CAREER TRANSITION MYTH #1: “It’s too hard. I can’t do it.”
This column is the first in a series about the myths people hold about career transitions – from “It’s too hard” to “I can’t make money doing what I really want to do”. (See Myths About Transitions) As a result of these widely held misconceptions, many people find themselves frustrated, stuck and unable to move out of their current situation into one that fits them better — and would bring more engagement, fulfillment and happiness.
As a coach who specializes in helping people navigate through the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that come with a transition, I’ve seen firsthand both how much hard work these career leaps
require, and how rewarding and fun they can be. Part of the problem is that the myths that surround making this kind of life change are about how it is “supposed” to be, not about how it actually is.
The truth is: making a change is hard. The first myth, however, is that making a career transition is too hard. Many people say to me, “I’m finding this really tough. I don’t even know where to start. I can’t do it.” So often this leads to thinking, “Other people can do it. There must be something wrong with me” – which inevitably leads to feeling stuck. But there is a difference between feeling stuck, and actually being stuck. Just because you feel stuck, doesn’t mean you can’t do it! Maybe you don’t yet have a compelling vision that helps pull you through the stuck feeling. Yet.
After years of working with clients, I’ve noticed most of us have never been encouraged to understand what we really want. When we first choose a career path, instead of making a choice that might satisfy our needs, values and passions, so many of us were guided to start with our marketable skills, and then find a job which logically matches them. I’m willing to entertain the idea that this might be generational – many of my millenial 20something MBA students are struggling with this — but most of us who are slightly older didn’t have this conversation for very long. And even with my students, the conversation quickly evolves into the logical step.
That is a fine first career step — but then so many of us assume that a career choice made at one point in time – often right out of school – will satisfy us for a lifetime. Because what we grow and develop over time, what was a good choice immediately after school may not satisfy us several years out. But because we don’t know how to start to answer the question about how we want to change, and we haven’t prepared ourselves to think about career as a series of transitions instead of a straight line path, we don’t even know where to begin. No wonder we feel stuck.
But the jumpstarting the process may be simpler than you think. For example, start with a basic question: “What do I like to talk about?” I often begin here with my clients. I call it the “conversations” homework: begin to observe and keep a record of the conversations that you enjoy, and those you do not. Notice what piques your curiosity, what engages you, who you enjoy talking to – and when your eyes start to glaze over. Do you like to talk about sports, fashion, real estate, politics, gardening? Just paying attention to what conversations excite you and which do not will begin to give you insights about where you want to go. Record what catches your interest. With some reflection, some answers will emerge.
When I first met Shelby, she was leaving a management consulting position she didn’t like, and agonizing over an offer as Director of Operations at a storage technology company. I asked her, “What will it be like to talk about storage all day long?” She literally turned white, realizing that the conversations she would be having at work would bore her. What did she love to talk about? After some exploration, she realized that one of the many things she loved talking about was art. She was passionate about art. So, she spent a long time exploring various jobs in the art world, from gallery owner to art consultant. Ultimately, Shelby joined a company selling fine art on the internet – where she got to talk about art all day long.
Your process may not be quite as straightforward. Roland, a V.P. in a construction engineering firm, was not excited anymore about managing big construction projects, but he couldn’t see a pattern about what he did like. Over time, he kept notes about what engaged him, and working together, I pointed out the theme: whenever he was in a conversation with someone who worked for him about how they could grow professionally, he was excited and engaged. He also loved discussing organization design with his boss, but he did not even notice it because it was such a small percentage of their conversations. Gradually, he changed the structure of his work to focus more and more on the people side of things – and a year later took over as head of Human Resources at his firm.
Getting clear about what interests and excites you by paying attention to your conversations is one of the first step toward developing the skills you need to create your career transition. As you develop these skills, the transition will begin to feel easier – and certainly more fun. If you stick with it, even when it is more difficult, you will find your way to a new, more fulfilling career.
Coaching facilitates the process of transition by helping to break down the myths that get in the way of you making the changes you want. Work with a coach — your transition will be easier and more effective.
Write to me with any inquiries about coaching or questions about your own transition at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!