Do you want your career change to be successful? Here's how.
Are you considering a career change, imagining your last day at work and the new beginning emerging like a beautiful wide path? If you are, I cheer for you. Life's too short to be unhappy at work and change is possible so don't give up on it!
If you're about to start this path, here are the three ingredients I have found essential to a successful career transition:
1. Get clarity first
When we contemplate the possibility of change we do so from the perspective of ourselves in the here and now. But looking at options only through the lens of what's wrong with your current job doesn't tell the whole story. To use a simple example, frustrated by chasing deadlines that are not your own you may want to start your own business. Don't get me wrong, being your own boss is a great option, but has other disadvantages. Do you get their full view from the position you're in now?
As humans, we are prone to a whole array of cognitive biases. Our brain takes shortcuts when we don't have enough data. We make assumptions, fill the gaps and downplay things that don't serve us. There are 200+ biases listed on Wikipedia, which in itself says a lot about how flawed our thinking can be.
So here's my question to you. Have you done enough work to understand what life on the other side will be like? I don't mean looking at your options from the comfort of your sofa with a googling device in hand. Instead, have you looked for answers in the real world, talked to real people, and tried things on your own skin? You can figure out a lot about your new life from the breadcrumbs of the old one. If you're an extrovert who thrives surrounded by people, working at home alone may drive you crazy. Even if this is not something you may want to pay attention to now.
Of course, whichever direction you take, no job is perfect. But is the reward for putting up with possible frustrations worth it? Can you make adjustments to make it work for you, given what you know about yourself already?
Very importantly, the need for clarity applies to yourself as well. This means knowing your values, aspirations, tolerance for risk and being clear on your "why" so that it's all worth it. It pays off to figure this map out, however strong the temptation to hand your notice in now and figure things out later. This is where working with a career coach can get you off to a good start.
This boils down to this question: what are you consistently doing that is getting you closer to where you want to be? See, many people dream about changing jobs. They may think about it all the time. Reading articles on "how to", blogs and success stories. They may be scouring the internet for job ads in their desired profession, maybe even applying to some.
But I'm not going to sugar coat it - this won't get you far. This passive approach is about consuming rather than creating. And in my experience, switching from wishing to doing is when things start to happen for my clients. When they build the self-awareness to guide them, get out of their comfort zone to make connections with people and get creative in how they approach their target industry.
Also, significant career change rarely happens by replying to a job post. Say, you are a maths teacher dreaming of becoming a data scientist. The job post will likely ask for X years experience doing something similar. If it doesn't - the CV doesn't even get past the initial screening, usually done by a person with a checklist, or even by a bot. But getting known for your great analytical mind by another human in the company is a very different starting point.
I get it - life is busy. The beauty of taking consistent action is that it doesn't have take all your time. Given what else is going on in your life, what one, two or three things can you do each week that will move you forward? All those little things will come together and you can move mountains.
If you are burnt out from the stress and the demands of your current job, I feel you. But please, don't just power through the status quo. It's worth thinking of how you can replenish your energy and rebuild your emotional reserves. Only then you can start taking steps that will get you out of it. But it's so worth it.
3. Prepare to be less efficient as your brain processes the change
This lesson was a big one in my own experience.
In the years before I swapped my corporate job for my own business, I used to think that change was my middle name. I worked for a consultancy and every time I started a new project it was like having a new job. New client, new way of doing things, new office and a different way to get there. I loved it and eagerly volunteered for any assignment that would get me to experience something new. This fed my optimism that career change will be easy too, after all, I was well trained in it. And it should make no difference that I moved houses at the same time too, right?
Instead, it was a big surprise. Usually energetic and efficient, I spent the first few months in a bit of a fog. It was frustrating, but it also got me really curious. This is when I learnt about change fatigue, and about what happens in our brain when we go through significant change.
Change always requires learning. In our brain, the hippocampus records new information to then push it to short and then long term memory. But the hippocampus is attached to the amygdala, our centre for stress.
When we make our hippocampus work hard in the times of change, this can affect the amygdala and cause stress. At the same time, major change can cause strong emotions, financial uncertainty, fear of judgement. When the amygdala activates because of the fear - the hippocampus gets weaker. It's a vicious cycle.
We also have the entorhinal cortex, a.k.a our internal GPS. It guides us through physical spaces but is also about social maps of who is in charge, who's a friend or a foe. When we change our work ecosystem, we wipe the map out. It needs to be rebuilt, taking significant energy.
Then, there is the basal ganglia, which looks for things that we repeatedly do and turns them into habits. Its aim is to put us on autopilot to save energy. If it didn't exist, driving your car would stay as absorbing as during your sweaty first lesson. So when you start your career afresh, many habits and routines need to be built from scratch, and no wonder it can leave you exhausted.
So what does it mean for career changers? Be aware of what happens in your wonderful brain as it adapts to serve you better on your new path. Be patient with yourself, and plan realistically. Things might take slightly longer than you thought. Knowing this has helped me to be kinder.
To bring it all together, career change success is knowing yourself, knowing where you're going and being kind to yourself as you navigate the wave of change and emotions that come with it. But it will always stay in the wishful thinking zone without taking action.