Imagine this… A young woman, freshly printed degree in hand, ready to take on the world. She’s enthusiastic, determined… she’s got goals and all the grit in the world to achieve them! But, then it happens… a few years (or decades) into her dream job, she starts wondering if she’s on the right path.
“Do I even like my job?” she wonders, “And, is THIS what I want to be doing with my life?”
Ok, maybe it’s not so hard to imagine… While it can be intimidating and even scary at times, changing career directions isn’t uncommon.
As a kid, I went through phases of wanting to be a doctor and ballerina. When my queasiness with blood and two left feet left me searching for a new profession at the ripe age of 8, I settled on becoming a lawyer (which I never became).
“You only live once and spend most of your life at work. It's not impractical to shift careers, but sometimes you have to be savvy in how you do it,” said Danna Pycher, a hypnotherapist and public speaker. While she now works with people suffering from trauma and autoimmune dysfunction, Danna started a career path in television when she was just 15 and pursued it for 10 years before deciding to change directions.
We’re so quick to ask children what they want to be when they grow up, but stop asking ourselves that same important question as we progress through different life stages. The question doesn’t become less important as we get older. However, our answers may go from purely aspirational to exciting with a dash of “what the hell am I doing?”
The reality is we’re always “growing up,” and so it’s only natural for our professional trajectory to change along the way. For some, these changes may be relatively seamless. Others may struggle to reconcile pivoting from longtime goals.
Mazal Menasche a recruiter at Bluecore, grew up wanting to follow in the footsteps of strong female leads portrayed in television shows like Alias and The Agency by pursuing a career in the FBI or CIA.
“I invested a lot in my original career aspirations,” she said. “I studied political psychology in undergrad, graduated from George Washington University (GWU) with a law degree and even trained for the physical fitness evaluation [needed for the FBI and CIA]. There was a lot of sweat equity.”
Figuring out — and allowing ourselves to be OK with — what makes us happy and what we enjoy doing is critical for career success. And, while some may find happiness in long-term careers in one job function, or even at one company, the rest of us may need to semi-regularly reevaluate our goals and pivot.
But, where should you start? Here's your three step guide to transitioning careers seamlessly.
1. Realize you’re NOT a failure.
Some people equate making a career pivot with failure. Despite being unhappy or dissatisfied with a job or chosen profession, many people stick it out because they don’t want to fail or don’t want to be perceived by others as a failure.
Allow me to make something crystal clear: deciding your current professional trajectory no longer serves you doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Many of us instinctively layer the brave things we do in our lives, like deciding it’s time to change careers, with negativity. While it’s usually subconscious, it’s also self-sabotaging. Instead of viewing a career pivot as a failure, choose to see it as you being self aware enough to recognize growth opportunities and being brave enough to embrace them.
Now an Assistant Adjunct Professor at Brooklyn College, Wiebke Reile, PhD’s (pronounced Veeb-kuh) trajectory exemplifies what it means to change directions without giving up on one’s passion. Wiebke dreamed of being a news reporter for most of her life but struggled to find a job in the field after college.
“No one would give me a job in the broadcast industry. I had to settle by working in the documentary film industry, which I loved for 5 years, but quickly realized that it would be difficult to make a decent living. My answer to this was to become more educated in the field that I loved as opposed to abandoning it altogether. I wouldn't see it as a pivot, but I would see it as a reaction to the economy and my inability to want to do work that I wasn't passionate about.”
2. Get introspective about your skills and see where you can apply them elsewhere.
Regardless of your current profession, you likely have skills that are useful in other job functions and even in different fields.
Let’s say you’re making the jump from marketing to medicine. On the surface, these fields seem like polar opposites. But, what if you had a client-facing role in marketing and are now looking to be a physician who interacts with patients? The client you’re serving may be different, but the people skills you need are probably pretty similar.
Danna Pycher uses skills she developed as a journalist to now run a successful hypnotherapy practice.
“Being a journalist, I always had to stick to deadlines. Deadlines are the biggest lesson I learned from my former career. Also, being a public speaker, I was basically training for this my whole life.”
No matter how different your new career trajectory may seem, you should be able to identify some relevant skills and experience that will benefit you. Before you commit to taking the career pivot plunge, take some time to brainstorm the transferable skills that may be beneficial to you in your new career.
3. Embrace the journey.
Story time! I decided to learn to ski in my late 20s. I was the only person in my beginner class over four feet tall. Within 20 minutes, my fellow students, none of whom reached my knee, were literally skiing circles around me. All I accomplished was skiing backwards down a small hill and nearly crashing into a building. (No… it wasn’t intentional.)
The journey wasn’t easy (or short), and it was full of falls and nasty bruises. I got frustrated VERY quickly. The boots hurt my feet. The snow hurt my butt from falling all over the place. And, while I’m not going to be zooming down black diamonds anytime soon, in the end, I did learn to ski.
Just like I didn’t learn to ski in a day, your career pivot will most likely not happen overnight. It will take introspection, planning, and you’ll likely stumble and/or question your decision along the way.
You may even find yourself having some“WTF am I doing?” moments as you identify, start and grow in your new career.
“Sometimes I do [have those “WTF” moments], especially when I hire someone for a legal role and am so impressed with what they have done with their careers. But, then I remind myself of all the people I have placed and the impact that has had on them and the business and I know I made the right decision,” said Mazal Menasche, a former Florida-based lawyer who is now a recruiter in New York City.
At the end of the day, no matter how difficult or confusing things get, make sure you embrace and enjoy the journey.