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How to brave up and make a career change

Ok, so you know you want a career that you love. And that your current career just isn’t cutting it.

You have expounded upon this fact at length: to your partner, to your sister, to your best friends, and even to a random person you met at the grocery store.

You complain about what your current job is missing, then you sigh hopelessly and confess that you don’t even know what your “dream job” is. Maybe it doesn’t even exist?

Sure, you have a few ideas. You share them eagerly with the other person, but then, just as the other person starts getting excited for you, you dump a bucket of cold water on the conversation by explaining how all of those ideas are impossible. Game over.

You finish up with a grand flourish of throwing your hands in the air and making some statement about winning the lottery.

Does this sound familiar?

If so, for the sake of you, your career, and everyone who is just a tad bit tired of hearing your frustrated career story, I am going to give you a tool to get you unstuck.

First, we need to get straight on one thing. Making a career change isn’t as simple as applying for a library card. It is a special, deep, and thoughtful journey into who you are, what is important to you, and how much grit you have to make it happen. It is a true journey. Prepare yourself for the long haul. Most people don’t really give the process the gravitas it deserves.

Once you are appreciative of the journey, you will likely run up against some strong emotions. And that is where most of us get stuck. You might feel:

  • Afraid that you will fail and look stupid and run out of money and have to live in a cardboard box.

  • Regretful that you got yourself into this predicament in the first place. Why didn’t you study something different in college?

  • Angry that other people steered you in the wrong direction. Why didn’t your parents give you better advice about what to study in college?

  • Hopeless that it’s too late and you aren’t good enough to make it happen.

  • Jealous of your friend Jennifer who just has it all figured out. Go away, Jen.

  • Ashamed that this is all you have to show for yourself after X decades of being alive.

Which of these is you? You can pick more than one. Many of my clients have all of the above.

Each one of these emotions feels terrible. If we let ourselves stay with these emotions, we become despondent, sleepless, irritable, and extremely uncomfortable.

So what do we do? We run away. I call this “running away from the fire.” Because, lordy, these feelings sure do feel like a painful and intense burning!

But here’s the problem: we can’t possibly make a big change in our careers without experiencing at least one of these feelings. I have never seen it happen… though I dare you to be the counter-example.

So we stay stuck, feeling on the one hand dissatisfied with standing outside the fire because that career isn’t the one we want. But on the other hand, we simply can’t stand the pain of walking through the fire to make a change to the career we do want. Hence the dissatisfied feeling of being in career limbo, where all you can do is complain about it to the people in your life.

The key to making a career change, then, is to become a master at walking through the fire. Acknowledge that you are going to feel intense feelings, and darn it, you will keep on walking through the fire anyways. Those feelings won’t kill you.

And then have good “talk-back” for your feelings. For example, remember that:

  • Fear. The things you fear rarely ever come to pass. When I first started coaching, I was afraid my clients would fire me after one session once they saw how truly “terrible" I was. On the contrary, eight years later, I am still in touch with many of them.

  • Regret. You have absolutely no idea if something from you past was the “right” or “wrong” decision. When I first left science to become a coach, I thought that those 6+ years spent getting my PhD were a waste of time. Now I see that that training is one of my biggest assets.

  • Anger. You are the captain of your own ship. No one is responsible for you reaching your destination other than you.

  • Hopelessness. In this world of endless opportunities, it is very rare that someone is truly at a dead-end unless they choose to be.

  • Jealousy. Waste of time. What does Jen’s success have to do with yours?

  • Shame. You have done plenty in your life thus far. You just don’t take a moment to celebrate it. Please do.

What career change are you thinking about making? What emotions are getting in the way? And what are you going to do about them? Write me a note and share.

Bravely yours,

Image courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

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