As a career transitions coach, more and more women have been asking me how to get started making a career change. Usually they are mid-career – and often very successful – and they worry about taking a big risk. They talk about the need to balance career satisfaction with the realities of family and financial responsibilities. Plus, they don’t want to “throw away” all of their successes in the pursuit of something unknown.
Because a career transition can sometimes seem like driving off a cliff “Thelma and Louise” style, I suggest five steps to ease into the process:
1. Identify what's behind your desire for change. Get really clear with yourself about what is prompting the desire for change. Sometimes office politics or long hours may be dragging you down. Or you have a vague feeling of being in a rut from doing the same job for years. But it’s never enough to want to move away from something bad; you must also define what you are moving towards. Before you make any change, take some time to think about what’s motivating you.
2. List the most important outcomes you want. Depending on where you are in your life and your career, you will be seeking different outcomes. Perhaps you want to climb the ladder and make more money. Perhaps you want a short commute. Perhaps you want a job with more flexibility to spend time with your kids. Knowing this in advance will help you select a new career that fits with your lifestyle and long-term goals.
3. Leverage what you've already done. A big mistake that women make when thinking about a career change is believing they have to start from scratch. Instead, keep in mind your transferable skills, like "good at managing people" or "enjoy complex data analysis." You will likely find that your best strengths and talents will serve you well in all sorts of careers. You don't necessarily have to take a big risk to make a big change.
4. Build a group of cheerleaders. Identify key friends and family members who agree with your plan of a career change. You may even want to find a mentor, another woman who has recently made a career change. Explicitly ask your cheerleaders to support the change you are trying to make and to help you keep up your resilience and courage during the tough times.
5. Take a deep breath and make a small change. Change is hard! Sometimes the first small change is actually the biggest of all. So, take a deep breath, have faith in yourself, and get started walking your path towards a new career.
The last Foresight Blog posting about de-cluttering your career suggested that the How Did You Spend Your Time? worksheet can guide you in discovering time wasters as well as identifying ways to cultivate time building habits. Are you sticking to the commitments you made to reduce time wasters and focus on your priorities?
When we attempt to make changes in our lives, the most common reasons that they don’t stick are social pressures and internal habits. In the workplace, social pressures can be the constant barrages of e-mails, days full of endless meetings, people stopping by your desk unexpectedly, and new assignments. No matter your job, you will likely have pressures from your coworkers, colleagues and leaders to accept work that will clutter your day and, ultimately, your career.
The issue of internal habits is more complex. Often when our career has gotten cluttered, there are good reasons within our psyche as to why this has occurred. And it can be emotionally challenging to make major, or even minor, behavior changes. The brain's natural inclination is to behave in the same patterns and habits we have been practicing.
To maintain your clutter-free career, try these four strategies to persist in the face of social pressures and the pull of internal habits:
Say no before you say yes. While it’s great to add new activities that are in the service of your career priorities and goals, do so only after you have eliminated a few time wasters. Whenever you add new things, also say no to activities that are not working for you.
Put it in writing. We are much more likely to keep our promises to ourselves when we put them in writing. And don’t just include the overall goal; also add some specifics about how you’ll know whether you are on the right track. For example, write down your goal of carving out more time at the office to do writing and creative work, and note that you’ll implement it by blocking two afternoons a week on your calendar.
Keep a reminder in your environment. Identify an object that reminds you to de-clutter. It could be anything from a photograph to a small toy to a post-it note with an inspirational saying. Place the object where you will see it multiple times during the work day as a reminder of the commitment you’ve made.
Appreciate yourself. Because our minds naturally remember our successes less powerfully and vividly than our failures, keep an ongoing list on your smart phone of all the times you honor your commitments to yourself. Check in with this list when you need a boost of confidence and appreciate how well you are doing at maintaining a clutter-free career.
Have you ever been at a restaurant, casually reviewing the menu and chatting with your companion, when the waitress presents you with a complimentary, bite-sized appetizer? Known as an amuse-bouche, the chef provides this tasty sample as a preview of her talents and offerings as a practitioner.
One famous New York City chef describes the amuse-bouche as the best way to express "big ideas in small bites."
I came across this description of the amuse-bouche as I was mentally preparing to launch the Foresight Blog, and I felt it was the perfect analogy for this new creative undertaking. Certainly, I am under no pretense that brief, weekly thoughts and commentary are sufficient to make substantial change in our lives. If only it was that easy! Just as the chef sends out a bite-sized sample to provide a glimpse of her big ideas, so too can this blog be a place of sampling and exploring. The Foresight Blog is a venue where we begin our conversation; where I bring to you some big ideas in small bites and you (hopefully) find yourself wanting more.
Those of you in my social network know that my field is change, and my focus is on workplace, careers and academics. I believe that change is very personal, often occurring at the interface of our relationships with others and ourselves. Many times we articulate change in terms of a goal or desired future state, such as "I want a career that's more fulfilling" or "I want more time to focus on my priorities." Sometimes change is forced upon us, perhaps an encroaching deadline or a job transfer.
But what do we really know about change and how to make it stick in our lives? What can we learn from research, from practitioners, from storytelling, and from our own lives that provides insights into making real change in the pursuit of our goals and aspirations? How do we make a vision for our future into a new reality?
I invite you to join me for a weekly small tasting of big ideas about how to change our daily lives for the better and illuminate the path of change. You can follow the Foresight Blog on the website, www.theforesightcoach.com, or by clicking “like” on the Foresight Coaching Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/foresightcoaching.
Welcome and enjoy these small bites.