3 Things You Must Do Before You Embark on a Career Change

Reigniting a career dream you’d given up long ago, or awakening to one you hadn’t realized you even had, can be electrifying at first. The novelty of a new goal, and the promise of where it’ll take you, are wonderful developments that often bring with them sudden surges of creative energy.

The thing about emotional highs, though, is they’re difficult to maintain once you fall back into day-to-day experiences and realize what an undertaking it may be to fit a big change like this into the rest of your life.

To keep your feet on the ground while your heart and mind light up with ideas and plans for your new direction, check off the following to-dos early on in your career change. Getting these considerations out of the way now will help keep your focus on actionable possibilities (not the what-ifs that might otherwise crush your momentum) as you move forward.

1. Let go of your expectations

Expectations that are over-precise and set in stone (for instance, “I want to be a marketing director”) lock you into one-way thinking. Because your focus is on a single outcome, like acquiring a specific job title, your chances of getting what you want will never be greater than fifty-fifty. If you’re stuck in a black-and-white mindset, you’ll lose tons of time trying to determine the very specific steps you’d have to take in order to get the exact result you’re after.

But a career change is about much more than a job title, and an accurate barometer of success is made up of many different components. There are countless roads to and many versions of victory. Instead of fixating on something as intransigent as a specific title, salary, or industry, turn your attention instead to the everyday responsibilities, functions, and duties that would make you happier in your life at work. Let go of what you want to “be” and ask yourself what you want to do. This will give you a lot more room to work with and, ultimately, many different paths from which to choose.

2. Make peace with reality

In their number one New York Times bestseller, Designing Your Life, Stanford alumni coauthors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans detail how anyone can apply the principles of design thinking to create their very own, customized working lives.

One of these principles is to put out of your mind what Burnett and Evans call “gravity problems.” A gravity problem is something you cannot fix (e.g., gravity) and, therefore, to which you should dedicate absolutely no time or consideration because it won’t get you anywhere.

An example of a gravity problem would be wanting to become a police officer, but not fulfilling the minimum height requirement. No matter how long you obsess over this issue, you won’t get any taller, and the chances of the requirement being relaxed for you are pretty much zero. The sooner you make peace with this reality, the sooner you can start to consider other avenues for success.

You might not be able to become a police officer, but there are many career paths in law enforcement and several ways you can help to protect and serve your fellow citizens. A problem like this is precisely why you shouldn’t focus on specific jobs or job titles but instead on everyday responsibilities as your metrics for success. In other words, don’t think, “I want to become a police officer,” think “I want to help in the protection and service of my community,” and go from there.

3. Be prepared for tradeoffs

A friend once told me “The grass is never greener, just different,” and it’s been one of my maxims ever since. Almost everything in life has its pros and cons, and that’s especially true when it comes to work. Even in a job that is seemingly perfect for you, you’re sure to encounter challenges. A low salary bracket, inflexibility surrounding time off, or an unsupportive coworker are all plausible downsides to an otherwise happy and fulfilling job.

Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by visualizing a career change that’s all glitter, no grunt. Instead, start thinking now about disadvantages you’d be willing to accept in exchange for the significant benefits you’re sure to gain, and talk yourself through the reasons you’d be able to live with those drawbacks.

On the same note, understand that no matter how ready you are to leave your current work life behind, you’ll inevitably be giving up something when you do. It could be a great CEO, a short commute, or excellent perks. Psychologist and social worker Kristin Meekhof says you should associate things you may have to give up with positive feelings about what you’ll gain (peace of mind, for example) to help with the emotional bartering you’ll have to do as you move through your career change.

Further Reading

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About Betenwrite

Betenwrite.com offers original content focused on personal and professional change, including a résumé design library featuring free and easy-to-edit templates. The mission of the site is to inspire people to let go of the negative stories that are holding them back, and instead start taking real-world steps toward aligning their professional lives with their personal selves.

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