Deciding to change career is a significant rite of passage. The process can be time-consuming, confusing, scary, frustrating, liberating, energizing and life changing. How do you go about it? What mindset helps?
One approach is the planned and systematic route. The mindset is one of reducing risk and uncertainty. It involves in-depth research of new areas, qualifications and experience needed, sometimes with mentoring support, as well as looking inwardly to understand your strengths and preferences sometimes with coaching support. Make as much of the unknown known as possible in advance of taking action.
This deliberate and highly rational matching approach may not be so effective in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). More people are seeking meaning in their lives leading to changes in how careers are seen and experienced. For example, we are seeing an increase in self-employment, independent contracting and portfolio working with multiple strings to your bow.
Do you remember the 1998 film, Sliding Doors, with Gwyneth Paltrow? The basic premise was a young single woman rushing to catch a subway train. She catches the train in one scenario and misses it in another. Both lead to different outcomes in her tangled love life.
You could follow many different paths, but how do you know if one will be more fulfilling than another or which one will lead to career bliss or disaster? The answer is, you don’t know, and it can hold you back from making a career change.
Herminia Ibarra, author of ‘Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies For Reinventing Your Career’, concludes that successful career change involves reinventing yourself through trial and error over time. The mindset is non-judgemental and curious. It means exploring several “possible selves”, trying on several coats and seeing how they fit. Take small steps rather than giant leaps for new perspectives to inform your head, heart and gut.
It doesn’t mean you have to give up your day job. You can explore your interests and potential selves alongside and maintain your safety net. The keys are to test and learn, to be open-minded and to be your own decision-maker.
In the words of management thinker, Richard Pascale, “Act your way into a new way of thinking, rather than think your way into a new way of acting.”