As I sit down to write this article, I spy a real estate flyer on my desk. The smiling face of the realtor on the glossy newsletter belies the struggle it took to transition from a long career as a teacher to selling real estate. What does it take to transition from being one thing for so many years to doing something completely different?
The quick answer is that it takes a lot of hard work! The longer response is that career transitions require three distinct phases: self-exploration, outreach, and planning. To move through each phase requires an equal measure of courage and support.
The first step forward is actually a journey inward. Most people can quickly rattle off what they don’t like about their current situations. It is more challenging to articulate what we yearn for in our lives.
I get the sense that most of my clients already know what they really want to do. They just don’t believe it is possible. Or, they lack the know-how to make it a reality. We often bury our dreams away because we lack confidence in our skills or we worry about what others will think of our wild ideas.
During the self-exploration phase, give yourself permission to dream big. Carve out time to journal, meditate, and daydream. Tune inward to the whispered messages you receive. This is your life speaking to you and now is the time to listen!
Many of my clients draw mind-maps to illustrate and organize their ideas. Others create vision boards. Some write lists and outlines about how they want their new lives to look and feel. The key is to get ideas out of your head and onto the page.
Our childhood holds important clues about possible career paths. During a counseling session, “Tom” recalled his love of playing in the dirt. His earliest memory was receiving a plastic bucket and shovel as a gift. Tom shook his head and said, “I cannot remember the last time I dug my hands into the earth.”
After years of sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen, Tom is exploring greenhouse gardening. His vision is still developing but now he has a focus. He is ready to enter the outreach phase and begin digging deeper, no pun intended, into his dream.
This is the point at which we reach outside of ourselves for more information. The Internet is a good place to start but eventually you need to talk to people with expertise in the area you are considering. I generally advise clients have 5 to 7 career research conversations before making any decisions.
Listen critically to the information being shared and go beyond the Q and A. Observe people on the job, volunteer, do a practice project. Not only will you gain the clarity you need but you will be making contacts and gaining valuable experience along the way.
Sometimes this is all it takes to send us running back to our old jobs! As the reality of what it really takes to make a career change sinks in, some clients make the choice to remain in their current positions.
We may look at other ways to increase satisfaction such as seeking a lateral move or promotion, pursuing hobbies, taking classes, or community involvement. Perhaps you need to make a stronger commitment to leaving work on time in order to attend to your personal needs.
In some cases, this is not enough. “Molly” had a successful career in human resources working her way into senior leadership. She was paid well, worked with great people, and had a lot of flexibility. “How on earth could I give that up? Simply put, I needed a more meaningful connection to my work.”
As she transitions into the non-profit world, “Molly” will be starting over in terms of salary and other benefits. “It is outright scary to leave the only field I have ever known but after much soul searching, I realize that I want to be more of myself at work and in my personal life. I want to push the gas pedal just as hard heading into work as I do on my way home.”
If you remain committed to making a career transition, the final phase requires planning and goal setting. It could be as simple as rebranding yourself with a fresh résumé and LinkedIn profile. It could mean creating a business plan or going back to school.
Start by setting small goals and holding yourself accountable to a timeline. By taking baby steps towards your dream, you can learn as you go and avoid costly mistakes and setbacks. You won’t get far on your own so continue seeking out the resources and support you need.
Molly offers some final words of wisdom, “Pay attention to what intrigues you, when time flies by, what you read on your newsfeed, and when you think to yourself, “someday, I…” Take small steps now to get where you want but don’t wait years. Start by talking to others that share your area of interest, volunteer, take a class, or join a group.”
When you get overwhelmed, revisit your mind map or vision board to get re-inspired. Reach out to a trusted friend who believes in your dream. Then, roll up your sleeves and push forward.
Career transitions are more like a walk across hot coals than a stroll through the park. They test us. They require sacrifice and risk. Keep in mind that it is impossible to reach for something new without letting go of the old.
It’s a hot market for flipping careers. Rather than feeling stuck in our jobs, many of us are ready to seek out new opportunities that are a better fit. When we see people like Molly and Tom who are successfully revamping their lives, it renews our sense of hope about what is possible.