Why are career changes so hard?
In a lot of areas of life, we learn from experience. But it’s pretty tricky to do that when we’re talking about a major career change. After all, it’s not as if most of us are deciding on a new calling every year. So, when big career changes do occur, we’re usually pretty under-equipped to deal with them well.
A big factor is that we don’t feel mentally prepared for taking a new path in our career, even if we feel we want it. If we could just close our eyes and take a step forward, trusting the universe to see us right, and end up in our ideal job, then I’m sure plenty of people would make that jump. But actually, getting where you’re going relies on hard work and intuitive leaps that aren’t quite so safe. So we end up wishing for something to just happen instead of making it so.
Apart from lack of experience, what are the sticking points that keep us fixed in place?
A house, a spouse and kids are a major factor in this immobility. If you’re single and relatively flexible, you can much more easily pack up and move to a new city and rent a new place. If you’ve got a family, your partner may have to change jobs; you’ll need to find a new school for the kids; even just selling the house can take a long time and be an added complication. These commitments (especially ones that impact on others) lead to inertia, because it can feel much easier to just stick with what you’ve got rather than taking a risk that might make you much happier, but could be very stressful in the medium term, and of course, might not actually pay of in the long run.
Let’s take an example. A courageous woman I know recently embarked upon a full-time degree course. She has two children. Although her career change doesn’t require that the family move geographically, she is feeling the pressure of being at home less (due to increased commuting time) and having less money (student loans were not exactly designed with two extra mouths to feed in mind…) This means that, for instance, the kids don’t get to do as many extra curricular activities as they used to and that money stresses are heightened. This huge investment will absolutely pay off in the long term, both for her personally and for her children. However, the knowledge of how it would impact on her family could have easily put her off such a major life change.
Breaking into a new industry
Getting a foot in the door can be very difficult and discouraging, as employers may not want to risk taking on someone with zero prior experience. Having your CV constantly rejected by conservative employers can feel tantamount to being repeatedly told “you can’t do this”. You might also hear from friends and concerned onlookers that it’s not such a great idea, which can add to the intimidation.
The employment market is not geared towards those who want to change career. Employers and recruiters alike are generally interested in the skills you have now, and how that experience can fit into the organisation. While some may be willing to look at your transferable skills in more detail, it can feel harder to find those who are happy to take on people with less specific experience.
Fear of exile
Making a major turn on our career path is obviously not something we can go into lightly. Most people tend to stick with what they know, or make small changes, rather than drastic ones. This makes sense – we have no idea whether a new tack in our job will really work for us, and we worry about leaving behind everything we know and being unable to get back to where we were.
Another brave woman I know, at 52, decided to make a huge career change – she not only moved out of teaching and into a completely different job, but also moved to a different country. In this instance, it didn’t work out, and after a few months, she came home and returned to her old job. There was a period of instability and dissatisfaction (after all, she left that old job for a reason) – but with some hard work and deep examination of what she got out of the move and what didn’t suit her, she returned to teaching but in a role that made her a lot happier. Despite the foray into an unrelated field, with all her prior skills in teaching, she had no trouble finding work again.
Although employers are often wary and conservative, many understand the need for change, and may even respect your drive to try out something new and admire the new skills you gained from it.
So, given that it is so difficult to adequately prepare ourselves for career change through experience, what can we do to make it easier on ourselves?
Find clarity of desire
This is the most important thing. If you don’t know exactly what you want, then you will swing between emotions and wants, unsure whether you’re doing the right thing.
How can you find that certainty?
It requires self-examination and plenty of research. Read about what the job is like. Talk to people who are doing the role. Shadow someone for a day. One of the amazing women I discussed earlier thought about a career as a radiographer. She spent one day in the hospital, shadowing a nurse, and decided very quickly that what had looked attractive from the outside simply wasn’t for her. You never know until you try (but you can find ways to try things out without taking on all the risk, at first).
Know that it’s going to be pretty tough
Once you know that you definitely want the career change, you have to prepare yourself for the leap. It most likely won’t be easy. You have to figure out how you’ll deal with all the eventualities and contingencies that will arise from your change in circumstances. How will you pay the bills with the drop in pay? Who will pick up the kids now you can’t get home for the school run? This is particularly true for those changes that will affect others in your life.
Ask – is a move genuinely the only option?
If you’re unhappy with certain aspects of your work or your employer, you may feel an overwhelming urge to just get out and do something different. But its crucial to work out whether your desire for a totally different career path comes from a calling to do this type of work or from a need to get out of your current rut. That is, are you running to a new job, or from your old one?
If it’s the latter, an upheaval of your entire life might not be the best place to start. While it may be the eventual outcome, it might be best to consider how your current job could be different in ways that would make you happier.
You have to examine your needs and wants deeply to come to the core of what is bothering you about your current role. From there, if you communicate in the right way (positive, open and with a genuine desire for a productive resolution), you might find yourself surprised at how supportive your employer is. After all, it’s a much bigger hassle for them to find a new member of staff to fill your role than to make some small changes and get to keep you.
If, after all your soul-searching, you find that changing careers is the right option for you, take a look at our jobs page and see if we anything to suit you. Hopefully you feel a little more prepared to take the plunge.