How to Make Changing Careers as Easy as Changing Your Shoes

by | Sep 12, 2012 | Career Design | 19 comments

I t’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.