It’s never too late to take the plunge, but here are several factors to consider before diving head first – and eyes wide open – into it
There comes a time in our career path when the status quo just isn’t exciting enough. That – followed by existential queries that slowly gain prominence – may have you considering looking to set new goals and try something a little more fulfilling, exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Such changes will result in varied outcomes, and while they may seem daunting, working through the different considerations with a balanced approach and a holistic mindset is what differentiates a successful switch from more muddled outcomes.
As an executive life coach, the first encouragement I give my clients is that ‘it’s never too late’.
One of my clients was a successful finance professional in his late 40s who had achieved several work-related accolades. Still, he felt his fire dimming as his current role did not provide him with enough stimulation, and with that came the desire to explore the next phase of his career. While he knew what sort of jobs would not work for him, he was unable to pinpoint what exactly he wanted to pursue. During one of our conversations where we discussed his passions, he mentioned his music band, editorial role for a magazine while in college, and wanting to explore similar paths, never mind that the hard skills he picked up while in the finance industry did not really have much of an overlap or relation to his next move.
This client ended up switching to a career in the public relations and communication industry. The decision had less to do with his specialist skills, and more with a change in mindset that allowed him to accept the unconventional switch, identifying transversal skills and focussing on the opportunity to feel reenergised and excited again.
Career switches do happen regardless of age and how far you are into your current path. But before you make the switch, here are five points to consider.
Evaluation is part of the process, and learning what to reflect on helps set the tone. These questions would help you get started.
How can I consider all the possibilities and opportunities that lie before me?
Why this is important: Major career switches are hopefully one-offs, and you want to carefully evaluate all the options, clearly jotting down the pros, cons and unknowns about alternatives that run through your mind.
Who can I leverage in my personal and professional networks?
Why this is important: Having discussions with people from the industry you’re considering to join would help you gain a better overview of what you’re in for, and prevent you from having the ‘greener grass’ syndrome. Furthermore, once you have finalised the new path, these industry insiders are likely to have much deeper and broader resources, and may introduce you to relevant networks.
Is a total change required?
Why this is important: Sometimes, even the most enthusiastic person can lose passion along the way. It’s crucial to identify whether the desire to switch is real, or if there are certain aspects in your current career that could be tweaked to make a difference. Though not the main factor for consideration, you would have already invested a lot of time to build rapport and trust with industry colleagues, and it’s worth making careful consideration before moving lanes.
Is there a fire within you?
Why this is important: You may enjoy photography, but before deciding that that’s the career for you, think about the relative competition in the field, level of skill needed, time required to really hone your skills, and the ability (and time needed) to get paying clients who believe in you. There will be disappointments, difficult phases and periods of low motivation; passion will be needed to get through these.
Change Your Mindset
Having the right mindset, especially one focussed on growth, is key to a successful career switch. Dr Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, explains fixed and growth mindsets at length in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
The former is the belief that innate abilities, talents and intelligence are fixed; we are either talented at something or not. The latter school of thought is that skills are malleable and can be improved with effort, perseverance and practice. Neuroscience calls this neuroplasticity.
To cultivate a growth mindset, it is important to be curious, focus on learnings, be an optimist and have high self-belief. Curiosity expands your learning and is the best teacher – successful people are always finding out how they can improve. Equally important is understanding that there are no failures – only wins and lessons. With suboptimal results, focus on the learnings to improve. The biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful people is the way they respond to such events.
Work Out An Action Plan
To have a lasting and successful switch, mindset work must precede action. Work on a detailed business / career plan, include milestones and be as detailed as possible. Having a well thought out plan keeps you focussed on the destination. It’s also important to be flexible and allow for changes in the plan along the journey. Introduce feedback sessions as well – these allow your network to weigh in and give you an outside-in view.
This is probably the most important aspect in achieving a successful career switch. Visualise the process and the end result. Think of how you would feel, what you would feel and believe that you are already there. Neuro Linguistic Programming tells us that visualising the various steps that need to be taken to achieve our goal propels the progress.
How would you know if you have successfully made the career switch? One needs to be able to measure the goals, be aware of what resources are needed as well as what the impediments may be.
Goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. It is also advisable to set minimum, target and extraordinary goals. Identify what resources are needed for each goal, be it time, resources, network, technical skills, softer skills or opportunities provided. Speak to more experienced individuals and seek their guidance in understanding potential challenges and how they overcame it. While we learn from mistakes, not all mistakes made have to be ours. Learning from their experiences will save invaluable time and effort.
Keep a journal as you go about this exercise. Having a written log is always helpful as it provides a clearer picture compared to letting chaotic thoughts swim in the mind.
Ruchi Parekh is an associate certified coach, certified by the International Coach Federation. She focusses on life coaching for executives with leadership development.