Bravely Changing your Career

You are toying with the idea of changing your career. You are 5, 10 or 15 years into your <insert job title> position. You have a title like “manager” or “lead”. You have read books, gone to conferences, and had successful projects. Your career in-the-eyes-of-others is running the appropriate path. In five to ten years you can become a director, or a vice president, or an upper-level something-or-other!

But that is the last exclamation point you will use because you don’t feel you add value. You struggle and you are afraid to admit vulnerability. Especially because you are <insert gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, marriage status, etc.> and you have worked so freaking hard to get to where you are at.

You are crumbling inside. And your loved ones feel your degradation because you don’t bring your authentic self with you ANYWHERE. Well, sometimes genuine happiness peaks out. Those are moments that make you feel real and alive. But now you also fear those moments because that joy is a precipice, that joy is transient, and soon you will find yourself anxietying-down to the bottom of joy-mountain. And you hate that feeling.

You have to make a change. You are reminded that the change cannot be external only. It must also include “you” changes, but maybe with an external kick-off? It has taken a while, but you are considering the risk of becoming a <insert dream job> and are feeling whimsical and reckless. Perhaps you will have to take a pay cut. You will have to work differently and learn new things. What should you do?

I think you should make the change and here’s what I would do:

Find your joy

Simon Sinek wants you to “Start with Why” and Richard Sheridan wants you to work at Joy, Inc. Your happiness is a combination of how you view the work you are doing and your work environment. Please do not jump ship without doing some serious internal work because your demons will follow you wherever you go. That’s why it’s important to know what motivates you and what gives you energy. You have to journal or meditate or think on these concepts for substantial periods of time. Use the tools that Simon, Richard and other authors provide. Then, when you see a resonating theme, get on that diving board and jump.

Question: “Am I excited about the opportunity, or the job?” If your answer is not, “the job”, then a potential career change will be plagued with the same issues that you are currently experiencing. The answer needs to be: “the job”.

Question: “If I thought about the perfect job, what would it be and how would I be making a positive impact on people’s lives?” Discovering your purpose will keep your feet rooted into whatever job you are doing even during rough times.

Set boundaries early

You are at a pivot point. Your green grass will be the same shade of green on the other side if you choose the same parameters as when you left your original pasture. If you don’t get enough sleep now, you must choose more sleep. If you don’t eat healthy, you must build health into your new routine. If you were too busy to exercise, couch-to-5K yourself into fitness. If you overwork, you must set a schedule and not let requests encroach into your priorities. You must build in the space to morph into your best, most authentic self.

Learn new things

It is humbling, but what you have been doing for 10+ years may not be applicable to your new position. You might move from manager to individual contributor and will have to learn the ropes. Take online courses, read books, observe others.

Don’t think you have all the answers

As Michael Watkins discusses in The First 90 Days, attempt to listen rather than do things “your” way immediately. You can bring new concepts to the table, but your new colleagues might already have a pretty good looking table right now and you don’t need to smash it and build them a new one… just bring some new silverware or a fancy bowl or something.

Conclusion

Some of the greatest career moves of all time happened because of risks taken. It is more important to find your ikigai than to be stuck for superficial reasons. Consider how you feel about getting up and going to work each day. Or how you feel on Sunday night: are you excited for tomorrow or filled with gloom?

Scary questions will plague you as they haunted me on my journey. The Quality Assurance profession defined my career persona for 15 years, so leaving it felt surreal, foolhardy, and “too easy”. And this is what was going on in my brain:

What if I hate it? If it’s not right for you, then you pivot again, but continue taking risks because eventually you land somewhere awesome. Furthermore, pursuing a role that you think you might love is an easy thing to justify in future job interviews. It is strong, introspective and brave to recognize the role mismatch and take it upon yourself to pursue something unconventional.

Will my family and friends be disappointed in me because I am no longer a <insert job title>? Most likely they will be supportive of the positive changes a new opportunity can bring you, regardless of the title. If you live in a culture where titles have great importance, like the US where I live, you may feel that titles matter. Shift focus and believe that impact-on-the-lives of others matter.

Will I get bored? Will I like the people? You won’t know until you try.

If you still cannot make up your mind, reflect on what is holding you back. Maybe there is a true reason to stay. Then honor that. Look at what you will regret more, “staying in a job in which you feel unfulfilled” or “risking and failing at an opportunity”. If the answer is, I would regret more “staying”… then make your move! When all else fails, listen to your gut. Is it the right move for you? My cousin Jackie Black said, “follow those feelings of consolation rather than falling prey to the desolation and LOVE YOUR JOB”.

So I became a People Development Facilitator. I took training courses to beef up my presentation skills. I started exercising in the morning and journaling. The people on the People Team are wonderful and my family did not disown me for my decision. I found that it has allowed me to focus on what gives me energy so I’m more motivated to attack work in the morning. I have more white-space moments to play around in, and I feel like I’m making an impact. Oh, and that perpetual smile that was plastered to my face 10 years ago? It is starting to creep back.

You are a remarkable human being full of talents and the road is not set in stone. However you travel, you will get to the end through whatever means you decide. I just hope the road is paved with your most self-actualizing choice.

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Emily Wagoner

Emily Wagoner

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A thankful mom that loves developing relationships, inspiring others to do their best, and creating a dynamic environment.