Although I’ve written before about the process of career change, I recently conceived of a simple, 3 stage model that can serve to assist you if you’re wondering about switching careers. The essence of it is outlined below:
Realization is the first stage, the realization that all is not well with your career. Realization can come in a wide variety of forms, and often several realizations converge at once to launch this process. There are lots of obvious realizations: I realize that I dread waking up on Monday and going into work, I realize that I need to make more money, I realize I’m not going to get promoted, I realize that I’m not doing work that excites me, etc. But realization can begin with subtler cues: I realize I’m really interested when my friend tells me about the kind of work he does, I realize that I daydream a lot on the job, I realize that I’m getting more tired than I used to at the end of the week.
Realization often creeps up on people somewhat slowly, but this first stage can be initiated through a methodical process of self-examination, investigating the thoughts mentioned above (“Do I dread waking up Monday morning; do I daydream a lot on the job?) as well as some others, two of which are:
a) Is my career heading in a direction that will land me close to the place in which I dreamed of being when I first launched my career? If not, the answer may not be to switch careers, but it is certainly a call for you to examine what you’re doing right and where you could improve so as to get on track towards that dreamed-of place.
b) Do I aspire to be in a much more senior position on my career track (i.e. “Would I like to be the president of this company, a partner in this law firm, the executive director of this NGO)? If not, you may not be on the right track.
Exploration is the second stage. Once you have a firm realization that you’re interested in exploring an alternative career path (or, more commonly, several possible candidates), it’s time to begin exploring. The exploration can (and should) take two basic forms.
One is internal: what aspects of the work I’m doing or have done, or what activities, bring me joy, fulfillment, or satisfaction? The answer(s) might be “working as part of a team towards a common goal” or “making sure projects move ahead on schedule’ or “creative problem-solving” or “being outdoors” or “helping others” or “making a difference in the world” or “getting rapid feedback on my efforts” or “acting as a role model,” or “organizing things,” etc. Internal exploration should also most definitely include contemplating the possibility of a potpourri / composite career also known as aslash career, as in psychotherapist / singer. You may want to add a new layer to your life by allowing a hobby or interest to “go commercial”.
The second is external, searching to stimulate new thinking about possible career directions by looking to outside sources. Of course, working with a career counselor/coach, or life coach/ consultant is one important source because such a person can suggest many different avenues of exploration. Some of them are:
a) Talking with close friends, or even e-mailing them, about what they think you’re good at and what they might see you doing in 2 or 3 years. Ask them to concentrate onfunction(e.g. “selling things,” “Working with people,” or “making sure things happen on time”) rather than specific occupation.
b) Talking with people who are doing, or who have recently done, what you think you might be interested in. LinkedIn is the ideal tool to do this (see my “Linkedin Primer”).
c) Searching job listings using the keywords, or variations thereof, that you identified as a result of your internal exploration.
d) Reading one of the books recommended in the career section of my website and completing the exercises contained therein.
e) Spending investigative time on that treasure trove of information, the internet.
Stay as present as possible in the experiences you begin to encounter as you move down the paths of exploration. What aspects of the exploration did you look forward to? What stimulated your curiosity? On the flip side, where did you encounter fear or anxiety? Talking through the fears with your spouse or a trusted friend can help you determine whether the path you’re exploring is destined to be fruitless because of some deep-seated barriers, or that the barriers are surmountable, in which case continue the exploration. As you move further down the paths remain open to the possibility that an adjustment needs to be made in your original thinking, and that a “branch” of the path may be worth investigating. In the final analysis, though, you will be seeking the inner sense of “rightness” that will tell you that you’ve identified the answer(s) to your quest.
Keep in mind, though, that you’re highly unlikely to know whether the shift is the right one until you’ve spent some time with it. Which is why it’s so valuable to “Beta test” a new career path if you can – volunteering, shadowing, or working part time outside of your current job to start to get a feel for what it would be like.