How to Start Your Career Change
Back in September, when we visited Israel, I met with an old friend whom I hadn't seen in a long time. She shared that she just got back to work after taking a month's sabbatical to figure things out.
After working in the same place for nearly a decade, she felt called to pause and reassess what she wanted to do.
“And, was it productive?” I asked.
Her answer didn’t surprise me: “No. I’m feeling even more confused. And feeling worse for wasting this time…”
Truthfully, I don’t know anyone who ‘took time to think’ and found it fruitful. More often than not, the results are quite the opposite – analysis paralysis and crazy-making. We end up spending way too much time in pyjamas, with Netflix and peanut butter cups. We’re left feeling lost, confused, overwhelmed and insecure.
I’ve come to believe we don’t really need focused days/weeks to figure out our next big career steps (or any other life decisions).
Having said that, a ‘gap year’, meaning taking a year off mid-career to volunteer, work or travel abroad (rather than just taking time off to stay at home and think) can be an amazingly inspiring and eye-opening experience. But for many of us, that’s not feasible.
So, how can we discover what's next without getting overwhelmed? How can we make sure, in this process, that we don't end up landing back in a role, work situation or environment similar to the one we’re trying to move away from in the first place? How can we open our horizons to new ideas and opportunities?
If, like my friend, you’ve been at the same job or role or industry for years, it can feel challenging to even contemplate doing something else.
So instead of trying to find an answer by ‘forced thinking’, we need a combination of –
space to sit quietly with ourselves and explore who we are and what we want to experience in our work and life
dedicated time for research
To break it down, here are some tangible steps you can take to start exploring a meaningful career shift:
The first step towards career transition is figuring out what’s meaningful to you. If that seems overwhelming, start by looking at the things you’re already doing in your current job or outside of work that bring you meaning - Is it mentoring someone at work? Is it teaching your daughter how to ride her bike? Is it helping a friend with a creative project? Is the volunteering work that you’re doing? Is it learning new things? Is it writing a personal blog? What about these activities makes you feel fulfilled/gives you a sense of satisfaction?
Have a heartfelt courageous conversation with yourself about the ideas and inclinations that you already have and probably have had for a long time. Take a big piece of paper and brainstorm all your curiosities, interests and new and old career ideas. Don’t edit yourself. Give yourself permission to fully explore these ideas. Imagine you’re a kid at an amusement park – you’re running around between all the different attractions, trying things out, having second and third rounds at the ones you especially enjoyed. The key is, just like a child at the amusement park, to have fun, explore with curiosity and without any pressure on yourself.
Go out there, get your hands dirty. This is the research phase. This is where you want to ask yourself: What is something I can do to begin to gather data about these new directions? Take the ideas from the step above and try them on. Here are some examples:
Set up a lunch with somebody who works in that field you’re interested in so you can learn more about it and what it means to actually work in that field
Talk to people who do what you’re interested in (even if it’s only a vague connection to it)
Read a memoir by someone in that field / job
Attend talks, conferences, short one day/weekend/evening courses, classes or workshops on your subjects of interest
Shadow someone at their job for a day to see what their role is like
Volunteer in your areas of interest
Take on additional projects or responsibilities at your current work that relate more to your interests (for example, help out another department in some way)
Connect with people on social media that do what you’re interested in, listen to job profile interviews on YouTube or ‘day in the life of...’ interviews in the media
Anything that gives you the opportunity to delve into the worlds/fields you’re interested in so you can try out your career ideas before making any commitment. This is a stage where a lot of people get intimidated. It can feel like things are getting real (even though you’re still just exploring at this stage!) and fears and self-criticisms start showing up. That’s why it’s so important to do a lot of mindset and personal development work alongside.
It may seem a lot of ‘work’, but as with any long-lasting change we’re trying to create, it’s essential to break it down into small steps instead of trying to figure it out in one long stretch of thinking.
In the last few years of coaching clients around life and career transitions, I noticed an interesting phenomenon -- when people discover that the ways they’ve been working and living are misaligned, there’s this sense of urgency to move away from everything, ASAP. I’m not a big fan of this approach. Instead, I’d encourage you to give yourself permission to explore your interests and see what works while the stakes are relatively low. Whether you want to continue in your current field or plan a longer-term pivot and transition into another one, a more extended time horizon allows you to be more thoughtful and deliberate. You can start taking longer-term steps that will position you better down the road. Carve out time on a small and consistent basis (consistency is really important here) to explore an area that you find interesting and see where it takes you. You’re not wasting time, you’re laying the groundwork. If you’re contemplating a career pivot, I know you’re probably experiencing a mix of fear and excitement. It’s 100% normal! Leaving something that has been your comfort zone for a long time can be scary. You may be smack in the middle of a critical moment where the next step might feel daunting. You may not think you are ready but you FEEL that you are. Trust your gut, listen to your heart, honour your soul’s desires. And if you want to have my guidance and support in finding out what's next and stepping into your next chapter, in work and in life, fill out this application form so we can schedule a free 30-minute discovery call to talk about your dreams and see if we’re a good fit to help you get there. Love, Naama