Beginning in the Middle and Beyond: So You Want to Make A Career Shift
It’s scary to take on anything new. Change is difficult. Even when a change is necessary and it’s clear that a failure to change would create even more challenges, it’s still hard. It means releasing something that we may hold dear for any number of reasons. Sacrifice comes a calling asking us to give up something and there are no guarantees on the other side. The mere ask to forfeit our comfort is like wrestling a favorite toy from a child.
Change is necessary to grow. No change, no shift means no possibilities and no benefiting from cool opportunities. If we want to expand, challenge ourselves and experience renewal in some way, we have to embrace change. There are times when we can’t not change, as noted in one of my favorite quotes:
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. - Anais Nin
When we arrive at a crossroads and it becomes clear that our only expansive option is to change, it’s time to nudge the process forward by taking several intentional steps. First, figure out your who, what and why, then determine the when, where and how.
My guess is that we’ve all heard or read this maxim attributed to Socrates. Isn’t it interesting how much more fascinated we seem to be, generally speaking, in getting to know others. For some reason, though, we’re not taught early on to really get to know ourselves, well. I mean really understand how we’re wired, what makes us tick, what makes us happy and healthy; not just physically, but also emotionally, mentally and spiritually. No one helps us truly understand what makes us blossom.
There’s an amazing book related to self-acceptance I often recommend to women, titled, “I Know I’m In There Somewhere” by Helene Brenner. One of my favorite innercises in this little gem is called, Write Your Own Plant Tag. Typically when you purchase a plant, there’s a little plastic tag stuck in the dirt that provides some instructions on how to take care of the plant. I think you know the rest. She’s encouraging the reader to consider what makes them blossom. I’ve seen the transformative results of this simple innercise up close and personal on many occasions. It can serve as a powerful first step when you commit to really getting to know yourself from the inside out.
KNOW YOUR PREFERRED WORK ORIENTATION
I read an interesting research article years ago that shifted how I view work life. Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski discussed three orientations towards work - the job orientation, viewing work as a means to an end; the career orientation, viewing work as a ladder that propels you forward to achieve the success, recognition and money desired; and the calling orientation, viewing work as part of your perfect self-expression where you experience meaning and fulfillment. Considering these three orientations and the one you have your sights set on is key. What are you looking to experience as you make your shift? Really give some thought to your orientation of choice.
DO YOU NEED A MINDSET RESET?
Our thoughts have a powerful influence on our lives. Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with the words, “You become what you think about all day long.” Hmmm, what are your 10s of thousands of thoughts looping on a daily basis? Are you spending most of your time thinking about the past, what you didn’t do, what you should have done, why you did what you did? Seriously consider how much time you spend thinking about the past, present and future.
Go ahead, give it some thought and come up with what I call the “thought spread.” What percentage of time do you spend thinking about the past, present and future? Is your “thought spread” working for you? Is it supporting your vision of success or sabotaging it? Only you can determine the best “thought spread” for you, one that allows you to engage with your past, present and future in a healthy way that supports your shift and moves you closer to realizing your work life goals.
STARTING OVER DOESN'T ALWAYS MEAN STARTING OVER
So many feel that starting over ultimately means shelving all you’ve learned, acquired, accomplished, etc. That you must start at the bottom and work your way up all over again, perhaps go back to school and secure another degree to get what you want. In many, if not most, cases this is just not necessary. Depending on whether you’re looking to make a lateral move or kick your current industry and/or position to the curb for a new one, know that you are NOT starting from scratch. You stand on a solid foundation of knowledge, experience, talent and skills acquired that no one can take away from you. It’s, no doubt, time to reframe your situation. Take a good look at how far you’ve come and note what you’ve accomplished. You have much to offer. It’s time to determine what you can take along with you to make that shift. It’s often a lot more than you think.
SETTING ASIDE TIME TO PREP FOR YOUR SHIFT
A plane requires a runway to build speed and momentum before takeoff. How much runway do you have before you take off? Ask yourself, can I see myself where I’m situated now for the next six months, a year, three years…really give this some thought. Your answer will determine how much time you have to prepare for your shift. Which brings us to your exit strategy, do you have one?
HAVE A CLEAR EXIT STRATEGY
An exit strategy is basically a plan to transition out. What do you need to release and when? Have you checked in to see how you’re feeling about all of this? What are you willing to let go and what are you not willing to let go? What obstacles do you need to be aware of that could possibly sabotage your exit or halt it altogether? When we’re trying to make a big change, it’s so easy to talk ourselves out of it. We get creative real quick and can come up with all kinds of reasons around why we shouldn’t do something - what if it doesn’t work, what if I fail, what if I succeed, what if my family doesn’t understand, we can go on and on.
CREATE A STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS
It’s time to get clear about where you’re headed, the right time to make the shift, what you need and how to make it happen. You’ll spend a lot of time in this space working out the details - researching, participating in information interviews, making and strengthening connections, exploring your options and identifying which ones best align with who you are, how you’re wired, what you value and what will allow you to contribute in the way you really, really, really desire. Also, remember that moving through this process of creating a strategy does not mean it's’ written in stone, it can change, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
ROUND UP SOME SUPPORT
Don’t take on this process solo; you’ll be tempted, but asking for help is strongly recommended. Without the guidance and support we need and a safe space to explore held by a skilled and trusted professional or devoted friend, it may take a lot longer to navigate and reach our desired destination. We all have blindspots that can and will almost certainly trip us up at some point. A neutral ally who challenges us along the way to choose consciously and with our best interests in mind, helps us move through the rough spots, and cheers us on is invaluable.
Beginning in the middle and beyond to make a shift that translates to enjoying a more fulfilling, meaningful and satisfying work life is not easy. You can’t move into this new chapter as the same YOU you were when this process started, you’ll have to change to step fully into this new chapter in your life. Nope, there are no guarantees, but it’s SO worth it!