When you want to pivot your career: 9 things to consider

Perhaps during these times, some of us are considering a new career path. This could be in response to external factors happening to us, like a job loss or a change in daily schedules and responsibilities, like kids being home for school.

Sometimes, it comes from within. We find that we spend so much time “working” that what we are spending 40+ hours a week doing is not aligned to our values or interests. Perhaps during these times, we are getting to know ourselves and reflecting on what matters. We might find ourselves thinking that we are not putting our time and energy where we want it to go. Whatever the motivation, we might be thinking about trying a new line of work.

As an aside, I have written about this before…focusing on your Ikigai – the ultimate Venn diagram of what I like to do, what I am good at doing and what I can make money doing. In case you don’t think so, now is the right time to do this self-exploration to make sure you are living in alignment with yourself – values, interests, skills, principles and philosophy. I highly encourage you to take time to reflect now.

If you find yourself wanting to pursue a different path, it may feel overwhelming to figure out how to start anew. Here are some things I have learned along my career journey.

  1. Don’t quit your day job. Some may give different advice here. Some may suggest to quit corporate life and start your own “thang”. This has worked for some; I cannot say this never works. However, if you are a tad trepidatious about leaving a job for something else, don’t do it. There are many things you can take action on to crystallize a new path without sacrificing a paycheck. That paycheck can give you some security while you are exploring your new adventure. If you want to make a big switch, you may need savings to do this.
  2. Do your research. One thing you can do is a little research. If you know what you want to do, do some research to find out what those people do, what education they have, what organizations need people doing this work or, perhaps, this is about being independent. If so, then what is the market like for independents in the area you want to pursue. If you want to become a lawyer, what is the market for lawyers. If you want to move into technology, what is that market like (which I think is pretty good today!).
  3. Connect with others. The best way, outside of a good Google search, is to try and use your network to find people who actually do what you want to do. Perhaps you are in marketing but want to shift to education. This shift is a lot easier to make as there are many transferrable skills. But, if you’re in finance and want to become a doctor…well, this is a much bigger shift to make. Connecting with others is the best way to assess if this is a life and career you want. I know a couple of doctors and they are rewarded by what they do but it was a long road in terms of time and money to get there. Learning this will help you determine if you’re willing to jump in. For the longest time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Then, I worked in a law firm early in my career and decided…mmmm, maybe not.
  4. Get smart. If you want to pursue a vastly different path like finance to doctor or sales to architect, you will need to pursue external education. Even if you want to move from HR to Technology, acquiring new skills will be important to make that shift. Luckily, today there are so many options for education. Unless you need an MD or JD, you can consider other options than a university, like Coursera or Udemy, or an online degree that will equip you in a cost-effective manner that is designed for working adults.
  5. Start where you are. If you want to shift from Marketing to HR or HR to Technology, consider trying to make that shift with your current employer. They know you best. They might be more supportive of this type of switch because you have knowledge of the company and culture. Look at your internal job boards and talk to Recruiting. You’d be surprised how committed a number of companies are to seeing people move across departments. This type of movement can be very valuable to a company. Moving from the field to HQ or from being client facing to a support function ensures different knowledge and experiences gets transferred from one group to another. Recruiting can also tell you, specifically, what education or experience you need to qualify. This can be invaluable to helping you to get started.
  6. Begin on the side. If part of the reason you want a change is to try something completely new, try doing it on the side. Do you want to freelance in writing, editing, web design, app development, life coaching? All of these areas and many more can be “tried out” on the side while working. Find one group or person you can do this for at a discounted rate to not only build your portfolio but see how you like it. Connecting with others is a great way to get an idea of what that career is like but, obviously, there is no substitute for real, first-hand experience.
  7. Consider pro bono. One of the best ways to get real experience in something new is to do it for free. If you want to write, write your blog or write an enewsletter for the animal rescue down the street for free. If you want to move into finance, help your church finance committee. If you think you want to move into health care, volunteer at a hospital. If you want to become a programmer, design something for a not-for-profit and see how you like it. There are so many groups who need services but can’t afford them. This is a mutually beneficial way to explore your desire. Even if you want to move into archaeology, which was one of my loves, you can try this out. I did a day trip with the Field Museum once to see what that was like. Turns out it was very tedious work reliant on grant funding and donations, and it wasn’t for me.
  8. Go part time. Companies are moving more toward flexible work arrangements. This was happening before our current circumstance but is becoming more heightened now. I know many friends who have gone to a part-time work schedule while they took care of their kids or pursued what they love. I had a friend go to 4 days a week so Fridays could be spent writing her novel. I had another friend flip to be a part-time consultant so he could spend two days a week building his life coaching business. More than ever, people want to diversify their income streams or have time to try out something new. Take advantage of that, if you can.
  9. Go in eyes wide open. I have read many a tale of people quitting corporate life, moving to Montana and starting their own not-for-profit that is highly successful and rewarding. I am not saying these stories don’t happen. They certainly do. But, the majority of switches may not go exactly as planned. I had a colleague quit his job to become a real estate agent and he struggled to build a clientele. He found himself going back to what he liked (but didn’t love) while he figured out his next move. I have had multiple friends go independent to find out they hated business development and went back to being internal to a corporation. This is all okay. How do you know until you truly try something?

While not every situation ends happily ever after, I have seen a lot of success stories too. I had a childhood friend move out of sales and become a lawyer in her 30’s and she loves what she does. Another friend left a high-level corporate job to go back to school to become a Physician’s Assistant in her 40’s. She is thrilled with her life choice. It can be done. If you focus on the tips above, your chances of success are good. The above will help you learn a lot about your new career path before you cut the cord from your current one.

If you do make a change, do your homework and upskill yourself to prepare. If it doesn’t go the way you want, you can always go back or evolve into something new. I made a change in my career from Learning & Development to Knowledge Management back to Learning & Development. I missed Learning. Developing people and helping them find their career is what I am committed to do. I carry my lessons from my Knowledge Management days with me. They have only helped me. Sometimes, a change can help you figure out what you really want or not want. Sometimes, this clarity can only come from action and trial runs.

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