As a career coach, I help women change careers to focus on work they love as well as generate tremendous success and reward (financially, emotionally, spiritually and otherwise). I also help professionals improve the careers they have, if they’ve decided through a thorough assessment of their situation they want to stay where they are. On my website, I ask people to share with me their burning career questions that I may potentially address in my blog, and of all the questions I’ve ever received, this one below, or some form of it, is the most pressing and popular:
“Kathy, I know I need a career change, but what’s the best way to go about it? How do you know exactly where in the new industry or field you fit? How specifically do I make the change and how do I know exactly where the glove fits?
To answer that question, I’d like to offer you the 5-step career change process that I’ve developed and take all my clients through, to build a happy, rewarding and successful career they love. From my experience, these five steps (all of which involve some inner shifting first) are essential to take, and in the order below, if you want success and joy in your work. These steps help you avoid the pain, suffering and regret — and lasting negative repercussions — of making the wrong move and ending up as miserable as you were before.
Here’s what you must do if you want to change careers effectively:
- Step Back for an empowered perspective
First, you have to understand yourself much more deeply than you do now. You have to know what you’ll give up everything for, what you value, your priorities, standards of integrity, non-negotiables and your style, preferences, and ideals. Millions of professionals don’t have a clue who they are. Sadly, they spend years trying to figure out what direction to take, without understanding themselves or what they really want. If you don’t know yourself intimately, you can’t build a successful and enjoyable career.
Secondly, you need to step back and look at your life and career with a different lens than you’re used to. To connect the dots and make use of everything you are and have learned in your prior years working, you have to get off the hamster wheel and view your life from a higher, more enlightened perspective. You need outside support to help you with this – you cannot do this yourself. As Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem on the level it was created.” I like to say that you need someone to help you who sees the “future vision of you before it’s hatched.” You need a mentor, friend, coaching buddy, or other sponsor who can help you understand more clearly what you’re what capable of, and what you’re here on this planet today to bring and contribute. Each one of us has tremendous talents, gifts, and passions that are meant to be tapped and utilized in service of others and the world. If you doubt it, then you’re not ready to do what’s required to build a successful career.
- Let Go – of the thinking, patterns and behaviors that keep you stuck
There’s something blocking you from more success and reward in your professional life or you would already have it. Do you know what that is? The first place to look is where there are repeating negative patterns in your life – terrible bosses, toxic environments, being passed over continually, back-stabbing colleagues, draining responsibilities, etc. Look at the patterns that repeat, attempt to identify how you are participating in sustaining these patterns, and do something concrete to shift that dynamic. Be accountable and take action to generate change.
You may also have limited beliefs and mindsets (which often emerge from our childhood and families of origin) about money, success, power, your ego, your worth, etc., or you may take repeated actions that hold you back from the next level of success. For many people, it’s a problem with their boundaries – an inability to advocate for and honor their priorities. For others, their communication style hurts them, and pushes away any kind of positive support or help. For others still, it’s a lack of confidence or a belief that they’re “less than” and not worthy of advancing or experiencing great joy and satisfaction in their work. Until you let go of what you’re doing and thinking that keeps you stuck and small, you can’t build a happy, successful career. Your limitations will follow you in every new direction until you address them.
- Say Yes to your compelling visions
Thirdly, you need a vision for the next chapter, but not just any vision or fantasy – you need “just right vision.” So often, we dream large about where we think we’d love to be, but the vision is so far away from where we are today, that we sabotage any efforts to get there (because we don’t really think it’s possible.) As Sir Winston Churchill said, “It is a mistake to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be handled one link at a time.”
It’s critical to identify concretely what amazing success and reward looks like for you specifically, but then break that down into a vision that fits well with what you believe is possible. As an example, people will say to me, “Wow, Kathy, I see you wrote a book, and I’d really LOVE to write one too. What’s your advice on that?” I’ll then ask, “Cool! Are you writing?” and they’ll invariably respond, “Uh, no.” Well, you can’t write a book if you’re not writing anything. If you dream of writing a book, then start writing – a blog, an article, your first chapter, a paper, a guest post, something. Get going towards your compelling vision so that it doesn’t remain in the sphere of the impossible.
- Explore it and try it on
Perhaps the most important step in this sequence is exploring the top three directions you’re excited about, and trying them on as thoroughly as you can. For example, if you’re in real estate but think you want to start your own business, try it on – interview people doing what you want to do (and people who failed at it), research it online, go to SCORE for help developing your business plan, meet with your financial consultant to review your financial plans, read everything you can get your hands on about this new business direction, go to networking meetings with people in the field, create your marketing plan. Don’t leave one stone unturned. Try on the professional identity of this new direction before you leap.
I’ve lived the pain of not taking this step as thoroughly as I should have. Back in 2002 after a brutal corporate layoff I decided quickly to jump into earning a Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and becoming a therapist. I launched a therapy practice, only to find that the work and the living experience of it was not what I truly wanted. Before I got my degree, I had interviewed therapists, done some research, but I’d never really explored what it’s like to work from 9 to 6 pm straight, helping people overcome depression, rape, incest, pedophilia, drug addiction, alcoholism, suicidality and more. Truthfully, I had just wanted out of my corporate life so badly, that I longed to run as far in the other direction as possible, and to me, that was becoming a therapist.
I learned in serving as a therapist that the toll it takes on the individual is huge, and after just a few years, I finally admitted that where I wanted to focus was helping people build amazing success, not on recovery. Truthfully, I had evolved during my years in training as well, and wasn’t the same person as when I started. That said, had I conducted more thorough research in the beginning about the life and responsibilities of a therapist, I would have understood that, while the therapeutic tools and approaches I would learn are life-changing, the role of therapist was not for me.
The lesson? Try on the new direction as deeply and thoroughly as you can, and don’t be blind to what you learn when you do.
- Create it S.M.A.R.T.
Finally, you can’t go from Point A to Point Z in a month. This process – of identifying who you really are and determining the directions that will align best with your values, visions and needs – takes time, energy, patience, trust and commitment. You’ve got to be ready to turn yourself inside and out and stretch and expand yourself, if you want great success in your work. It’s not going to fall in your lap – you have to reach out and grab it, and do the inner and outer work of change.
You also need a 3-month, 6-month and 12-month plan, with specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely goals, and someone in your court to hold you accountable. Again, don’t try this on your own. You’ll fail. Get help, build a plan with milestones that you can measure, and get on the path to expanding yourself so that you are a true match with the great career you long for.
Is successful career change possible for you? Yes, but only if you’re ready to do the work. Those who fantasize about doing meaningful, lucrative work they love but won’t commit themselves to the process and journey of change, will never get out of the starting gate.