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It’s not that you don’t want to change.

Staying the course in a job that drains you and sometimes even depresses you isn’t easy. But what choice do you really have? Every time you think about quitting, you remind yourself that you have responsibilities, bills to pay.

Besides, you’ve invested so much in your current career. You worked hard, you paid your dues.  Doesn’t it make sense to hang in there at least a little bit longer?

Many people are probably nodding their heads. I know this kind of thinking was persuasive enough to keep me in the military about 11 years more than I wanted to.

It not only sounds rational, the decision appears to be unavoidable.

Which is probably why I got such a reaction when I posted this on Facebook

The replies were mixed. Some gave the “been there, done that” response. Others bemoaned this is what they should do.

But far more interesting for those of us intrigued by psychology and how assumptions play a part in our decision making were the responses along the lines of “If only it were that easy!”

In this post, I’ll demonstrate how changing careers can be as easy as changing shoes, as long as you know what you’re doing.

Two reasons we feel stuck in careers we don’t love

You might think there are a 100 reasons why people don’t change careers even when they know they should. There is a wonderful quote which sums why people change, and by inference, why they don’t.

Some people change when they see the light, others when they feel the heat. ~Caroline Schneider

Problem #1: You don’t have a strategy to find anything better

First of all, my husband would like it noted in the record that until I discussed with him the topic of this post, he was indeed wearing shoes that didn’t fit well because he hates shoe shopping.

For all of you who said, “It should be so easy,” it’s worth noting that even shoe shopping has its challenges. But even for those who find the problem straightforward, I would ask, how many times have you done it? How many shoes have you purchased in your adult lifetime?

For a task as simple as shoe shopping, consider the strategy you’ve likely developed over time:

  • You know the brands that tend to fit you best
  • You know the stores that carry those brands
  • You know the style of shoe that looks and feels good
  • You know which kind of shoe you need for different occasions

And so on. Now, when you think of a task like choosing a career, a task many have only done once (if at all), you start to see the problem.

Without a proven strategy to choose a career we love, it becomes very difficult to justify a change, regardless of your circumstances. All of the obstacles to change, such as debt or children or lack of experience, all of these are immanently solvable once you’ve seen the light.

Which leads us to …

Problem #2: You’re not (yet) in enough pain

My husband did admit that if he was stuck with a pair of shoes that really hurt, that were unwearable, he would have found the energy to go shopping and replace them. That word “energy” is so important.  It takes energy to do things when you don’t have a lot of experience.

We tell ourselves we’re stopped by some obstacle, when in reality what’s stopping us is fear and a lack of commitment.

The same is true with our careers. If your career leaves you crying into your pillow every night or on the verge of a mental breakdown, the case for change is pretty strong. When you’re merely disappointed, changing careers somehow feels indulgent.

Nor does the pain have to come from the career itself. For me, the push to change careers came only after suffering two miscarriages in less than 12 months. I’ve interviewed a lot successful career changers, and many of them were primed to change only after tragedy: a near death experience, loss of a loved one, getting laid off.

It’s counter-intuitive, but probably the worst situation is to have a career that’s just okay. Those who are truly miserable will be persistent enough (even if they don’t have a strategy) to find a way out.

The rest of us are like those frogs in the pot of water that’s slowly coming to a boil. By the time we realize what’s happening, it can be too late.

Walk towards the light

My entire message can be distilled into two words: clarity and courage. Know what you want, then go do it.

That sounds easy, but so does shoe shopping until you send your 5-year-old off to buy her own shoes. Can you imagine it?  She’d probably randomly pick something off the shelf, get the wrong size, and then work very hard to convince herself the shoes fit.

Sound familiar?

We think getting a college education prepares us to pick a career, but it doesn’t. In fact, in many ways it works against us, because what’s fun or interesting in the classroom may be the exact opposite as a job. For the most of us, our parents were stuck in careers they hated and were as clueless as we were.

I’ve now worked with hundreds of people around the world, and the process of developing clarity and courage works across ages, cultures, backgrounds, you name it.

One client in France recently told me he originally planned to transition in the summer, but was thinking he’d have to move that up at least six months because he was already getting job offers before finishing the course. Another in the U.S. got hired to do a job she’d only done previously as a hobby (i.e. she had no professional experience), and she got a raise, and $10K signing bonus, and the flexibility to work from home to boot.

This probably all sounds impossible to you right now. One of my Facebook followers said, “Sometimes life gets in the way of dreams.”

But it doesn’t have to. You can choose to walk towards the light.

Clarity and courage are incredibly powerful tools.

You just have to know how to use them.

Your turn: Think I’m wrong?  Think your situation is different? Tell me about it the comments.


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19 Responses to How to Make Changing Careers as Easy as Changing Your Shoes

    • On
    • September 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm
    • Carmelo
    • Said...

    Hi Jennifer!

    Yes, clarity and courage. It’s amazing the sequence of events once you’ve decided something. Whether you’re moving away from something awful or towards something you now finally want more than anything, somehow, you just make things happen.

    It’s like dominoes falling (or changing shoes ;-)) it just happens. But if you lack the clarity and courage (and that fateful decision) everything just seems miles away.

    One thing I always did was challenge myself to quite often change up everything I did out of habit or routine. This made any kind of change far less scary. Just a personal note! :-)


    • Carmelo,
      Yes, I agree about changing things up regularly. The Everyday Courage Challenge series provides some ideas on how folks can do that, but it’s just as easy to look for the new and unfamiliar and do that! What’s interesting is that you have to continually monitor yourself to make sure you don’t fall back into old habits. I just recently felt like I wasn’t stepping into my fear enough. It’s one of the things I love about blogging actually–you have to hold yourself accountable. :)

      Thanks for the great comment!

        • On
        • September 13, 2012 at 10:29 am
        • Carmelo
        • Said...

        Yes, when we put ourselves “out there” it’s like we’re pulling the rug out from under all our excuses. 😉

    • On
    • September 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm
    • Vicki Z
    • Said...

    I totally agree with what you’re saying, but my problem is that I don’t know what I want. I want to “walk towards the light” and have left my career of 20 years to pursue something more fulfilling. I have the luxury of the time and moderate means to do so, but fear I’m the frog who has boiled in the pot too long … Now I just can’t figure out what I want to do, and fear the only thing I can do that will produce income is what I did for 20 years that I refuse to go back to. Am I boiled?

    • Vicki,
      Definitely NOT boiled! Actually, you’ve made a huge first step without realizing it: simply acknowledging that you lack clarity. Most people think they know what they want are and frustrated they can’t seem to get it. I went years thinking I knew what I wanted, only to be puzzled and disappointed when I got it. It was a vicious cycle.

      The good news is: yes, there is a way to get clarity. Check out the first video in my No Regrets Career Academy mini-course. I walk you through it. Come back and let me know if that helped.

  1. My feet are so deformed (by genetics plus a lifetime of wearing ill-fitting shoes) that I’ve had footwear specially made to accommodate them.

    I suppose that matches up nicely with my choice to be a freelance blogger – I can tailor each day to suit the lumps and bumps in my lifestyle!

    My favourite part of this post was the point that what’s awesome in school isn’t always enjoyable as a career. Equally, you will never be exposed to the full range of career options in school. I wanted to be an astronaut, but my school careers advisor suggested becoming a travel rep – the closest thing to space travel she could offer!

    • Yes, I really want to write a whole book about that. The way we choose careers now is nutty, but it’s because we don’t have any other information or knowledge to approach it a different way.

    • On
    • September 12, 2012 at 4:52 pm
    • Zan C
    • Said...

    Hi Jennifer.

    Your post today about the importance of “strategy” and “pain” resonates strongly and reminds me of an important concept that I learned in grad school. I share it regularly with my friends to help them understand the roots of their frustration when contemplating an important change in their lives.

    Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher, experts in organizational management, came up with this formula – D x V x F > R.

    Translating that into English, it means that for change to happen in an organization (which is a collection of people after all), the product of

    D (dissatisfaction with how things are now)
    V (vision of what is possible)
    F (first, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision)

    Must be greater than

    R (resistance to making a change)

    A vision for the future and first steps for getting there are important elements when developing a strategy (which is an plan to reach future goals). And the idea of pain I think speaks both to resistance and dissatisfaction.

    Resistance to change is such a stubborn beast that you have to clobber it about the head with a clear idea of what a better future looks like and pepper it with at least some ideas on how to start that journey. Dip this all into your personal vat of pent up frustration and voila, you have a recipe strong enough to overcome resistance.

    Dissatisfaction alone is not enough. That energy must be channeled into a strategy to propel you forward. And I believe without dissatisfaction, there isn’t enough motivation for most of us to come up with a strategy.

    • Zan,
      What a great response! I love that you liken it to organizational change. You’re right, the principle works in both cases.

    • On
    • September 13, 2012 at 9:12 am
    • Colleen
    • Said...

    Hi Jennifer! I have to admit that I’ve been following you for months now, but not seriously. See, I hate job hunting more than I hate my current job – at least that is what I have been telling myself. The whole process of “begging” for a job makes my skin crawl. It’s worse than painful shoes.

    And, what do you do if you “know” what career path you think you want to follow, but can’t afford to financially start over? Or your experience doesn’t meet the “criteria” of the powers that be? Or you don’t want to go back to school?

    I’d love to know this persons secret – “got hired to do a job she’d only done previously as a hobby (i.e. she had no professional experience), and she got a raise, and $10K signing bonus, and the flexibility to work from home to boot.”

    • Colleen,
      I would hate job hunting too if it involved begging! No, no. That’s not what I’m about at all. You find that intersection between your passion, your personality, and your strengths, and then you’re out there happily problem solving. Not everyone will take you up on your offer obviously, but when you know you can solve someone else’s problem, that puts you in a position of power, not subservience.

      With regards to finances: I don’t know your full situation, but in general, my advice is not to leap financially. If you have enormous debt that’s preventing you from changing careers, then take care of that debt. Make that your first step in the journey. But know what you’re working towards!! That’s the point of this post. Without the motivation of “walking towards the light” (whatever career lights you up), you’ll never have the discipline to escape the ties that bind you. In the No Regrets course, we talk about a lot of creative ways to get around criteria and education requirements.

      Re: the client I reference, it’s really not a secret. She was extremely smart, but tended to undervalue her own worth. She loves computers and programming, but every time she learned more about it, she would learn how much more there was to learn. So she had this hobby, which she’d never worked in, but certainly knew a lot about and was passionate about. As a result of the course, she got more focused in her networking and started attending conferences and talks about programming. While there, she got into a discussion with someone who saw what a gem she was. He offered her a job the next day.

      If your job search strategy is to send resumes to companies who don’t know you, you’re going to be disillusioned and disappointed. There are better ways.

        • On
        • September 13, 2012 at 4:56 pm
        • Carmelo
        • Said...

        So true, Jennifer. Sometimes we have the mindset that someone is going to “give us a job” when the better way to look at it is “who can benefit from my skills?”

        Employers aren’t out there to help us find work. We are here to help them grow their companies and service their clients. So, when we find our sweet spot of power, skills, and interests we can boldly offer the right company real value. And sometimes they’ll find us!

        • Boy do I ever agree with your mindset comment. I think that is one of the primary reasons people are not successful in their job hunt. In fact, the longer it takes, the more personal it becomes–exactly the opposite of the mindset you need. It’s a downward spiral few realize they’re in.

  2. There is another reason for not changing your career, and it is the comfort zone. Often, the career is not challenging, not interesting and promotion is slow, but you earn enough money for your immediate needs, and that’s enough for you. In time, you get settled in this situation, unwilling to change it.

    The shoes might be hurting your feet, but you get used to them, instead of buying a new pair.

    This is exactly what happened in my case. I had a nice job, with convenient hours, and therefore, had plenty of free time to read and study things I likes, but which were unrelated to my job.

    Only after I felt I was wasting my time, and it became quite inconvenient at work, I had the courage to quit my job. I am now doing something I love, blogging, and writing books and articles for my website.

    It could be scary to leave a job, and when you quit, there might be difficulties and struggles, but if know what you want, and are determined to succeed and do whatever is required, you will succeed.

    • Remez,
      I agree, the comfort zone is hard to get out of, but I still think the reason it’s hard is a combination of not knowing what could be better and not yet being in enough pain. The very word “comfort” speaks to heart of the problem.

      So glad to hear of your success. Thanks for sharing!

    • On
    • September 15, 2012 at 12:52 pm
    • Katy
    • Said...

    I have been in the medical field my whole adult life and I am 49. I have found a direct selling company and I love the product and the possibilities and opportunity of freedom from the 8 to 5, flexibility and the ability to empower and help others. When I share this my co-workers, family and friends think I am crazy. It is hard to change when you have been doing the same thing for 28 years.

    • Katy, you might really enjoy Chris Guillebeau’s book, The Art of Nonconformity. It speaks so well to what you are experiencing. It’s sad, but unfortunately it’s very common that the ones least supportive of our efforts to grow and do something fulfilling are those closest to us. I had the same experience when I left the military. But you know what? As soon as it became apparent I was going to make it in this new career of mine, everyone told me how much they admired me for my courage. The words they’re saying now, believe it or not, are often out of love and a desire to protect you. Don’t hold it against them. Just continue to dare to shine.

      • On
      • September 18, 2012 at 5:13 am
      • Chris Lappin
      • Said...

      A wonderful post and one that I need to read several times.
      I too can empathise with life getting in the way of dreams. When the struggles are really tough and deep sometimes you have to be patient (I’m an impatient person so it’s not always easy!)and deal with them before you can give proper attention to your dreams.

      @ Katy: I’m 47 and also got involved with a direct selling opportunity for the same reasons as you. It was an incredible experience. I’ve also completely changed career and business direction on more than one occasion. And I too got that reaction from meaningful loved ones. Ultimately it’s about your happiness and after all they don’t pay your bills! It is hard but it’s never too late. Hope it works out for you.

      • I think your point about patience is an important one. Because when we say “life gets in the way of dreams,” it sounds like the dreams can’t happen at all, when in truth, what we’re really talking about is a delay in the timeframe we’d like it to happen. Dreams don’t happen overnight. I didn’t leave my military career and become a successful entrepreneur the next day. I had to feel my way along. Lots of unexpected (and unpleasant) things happened in that journey, but I found a way to keep moving forward. That’s the beauty of committing to the journey, not just a destination.