At some point, almost everyone thinks about doing something radically different in their careers. The operative phrase is: “thinks about.” Very few of us find the strength and time to escape the gravitational pull of jobs and vocations. Career change for many remains an idle fantasy we return to during low points.
However, some do turn the idea of changing careers into reality. During the past few years, I’ve worked with a number of successful career reinventors, and here are five big lessons we’ve learned along the way.
5 Big Lessons Learned About Career Reinvention:
1. The Journey is About You, But You Cannot Succeed Alone
“No one pivots alone,” is a key theme in Adam Markel’s excellent book, Pivot—The Art and Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life. He’s spot-on with this observation.
It doesn’t quite take a village to change your career, but you do need support from a number of key stakeholders.
Your significant other must support your pursuit. When two people are out of sync on this issue, it leads to stress and in a few cases I’ve observed, genuine marital distress.
You need a guide. As I describe in my free webinar outlining a detailed approach to career reinvention, I did this alone and mostly flailed and failed my way forward. It was messy, cumbersome, and costly. Ironically, my personal-professional mission now involves helping others navigate this career reinvention process and avoid many of the mistakes I made during my journey.
You need someone who can give you objective feedback. In the early stages of the career reinvention process, we take time to extract insights and observations from others (and ourselves) on key skills (superpowers), impact on our former colleagues at a human level, moments when we were at our absolute best and our backstories. We generate a great deal of squishy data, and the challenge is properly parsing, assessing, and synthesizing this data. We’re looking for insights and clues that point to new arenas and away from others, and to do this, we need someone operating outside of our heads.
2. Slow Down to Go Faster:
I struggle with this perspective more than any other part of the career reinvention process. I’m action oriented as are most of the experienced professionals and executives who seek my help.
However, the pause to pursue some of the activities described above (identify superpowers; assess how we have impacted others; remember what it looks like to be ourselves at our best; think through our back-stories and others) is priceless.
A typical reaction from a client in the middle of what one described as “intensive navel-gazing work” is, “Why am I doing this?” A short-time later when the “Ah Ha!” moments emerge, it all makes sense.
The heavy background lifting and moderate, time-boxed navel gazing help create a strong foundation for beginning the more deliberate exploration and experimentation phases of the career reinvention process.
It does indeed pay to slow down and pause just a bit on the front-end of this work. You’ll move faster and more deliberately later on because of the pause.
3. Too much activity with no vector is a problem.
The intermediate output of a career reinvention process should be a couple of hypotheses on potential new vectors. The challenge for many is distilling down a host of ideas on possible pursuits to the ones that hit what I term the Sweet Spot of career reinvention—the convergence of passion, ability, and marketability.
I struggled with the vector issue and was like a pinball, bouncing from one fascinating, exciting activity to another with the only filter being, “I need to learn how to do this.” Many of my clients struggle with this as well, often identifying six or more possible career paths that seem plausible.
The pinball effect is alluring for anyone who has been stuck in a slot for many years and suddenly feels the freedom of exploring something else. The Sweet Spot filter is mission critical in helping impose the discipline to move from ideas and the pursuit of interesting hobbies to something where you stand a chance of making a living. Which brings me to my next valuable lesson learned…
4. Hobbies Mostly Don’t Hunt:
It’s tempting to look at your hobbies as potential escape routes from your current situation. Hobbies typically involve something we’re passionate about and have some talent or ability that feeds this passion. Alluring yes, but remember the Sweet Spot described above? Unless you can add the third component: marketability to your passion and ability, you’ve got a non-starter.
The career reinvention process moves from divergent thinking to convergent thinking, and it’s the discipline imposed by the need to substantiate marketability that may save you from an extremely unprofitable, time-consuming venture.
Yes, hobbies are great, but mostly, they don’t make great businesses. (There are exceptions, just don’t count on being one.) It’s essential to identify an audience with need and the ability and willingness to pay for your offering or service.
No audience, no vocation.
5. Resistance is a Constant Companion on the Career Reinvention Journey
Perhaps the most difficult of all issues you can expect to encounter is your resistance to moving forward.
The process of identifying viable options for your next step can be long and difficult to navigate. It’s easier to give up and rationalize that your current situation isn’t so bad.
If you stay the course and identify a reasonable idea that meets the criteria for interest, ability, and marketability, there are still an incredible number of issues, risks, and obstacles to navigate from an idea on paper to reality. Again, it’s easier to quit than to keep moving.
Whether it’s your accountability partner, significant other or coach in this process, you need someone to provide encouragement, motivation, or a metaphorical clubbing over the head when resistance inevitably surfaces.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
If you’re like so many I’ve encountered who recognize your best work is still in front of you, regardless of your age, these are some great lessons to draw upon during your journey. Use them in great health and in deliberate action!