For over 20 years, I kept an anonymous quote clipped from a magazine on my computer monitor as a reminder to myself:
It’s one thing to have vision.
It’s another thing to make it happen.
Like most Americans I have had my challenges figuring out what I’m called to do in the world of work. But once our passion lines up with vision for a better future, why do so few of us seem to muster the courage and stick-to-itiveness to fully implement this new direction and, indeed, make it happen? Why is it so hard to do the “work” of changing work?
Now that I am in the deeply-fulfilling role of coaching others in creating their desired career paths, I have a unique vantage point: I consistently observe a sharp fall-off between clients who start the change process–identify interests, passions and potentially more-fulfilling roles–and those who actually attain those new roles. After three or four sessions of assessment exercises, strengthening their LinkedIn profile and then lining out people in those possible new roles to engage for informational interviews, these aspiring career changers stop coming back to career counseling.
Similarly, this “floundering” to achieve career and life progress was seized upon by the brilliant author Herminia Ibarra in Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. She writes that self-analysis and assessment is the easy, fun part of career change. Implementing your new direction is tough, and that’s where most career changers give up. As a result, most of us become comfortable with just collecting a paycheck and “stay stuck in the wrong career.”
Changing jobs or careers requires that you engage in various levels of work, too—both “inner work” like soul-searching, reflection, and decision-making, and “outer work” like research, extending yourself interpersonally, and follow-through. I am convinced it is less about strategy and desire, however, and more about finding in oneself, again and again, the perseverance to push through the often-shocking amount of effort and time involved. We can’t think our way to a new better career or job. We build a new career through action.
While the process is different for everyone, reaching career goals also requires resiliency. When you’ve made the decision to take a hard road over an easy one, it takes strength to stay true to ourselves and values, and persist through discomfort and the unknown. My colleague Bruce Hazen was spot on about the uncomfortable work entailed in career transition in his recent post Mantra to Overcome Procrastination, “You don’t have to like it, you just need to do it.”
Guidance for the journey
- Set appropriate expectations. Yes, fully engage your passion, vision and desire for greater meaning in what you do; then realize that to change careers or even jobs, it’s going to take a whole lot more time and effort than you imagine; if you are between jobs, the “job” of looking for work may prove more challenging than the job you just lost.
- Take Small Steps. This was the helpful theme of a recent CCPP blog by Andrea Killion; small steps such as enrolling in a class or first pursuing your newly-identified passion as a hobby are ways to approximate the new career. It also helps you realize that doing this new pursuit is not as scary or impossible as imagined.
- Get a guide. Unless you are very self-aware and intrinsically-motivated, seek external guidance. I have written previously about this in Get a Guide. I engaged a mentor to help me start my new career counseling business and she definitely helped me stay the course. If issues like confidence or fear are seriously holding you back, you may need to go deeper and work with a counselor.
- Inspiration. See my previous blogs on Five Guidelines for Finding Your Life’s Work, Integrating Career Dreams to Lead the Life You Want, You Gotta Have Hope, and others on this site. Read something weekly if not every day that inspires you for the journey!
- Commitment and patience. A job change you may accomplish in a matter of weeks or months, while finding your life work may take a longer commitment. As an example of persistence and trying things out, I show my clients my seventeen (17 !) business cards which led up to my current, most fitting, self-employed role.
You may not always know where you are going, just that you need to change what you are doing, and the above five tips can help you really, actually get there.
In this article I’m putting a significant amount of emphasis on the critical role of all the gritty elements of accomplishing career change—perseverance, resilience, stretching your comfort zone. Fortunately, once you find and engage your ‘grit” you will know its value when you begin to reap the positive results—say directly helpful advice and referrals received from that first daunting informational interview. To paraphrase my quote, if you strongly desire to alter the trajectory of your career, you “make it happen” by consistently showing you are up for the “work” of career change.
Dave Gallison, MS, LPC
Dave specializes in a short term, action-oriented approach to providing career management solutions to clients seeking to choose, change or advance their careers and reach their professional and personal potential. His unique strength as a career counselor is preparing you for informational interviews and directly assisting you in gaining access to employed contacts within desired organizations.