Want to quit your job and do something else, but feel like you can’t right now? You’re not alone. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the “quit rate” (the typical percentage of employees who voluntarily leave their jobs) took a nosedive in 2020 after rising for ten years in a row. As a society, we are all hanging onto our jobs with white knuckles right now, even if we hate them.
However, staying at a job you don’t enjoy isn’t sustainable forever. Not only is it a bummer, studies show it’s not good for your physical or mental health over the long term.
If you’re craving a change, now might be exactly the time to start taking steps to prepare for a career move in the coming months as the economy continues to recover. Here are three ways you can start today to get ready for a shift into more fulfilling work.
1. Create an inspiring vision of what you’d love to do instead.
The doom-and-gloom news around the pandemic makes it easy to feel like we should give up all hope and happiness, but don’t let the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic kill your dreams. Given enough time, the economy has never not recovered. You deserve to have ambition and aspirations, so give yourself permission to define exactly what you want even in these weird circumstances.
Don’t be afraid to be selfish or unrealistic in your vision — there’s a reason it can be referred to as “dreamy.” Often, the most realistic plans are the ones that are the least energizing and exciting, leading to a cycle of stagnation and boredom in our careers. If you can align your wildest dreams with a way to serve an audience well, it may not be as far out of reach as it feels. And, once you describe the elements of your most ardent dream, it becomes a lot easier to create the plan to go get it.
An American expat named Deja once reached out with a wildly selfish and unrealistic dream for her career: she wanted to have the autonomy and freedom to be able to take yoga classes during the workday. She had previously had a career managing performing artists, but was tired of the nonstop lifestyle it required. We brainstormed ways that Deja could find a role that was both flexible and also autonomous, while also being deeply of service to a brand or company. With her belief in her vision and some persistent and strategic networking, she landed a job running all European events for wellness and health brand Wanderlust.
2. Start transition planning from exactly where you are.
The way to achieve a big, courageous career transition is with a sequence of smaller baby steps that help you build momentum. Look at where you are right now in your career and what’s already working. Where have you gotten the most energy from past or current roles? Where are you getting the most traction in your job search right now? Shooting too far too fast can lead to missteps in pursuing your dream, and lead you to believe you can’t make your transition. Instead, look at the next directionally correct step that would create movement and energy on your way to your desired outcome. By taking smaller, strategic steps rooted in your current momentum, almost every career change becomes possible with patience and persistence.
A science teacher based in the midwest named Maria had a big dream for her career: she wanted to become a medical doctor specializing in mothers and babies. If she'd gone straight from working her regular job to applying to medical school, she would have never been accepted. She needed to take several steps, based on what was already working for her, in order to become a compelling candidate. She knew she had a supportive spouse who would happily spend extra time watching their daughters so Maria could beef up her candidate profile. Thanks to leaning into that support, Maria spent nearly two years taking prerequisite classes, shadowing doctors, getting letters of recommendation, and building a relationship with program staff at her top school. As of the publication of this article, Maria is in her first year of medical school and well on her way towards becoming an incredible physician.
3. Look for sustainable ways to bridge any gaps between you and your dream.
As you’re creating a plan for moving into the kind of work you want, notice what skills, experiences, or relationships the job descriptions typically ask for that you don't yet have. The more unaddressed gaps you have, the riskier of a hire you look like on paper — which is important in a time when employers are not keen on taking risks.
By doing a gap analysis, you’ll identify exactly what you’d need to be a wildly appealing candidate for your next role, and can come up with a plan to start bridging those gaps and acquiring the key skills, experiences, and relationships over the coming months.
For an example of successfully filling a gap, let’s look at Taylor. Taylor in Ohio majored in engineering, and went into engineering management full time. Taylor had a secret dream to be an entrepreneur, but didn’t know how to take the first step to bring it to fruition. We looked at Taylor’s strengths, interests, personality, and lifestyle needs to start generating initial ideas. Taylor saw an exciting possibility in independent consulting, but also identified a skill gap in their ability to know how to do sales and business generation. Through working together, Taylor took a step to bridge the gap to entrepreneurship by becoming an intrapreneur: they found a bridge job opportunity within their current company doing new business project management.
The role let Taylor continue collaborating with their former colleagues while also learning how to find and cultivate possible business leads. At the same time, Taylor started doing free consulting work on the side to build a portfolio of results and generate awesome testimonials. When we last spoke, Taylor had acquired a business partner and was creating a second stream of steadily growing income that could enable them to become an entrepreneur in the near future.
Life is too short to do work that doesn’t light you up, and while you might be hanging on at your current job for now, these steps can help you create a sustainable, safe plan to exit into a new career path when you're ready. Start executing on these three tactics today to be able to make a move on your own terms when the time is right.
Lisa Lewis Miller is an internationally recognized career change coach, author, and founder of Career Clarity. Her new book, Career Clarity, talks about the four core drivers of fulfillment and satisfaction in your work, no matter what you do right now (or want to do next).