5 Ways to Test Drive a Career Change
If you’re contemplating a career change, does it sometimes feel like an overwhelming process? When the thought of change bubbles up in your mind, does it quickly get squelched by other thoughts chiming in, like: “I don’t know if I’m qualified,” “I don’t know if I can do it,” “it’s too hard,” “it’s too late,” “it takes too long,” “it’s too expensive,” “I’m too old,” or some similar idea-crushing thought?
If so, you deserve better. While it’s true that there’s lots of research, planning, and realistic decision-making required to make a career change, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible; nor that it has to be painful.
What if all things were possible, at least for right now? What if for the next five minutes, you gave yourself the freedom to consider, explore, and make choices, including the choice not to make a change after all? (By the way, it’s OK to decide “Never mind” after you’ve explored; but doing it prematurely robs you of possibility.)
What if you thought about changing careers like you might think about looking for a home in a new neighborhood, or taking a trip with a group tour?
It’s a given that you’d need to start with these qualities: curiosity, an open mind, and enthusiasm. When looking for a home, you’d consider: What kind of neighborhood do I want to be in? What’s most important, and in what order: location, community services, neighbors, schools, transportation, apartment, condo or home, rent (pets OK or not) vs. buy (how are mortgage rates, taxes)?
Same thing with a group tour: where do you want to go? How big of a group, who leads the tour, what do you want to see and do there, how much does it cost, how many days is it, who typically goes, what do past participants say about the experience, and how many of them are repeat customers?
This can be a very effective approach to test drive a career change. Here’s how.
1. Take Yourself Seriously.
Why do you want to make a career change? What are you done with, and why? What are you drawn toward? It’s important to be able to answer these questions honestly with yourself. What is calling you? Is there something else you’ve always dreamed of doing? What’s held you back from exploring? Could you give yourself permission to explore now, just a little, and then decide? Nobody ever said we can only choose one career, then lock into it for the rest of our lives. The world doesn’t work that way anymore, anyway.
2. Pay Attention to Your Nose.
Maybe you don’t feel “called” to do something. Maybe you don’t have a single overwhelming passion to pursue one particular profession. In our “reach for the stars!” culture, it’s easy to feel bummed and lost if you can’t identify a career passion for yourself. But as the 13th Century poet Rumi says, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are many ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
Elizabeth Gilbert would agree. In her book Big Magic, the writer/author/speaker/teacher talks about what a high bar “passion” is, and that many people don’t have it. She’s discovered that curiosity is something we all can access; she suggests that once you notice something small that you’re curious about, follow your nose and sniff that out, one tiny step at a time. It works. Whew!
3. Find the Pond.
I spent many years in advertising, but was always interested in psychology. I was especially curious about Art Therapy.
So I talked to someone I knew who was an art therapist. I researched what the training and academic requirements were. There were prerequisites I’d need if I were to go back to school. To begin exploring a possible career change, I registered for one night class in Psychopathology at Northwestern University (while still working), just to see if I could deal with being in a classroom again after so many years.
I found that I enjoyed everything about it, plus I got one of the prereq’s nailed. But I wasn’t ready to make the change yet. So I stayed in advertising a while longer. Then I was ready. I knew where the pond was, with the fish I wanted to join swimming in it.
4. Go for a Swim.
Eventually I made the leap to get a Master’s Degree in Art Therapy. I entered a graduate program and hoped I was making the right decision.
During the first semester I was very ambivalent. I decided to look deep inside, talk to even more people, and attend a conference of Art Therapists to answer the question: Is This My Tribe? Is this the work I want to do? For a variety of reasons, I decided the answer was no.
Yet Counseling was still where I wanted to be. So I switched tracks, still got my Counseling Master’s Degree, and also became a Board Certified Coach. I began my new professional life as a Career Strategist and Professional Resume Writer. The water was warm. This was the perfect combination of everything I’d learned during many years in the business world, combined with everything I’d learned about career development, choices, people, and change. Helping people identify the work they want to do, then position and brand themselves properly to pursue it, was deeply satisfying and something that came naturally to me. This was where I belonged.
5. Embrace the ZigZag.
Many people think a career change is a simple, straight line from Point A to Point B. Sometimes that happens, but usually not. More often, as it was for me, it’s a zigzag, a process of organic discovery, adjusting the route as you go.
Dr. Herminia Ibarra writes in her brilliant book, Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career, “Contrary to popular wisdom, career transition is not a straight path toward some predetermined identity, but a crooked journey along which we try on the possible selves we might become.” And that’s not only OK, it’s an exciting journey.
Where do you want to go?