I have been working with career changers for years now (before it was cool!) and often talk to people who want to change careers but are not sure what to do next.
Considering a career change can be scary and bring up a ton of insecurity. You might even wonder if it is OK to change career path, and doubt whether you can succeed.
Whether you are on your way to doing something new, or still just at the beginning phases of exploring the possibility, here's what I wish I could tell every career changer.
1. It’s not about you as much as you think it is
We love to hate people we consider arrogant or full of themselves, or who do not care about others, only about how good they are. But have you ever noticed how self absorbed we get when we feel down and insecure? That’s the other side of the coin.
It’s true that in order to discover what career you would like to pursue next you benefit from self reflection and getting to know yourself. But there is a limit to everything.
If you notice that most of your mental activity is consumed by thinking about yourself (whether positive or negative) consider it’s just too much.
Get curious about the world, help a friend, volunteer, give your full attention to a task at hand. Forget yourself and get out. Unexpected insights will eventually arise to guide you on your path.
2. A lot depends on the industry
A common mistake I see people doing is comparing the results career changers get in different professions and industries. While you can be successful in any industry or profession, it will look very different depending on what you do.
Take two professions such as photography and software engineering: from working conditions to initial investment, from the impact technology has had on the way each field evolved in the past 40 years to the availability of full time jobs, you cannot compare careers side by side. This is what I wish I could tell every career changer.
This is a very important thing to consider because we often face family or community pressure to make a certain amount of money or to have a career path that looks a certain way. In reality, there is a lot that is outside of your control, and the world changes faster and faster. This is why one of the most important things for you to do is to research potential careers, different industries, and companies, before taking the leap to get into something new.
And it’s also why creating a society where everyone can use their gifts and talents to their highest potential is so important (see #15 below).
3. There is a difference between what you truly want and what you think you want
I am not a big fan of over thinking about what you want. Often we end up with what we should want or what we imagine would make us happy. Or we revert to what we used to want, resisting the realization that we have changed.
Sometimes what we want doesn’t make as much rational sense: maybe we want to work less, or we want to work in a field that happens to be less lucrative. Or we might feel the call of working towards making more money, or building something big. On paper, we could write all sorts of options that make more sense from a financial and/or cultural place: but the reality is that we are on this planet to grow in a spiritual and soul-nourishing way. For some of us that means getting into careers that are very lucrative, for others it might mean to never even have a career.
The more you open up to your deepest Self and learn to listen to your true Wisdom, the more what you truly need and want becomes clear. Chances are it will lead you to a more fulfilling life, sometimes in ways you would have never imagined possible.
4. You can learn to discern the sabotaging voice vs. your true self
When I was younger I used to ask for advice - a lot! I needed to hear different opinions, talk things out, wonder how other people would do things, etc.
Then I learned about things like self sabotage, denial, blind spots and that made me really anxious: what if I think I should do something, but it’s not true? What if I am self sabotaging? It was all very confusing!
What I have found over the years is that we can all learn how to distinguish our Wisdom vs. our thinking. Then it’s easier to recognize when you are getting stuck in unhelpful conditioning vs. listening to your deepest Self.
What I wish I could tell every career changer is: you have your own personal inner compass. Learn how to use it.
5. You cannot control timing…
We all grow up with some ideas about at what age we should get a degree, or be financially independent, or find a romantic partner, etc. And sooner or later we all discover that as much as we tried to stick to the timeline, life got in the way.
When it comes to career change, I have seen people have a sudden intuition and quickly pivot, and I have worked with people who went through a year or two of exploration and frustration before finding what to pursue. I worked with people who deliberately chose what to do next and with people who only found it once they stopped trying to figure it out and instead began to say Yes to what was in front of them.
I worked with people who quit their jobs without a plan, and people who chose to stay put while they built something on the side…sometimes longer than expected.
“Man plans and God laughs,” as the saying goes.
Timing is a bit of a mystery: something much bigger than us is at work.
6. …but you can get into action
Said that, if you sit at home doing nothing…nothing is very likely to be what you get. So while you cannot control timing, you can definitely take steps to change careers and to achieve goals within a timeframe. Play full out and don’t get too attached to the outcomes. That’s the key.
7. Grandiosity is a thing
I have been reading the books of Terrence Real and in US he makes a startling remark: he writes of how most therapists focus a lot on helping clients overcome their feelings of inferiority and shame, but a “terrible job at helping people get over their sense of superiority and grandiosity.” This deeply resonated with me and was definitely my experience while in therapy. It was only once I joined a rather hardcore self development group program that a coach made me and everyone else in the program face the ways we had been a****les to others.
If your reading list and social media feed are only full of content that helps you see problems in other people or groups, beware of your own shadow. We are all jerks sometimes. Yes, you too. The best thing you can do for your career (and for your life) is to learn to recognize it. And change.
What I wish I could tell every career changer is that it will be one of the hardest things you ever do. And it will hurt. But if you can go through with it, you will be a much better person to be around. Your life will feel easier, your relationships will become more peaceful and fulfilling. You will find yourself gaining a lot of compassion and more understanding for yourself and others. And you will make a better employee, leader, business owner, partner, and all around human being.
8. Discerning is not the same as blaming
You can go through life blaming others, or you can take responsibility for your choices. But this doesn’t mean you cannot learn to discern what is on you and what is on somebody else. If your boss doesn’t appreciate you or your parents don’t support you in your career choices, you don’t have to spend your energy being bitter and resentful. And you can also appreciate your need for support and appreciation and look for people and places that will give you what you need.
Discernment gives clarity. Blame disempowers you and keeps you stuck.
9. Your problems will always seem bigger to you
On one hand this is appropriate and normal. If you are juggling being a parent and working a full time job, of course you are very much focused on dealing with that. And if you are a young person who is trying to make ends meet with no one to turn to for guidance, of course you might feel worried or frightened. We forget that no matter the circumstances, whatever trouble we face, that always seems to be the biggest issue. The busy parent might think of being single and broke as a much easier time in life, and the young person might not think about the struggles of parents at all!
These of course are just examples. My point is that it is super important to keep your struggles in perspective. A lot of people face struggles - and for the most part we are not even aware of what they are going through because they are not issues for us. Or we think our problem is more important and everyone should care.
Be present to your experience, but keep in mind that you are one of 8 billion people on the planet, each with their own individual experience. Feel compassion for what you are going through and then expand it to feel compassion to all others struggling with the same. And then for everyone else who is struggling.
10. Beware of false idols
Every spiritual tradition agrees: attachment to what is temporal and transitory can be the source of great evil. And all wisdom traditions agree that love, compassion, kindness, Truth are sources of goodness in the world.
Play as big of a game as you want in this world: create a great company, make a ton of money, become famous. But always remember that those are games - they come and go, you win and you lose. Do not worship them and do not give your identity over to them.
What I wish I could tell every career changer is: you are Source - eternal, and beyond this one lifetime. Look towards Source.
11. You are Source
I think that everyone - including you - can have a real experience of that part of themselves that is beyond the physical and mortal realm. It’s not a belief, it’s an experience.
You don’t have to become religious or believe in God to have this realization. I don’t know what it means and you can have any theory you want about it, but it’s real.
Why do I mention it here? Because once you look in that direction, your ability to accept your limitations, have breakthroughs, and even change the world completely shifts.
I call that part of the Self Source - and most of my clients report that (re)connecting with it is very, very powerful in helping them change careers and do what they love.
12. There are two dimensions of growth and only one is visible
What we usually see is “outer” success: money, status, life milestones such as having children or getting married (depending on your culture and beliefs).
Then there is “inner” growth. This is often invisible, but just as real. Most importantly, this is what will carry you through the tragedies in your life. I don’t know why some people have a lot of “luck:” loving parents, stable financial circumstances, etc. while others encounter heartbreaking and sometimes insurmountable obstacles. No explanation can really capture the mystery of the human experience. But I have found that seeing through the inner eye that no matter what I faced was the path, not something keeping me from the path, helped me open up and transcend something inside that needed to be released.
This has sometimes resulted in “outer” success. But just as often it helped me survive tragedies that had no happy endings, and which will forever be sources of grief. It gave me a place from where to stand.
Some of the most amazing people you will ever encounter are just regular people whose spiritual growth transformed them from the inside out. No one will ever write a book about them, but you will feel something special when in their presence and count yourself lucky to have crossed their path.
13. Your environment is bigger than you
What I wish I could tell every career changer is that some places and people will be a better fit for your professional needs. But no one is meant to feel OK in workplaces that belittle or humiliate them.
We all do better in certain kinds of environments. Some of these characteristics are universal: kind, honest, appreciative dynamics feel better to everyone. Some are more personal preferences: for example you might enjoy a more collaborative environment or you might thrive working solo. Know yourself, recognize the signs, and move towards what works.
Don’t twist yourself into a pretzel trying to fit in. Over time the environment will have an effect on you no matter what. Choose wisely.
14. The personal and the collective are intertwined
Working on yourself makes a difference to everyone around you: when you feel more at peace, are less reactive, learn to follow your Wisdom, and can show up for others, your whole community benefits, not just you.
On the other hand, if everyone around you is suffering, it’s very difficult to feel OK - unless you completely close your heart, which by definition will make you not ok!
The more I deepen my individual work, the more I see the absolute need to create a society where everyone is respected, appreciated, and can do work they love. Learning to look in both directions - the individual and the collective - helps you gain clarity and to discern what to get involved with or spend your time pursuing.
15. Having a bigger purpose can supercharge your motivation
A purpose can mean very different things to different people. But all purposes have one thing in common: they go beyond you.
I have talked to career changers who found the strength to face their fears and finally do work that paid them well because they wanted to model self worth and courage to their children, or take care of their family, for example.
And I have also worked with people whose desire to bring about societal change is like a never ending fire that lights their way to tackle big issues and complex projects.
What I wish I could tell every career changer is that connecting to a higher purpose can supercharge your career change and give you a type of strength and clarity you might not even know was possible.
16. Feel gratitude
As cheesy as it may sound, having an attitude of gratitude is a healing balm for the mind.
Whether you can remember to feel grateful for your meal every time you sit at the table, or can start and end the day with a gratitude list, keeping your heart open and full of gratitude will give you grounding during good times and solace during bad.
And it will help you remember that you have skills, connections, possibilities, and resources at your fingertips. Gratitude is an antidote to insecurity. You can always tap into it, even if it can feel hard at times.
17. Remember that the journey might end at any time
We take life for granted. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring, or how much time we have left. Enjoy this moment. Keep the bigger picture in mind. Spend time with those you love. Be kind. Don’t postpone joy.
I know you might not have expected it to be what I wish I could tell every career changer. But being aware of your own mortality is a powerful way to keep it real and focus on what matters.
18. You can still change careers if you don’t have a lot of money, support, or resources
While all of the above will certainly help, you can change careers no matter where you are at in life. During my first career change I was broke and alone. Sure, I had friends who loved me (and one partially paid for a weekend workshop for me), but my partner and I had just broken up, I was going through financial difficulties, I had to move, and I did not have a family of origin to help (not even with words of comfort or advice).
I set my mind to it and within a few months changed careers and doubled my income. The fact that I felt so alone and in a precarious situation motivated me to make a change. It was sink or swim.
Sometimes the lack of resources can make you more powerful and determined. Focus on what you have, not on what you lack, and open yourself up to new ideas and unexpected help. Change happens all the time.
19. We get better at doing what we love
There is a direct correlation between being good at something and enjoying it. And vice versa. I love coaching and learning about the workings of the mind, facilitation, and wisdom traditions. Therefore I spend a ton of time on these topics, even when I am not working. The pace at which I learn is very fast because I really enjoy it! It’s like that for a lot of people who do work they love.
What I would like to say to every career changer is that it makes zero sense for you to try to keep up just because you think it’s what you are supposed to do. If instead you look in the direction of what you enjoy, you will find that you have more energy, drive, and understanding when you engage with it. You are better at learning, executing, and delivering results. You are in a calmer or happier mood, so people enjoy being around you more. The whole cycle is one of positive reinforcement.
Does it mean you will never dislike some of your work or lose momentum temporarily? Of course not. You might even decide to pivot later on. But the growth that comes from doing what you love is far superior to making yourself fit in a box.
Let yourself shine.
20. Get in action
And we loop back to where we began. You cannot think your way to a new career: you need to get out of your head and into the world
I am totally guilty of this: I can spend days, weeks, even years trying to figure things out in my head. But it doesn't work that way. You need to take action.
And a big part of taking action is to actually get curious about the world, what people need, how things work (or don’t work), who needs what, etc..
A big part of taking action is trying things out, making mistakes, iterating, getting out of your comfort zone.
If you have a tendency to be a lot in your head, get out and do things just because. What I wish I could tell every career changer is to trust the process. Magic will happen.
I hope you found some insights and inspiration. Thoughts? Questions? Share in the comments.
I'm in a career change mess at the moment. Sometimes I get so hard on myself that I overthink everything to the point where I can't see a way forward. I feel that I basically wasted my 20s doing low skill part-time jobs so that I could travel, play music, read a lot, etc... and also because I never knew the 'right path' for me. Now I find that I am so behind in terms of having a 'proper career' and it seems a lot harder to start from a standstill. Your 20 points give a fresh persepctive, thank you!
Thank you, Paul, for reading my post and for sharing your experience. We all have our own timing, and sometimes, even if it feels like we didn't accomplish much, there are gems that we collected along the way that all but invisible to the eye. And yet...if you look in that direction, you might find a treasure ♥