Today with technology, LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, it is so easy to reconnect, connect with them, tell them you are thinking of them, apologize if you need to stay out of touch and rekindle that relationship.

The investments we make in the quality of our community are and our friends, our colleagues can go a long, long way.

So we've covered awareness. We've covered purpose. We have covered community. I would be remiss if I don't talk about three of the other practices that can really make sure that as we are taking actions, we are filling our own cup so that we can be at our best. And those are the practices of well-being, mindfulness, and gratitude.

Well-being, Mindfulness, Gratitude

So three tips I want to share with you, dear friends, that have really helped me along my years. You know, my first big part of my career, I felt that if I wanted to achieve something, I just had to work hard.

And I did my fair share of late nights, three to four hours a night of sleep, constantly working, because I felt that that was the way that I could achieve more only in my later years.

I realized when I stepped back and you really look at your how you're operating from a balcony point when you are continuously not sleeping enough, when you're continuously fueling up with caffeine or whatever your source is, of energy is to keep you going, our ability to think is going down.

We don't think as clearly. It takes us longer. We are more prone to errors. We have less emotional regulation. And so we lose our temper more easily, we get distracted, and we are at a much higher risk of stress or burnout.

So while we think that, you know, it's, we're getting a lot done between six and nine, I promise you that if you integrate these tips I'm about to share with you, you will get more done between nine to six than it takes you today to do between six and nine.

So three key things in your journey towards more career success.

Own your bookends.

Start and end the day on your terms. Every morning, see if you can wake up early. Most leaders wake up early and they keep the first hour to two hours to themselves. Now, your morning routine, your first bookend might include a physical exercise, stretching, cardio, strength training, you can cycle through them. But also include some training for your mind.

Today, our jobs require our mind more than our bodies. They're not physical in nature, they're cognitive. And it is time that we trained our minds in the same rigor and discipline as many of us train our bodies.

When we invest in mindfulness, we truly enable much higher levels. We unlock much higher clarity in thinking. We think a lot faster and we gain a lot more emotional regulation because our brain structures fundamentally change with meditation. So start your day with mindfulness, start your day with some level of physical practice.

The second bookend you gotta own is the end of the day. Make sure that you have a natural wind down period so you can get sufficient sleep.

Seven to nine hours is what 90 percent of people need. As Americans, we are a sleep-deprived nation. If you are early in your career, you are sleep-deprived and not really operating at your fullest potential. So I invite you to see how these practices help you.

Have a natural shutdown routine at least an hour before you go to bed, turn off any of the kind of any of your exposure to blue light, which is devices. Maybe have a hot bath, read something spiritual, journal, either something that you're grateful for for the day or an achievement.

You see, when we are chasing our next milestone or career progression, we sometimes forget to enjoy the journey. We forget to enjoy the daily successes. The achievements that we have the good things that happened to us. All the abundance that we already have.

These are important things that we can cultivate that rewire our brains and make us enjoy the journey more. So number one is own your bookends morning and evening, put together a set of practices that nourish you, that truly increase your capacity for what you can achieve.

Renew your energy

Now, equally important in terms of owning your bookends is how you renew throughout the day. Our energies can constantly be recharged. The problem in the way we work today is we might go back to back to back meetings most day. Huge personal cost in terms of stress that builds up in our brains.

There's a recent study by Microsoft that highlighted this. Where it showed what the effect of back-to-back meetings was on our ability to focus the stress buildup that we had that individuals had in that study. It's quite extreme. Take a look at that. If you need further evidence, to make a change and have more mindful breaks in your day.

So we can recharge through several ways.

We can number one, introduce more movement, we can take breaks every 90 minutes or 120 minutes for about 5 or 10 minutes where we just close our eyes and we just take 5 to 6 deep breaths. Over lunch, you can step out and let nature do its work. Go sit next to a tree or even go for a short walk.

Benefit from the sunlight. That can be amazingly healing for us. Call a friend. Connect with somebody. Wish them a happy birthday. Check in with them. Another energy practice that can help us renew. But really think about three or four things that you do between nine to six that allow you to renew your batteries. Really, really important.

And the third one I would say is, my friends, set clear boundaries. Set clear boundaries between work when you are really actively working and between when you are really there for your family or for yourself.

I am all about work-life integration, not about work-life balance, but work-life integration also requires us to have boundaries. Work-life integration does not mean that we are constantly working and living at the same time. It requires that we balance how we work with how we live. When we are working, we are really present. When we are living, we're really present with that.

That's what's required. Quite contrasting to why I lived so much of my life, where even though I was present, I was not working, I was with my family, I was thinking about work. It's a big difference now when, when I shut down for that time that I'm not, that I'm truly with my family.


Last but not the least, the practice of intention. Intention setting, and living into the intentions. This is how you're going to make sure that you bridge the gaps. You need to close actions. We need to take and make them into practice.

There is a lovely graphic that I came across the other day, and it asked this question. It showed a log and it showed five frogs that were sitting on it. And the caption said five frogs are sitting on a log. One frog decides to jump into the pond. How many frogs are left?

It was a trick question. The answer isn't four or none. The answer is five. Because deciding to jump and jumping are two different things. For so many of us, those who have not lived into our New Year's resolutions, that's all too familiar.

So it's really important to be able to practice and put into our schedules what we want to achieve, what we want to do. So how do we do that? Three things that we would consider doing. This would be my advice.

Number one, set some real SMART goals, at least by quarter. So SMART is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. They need to be time-bound. They need to be really specific, actions that you can take, things that you can control. Make sure that you can measure them.

Really, really important to set the right goals. When we set the right goals, we can then make progress against them.

Number two, regardless of the goals you set, you are going to have life throw all kinds of obstacles at you. So what it means is we have to constantly build in periods, what I call balcony moments, to be able to step back. And make sure that what we do every day is in line with our North Star, our intention of where we are going.

So what does that mean? My invitation is to consider this following set of actions that you can take. Every day before you start your day, take five minutes to define what's the most important thing you want to do today.

Do the same 30 minutes every week, 60 minutes every month, and at least for half a day or a day every quarter. This is the moments when you're stepping back and you're looking at your plan and you're looking at the progress you're making against it and making the corrective actions you need to do to achieve it.

Now, why these four different intervals? Well, these four intervals are important because when you have the highest degree of flexibility much further out, a quarter out, a lot more flexible to be able to make the changes. And what I would say is take that quarter in a month and truly integrate into your schedule things that are really important for you.

Maybe there are some of the things around well-being, there are things around what you want to learn. There might be relationships and meetings that you want to meet with people and deepen that connection. Schedule them in the calendar because otherwise the day today is going to get in the way. So that's the second big thing.

Number one, set your goals. Number two, create the step back balcony moments that allow you to course-correct. It's just like sailing friends.

You don't control how the weather is going to change. But if you step back and constantly look at the sky, look at the compass around where you're going, versus where the wind might be taking you, it allows you to change directions, it allows you to change tack, to make sure that you're navigating towards your goal.

No journey would be complete without obstacles that are going to come your way, successes that you might have, and then failures. And so emotional regulation and other two practices become really important. Look, as you do all the things you need to do to get to the next level, you might not get the promotion, the month or the quarter, or even the year that you want.

Someone else might get promoted, and that can bring up envy and resentment. When you don't get promoted, you might get angry and frustrated. It's important, dear friends, to not play the comparison game, to not let that take us down and act out in vengeance or go towards numbing strategies.

Instead, let's be compassionate. Let's recognize that what we are going through is hard. Let's try and learn from what the others who have succeeded can teach us. And let's reconnect to our bigger why, why we are on this journey in the first place.

I hope you find these tips, these practices helpful as you design your own journey, your own ways in which you are going to integrate these into your life to achieve success in your career, to progress to the next role, to shift directions into a new function that you might be interested in. Let me know how they resonate with you. Reach out to me. It'll be my pleasure to support you.

Take care and have a wonderful day.

About the Podcast

Show artwork for The Happiness Squad Podcast with Ashish Kothari
The Happiness Squad Podcast with Ashish Kothari
Unlock your full potential with the Happiness Squad podcast! Host Ashish Kothari, Founder & CEO, brings leading experts to help you live with more joy, health, love, and meaning. Discover the art and science of happiness to live and operate at your best.

About your host

Profile picture for Ashish Kothari

Ashish Kothari

Ashish Kothari is the Founder and CEO of Happiness Squad, a company focused on democratizing happiness and touching a billion+ lives over the next 20 years and helping them live with more joy, health, love, and meaning.

Prior to founding Happiness Squad and writing his best-selling book “Hardwired for happiness”, Ashish spent 25 years in consulting, including the last 17 at McKinsey and Co, a premier management consulting firm, helping thousands of clients and their organizations achieve breakthrough performance by building new mindsets and capabilities.

Ashish is a trained ontological coach and a lifelong student of human thriving.