December 26, 2014

How to Transition Careers Gracefully.

tech careers

Warning: there are a few adult words below.

Transitioning careers is like an awkward first date.

It seems to go on forever and is accompanied by the same sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs, that particular mixture of anxiety and panic.

And yet many of us find ourselves inexplicably moving away from what we thought we’d be doing forever. Moving toward an unknown, but happier, better, more peaceful future.

Just like awkward first dates, there is no definitive, individualized guidebook that can assist us during this process. I know this because I have searched for it—I’m currently caught somewhere between being an aid worker and a health coach/yoga teacher.

But there are others who have come before us from whom we can learn. Here are some tips to make the transition a little less first-date-ish and a little more graceful:

1. It’s not easy. But then again nothing worthwhile in life is right?

If we truly want to change our circumstances, we need to be prepared to put in the hard yards—emotionally, physically and intellectually. We need to be prepared to let go of all our preconceived ideas about work, careers and life. We need to delve deep, deep inside ourselves and be prepared for the fact we may not like what we find.

We need to be prepared to lose people in our life who may not understand our needs. We need to be strong enough to withstand other people’s opinions, but most of all we need to be able to withstand our own minds which constantly try and trick us into turning around and running back into safety.

Defining who we are, finding what makes us tick, exploring our passions—this may be the biggest journey we ever take. And it might be a lifelong one. The first step is to commit to change. Once we set our intention, our actions follow.

2. It’s not about finding a new career. It’s about finding ourselves.

Many of us have being following paths that we think will make us happy for a long time. But really, we’ve been doing what we think we should be doing, as advised by school teachers, families and society as a whole. In doing that we’ve often lost touch with what really makes us happy.

Being stuck in a career we don’t love is representative, in some ways, that we’ve lost touch with our true selves. We must accept that. Therefore, to find what we want to do and want in life, we need to find ourselves again. A byproduct of doing so is often finding a vocation that is more suited to our own unique skills and passions.

3. Do first. Plan later.

The traditional theory of career change is based on the plan-then-implement model. The notion goes that first we identify what it is we want to do and then work on a way of getting there. My experience has demonstrated that this methodology is…well, bullshit.

We don’t learn by thinking or by writing things on pieces of paper or by talking to careers counselors. We learn by doing. All the planning and thinking I did at the beginning of my transition journey was made redundant—because when I started doing, I found I was drawn to other things. When I started doing, doors started opening. When I started moving I came to realize what really inspired me.

The purpose of life is to move forward. Some of us get our asses kicked by the universe (as manifested in sickness or crisis)—some of us are lucky enough to move before that happens. So to find what it is we’re searching for, we must stop planning and talking and just move. We could take an evening class. Start volunteering. Move cities. As long as we’re moving forward and growing, chances are we’ll stumble upon our true purpose.

4. It doesn’t really matter what we do, it’s how we do it.

We are not what we choose to do as a career. Ideally our vocation should reflect our values so that it helps us grow and move forward but if it doesn’t and we are able to move forward in other ways, that’s cool too.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if we choose to clean goldfish bowls for the rest of our life or if we choose to be CEO of a large corporation. What matters is the intention with which we do it. If our ambition is to get rich and screw people over, we probably won’t be very happy. But if we choose to go to work to make other people’s lives happier, to be of service to others, to enable us to do the things we love, then chances are we’ll find fulfillment.

It’s not what we’re doing that matters. It’s how we do it. It’s easy for us to get stuck in the trap of thinking that a new job/career/city will make us happy. The first step is to change our attitude. In doing so, we open new doors and start to move toward what feels natural to us.

5. Settle in for the long haul. Most career transitions take about three years.

Yep, that’s a long time. I can speak from personal experience that it feels at least twice as long. There are often moments when we think we can’t do it. There are moments when, despite what everyone says, we don’t feel very brave at all. What I’ve learned though is that all of it is part of the experience.

We must give ourselves time to explore, to learn, to grow. We don’t have to have it all figured out right now. In all likelihood we will go back to what feels safe again and again until we are brave enough to take the final step into a new career. As long as our intention is set firmly on the road in front of us, it doesn’t matter.

As I approach this New Year, I have never been less financially secure. But I have also never been so filled with the knowledge that the world is full of endless possibilities. I’ve never been so alive. I’ve never felt more myself.

And above all else, what I’ve learned is this:

We will never regret trying to move forward.


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Author: Meg Berryman

Editor: Catherine Monkman/Travis May

Photo: Revol Web/Flickr

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