How to Change Career Horses in Mid-Stream

By: Merci Miglino

You’ll get wet but the reward just might be a more fulfilling ride!

In Survival is Not Enough, author Seth Godin says change is the "new normal." Rather than thinking of work as a series of stable times interrupted by moments of change, Godin says we “must now recognize work as constant change, with only occasional moments of stability."

For many of us this very thought stirs both a nervous anxiety and an enjoyable excitement. Even if we are fearful, we crave change: the opportunity to try something new, to build on what we know, to stretch our professional muscles.

So how do we deal with the fear, change that career horse in mid-stream and move down the career exploration path on a new stallion?

First we have to acknowledge our fears. They may not be rational even to us but we are not seeking our rational thoughts. We are in search of those underlying fears that operate whether or not we are fully aware of them.

Try this…take out a piece of paper and write down all the reasons you can’t or won’t make a career change or job move. Don’t hold back. What are your fears, concerns, reservations etc? Are they related to a loss of income or the expectations of others? Fear of failure? Success? Don’t get caught up in how you should feel or that you know a concern is not entirely valid. Just write them down. Think of yourself as a researcher looking for information in a non-judgmental way. We are simply observing ourselves, reserving our conclusions for later.

As you study your list you can easily see that underlying most of our fears is your reluctance to trust your ability to be capable, creative, and resourceful. But a close examination of your track record will reveal that this lack of trust is unfounded. After all, haven’t you accomplished many professional and personal goals? Haven’t your setbacks lead to a renewed determination? To an enriched experience? To a more well rounded professional outlook?

Now take a look at that list again.

Read each fear or concern slowly and ask yourself, where am I in all or nothing, always or never, black or white thinking? Are your thoughts fraught with extreme terms like… If I change jobs I’ll be broke. If I take less money my family will hate me. If I change careers my parents will go berserk. If I pursue a new career my education and experience will be for nothing. If I make the wrong choice I’ll never recover.

Are these statements really true? Can you know for a fact that if you make a professional move something terrible will happen? While your worst fears could happen, how likely are they to occur if you trust your record of resourcefulness and creatively? You may have heard that FEAR is an acronym for False Expectations Appearing Real. Our fears are generally rooted in the perspective that the worst will definitely happen. After all if we really understand the true odds we would move forward with far less anxiety.

In short, coach yourself to be honest about your irrational thoughts. Name your fears. Review them and look for the misconceptions in them. Where are you in an all or nothing perspective? Don’t judge yourself for having irrational thoughts. Acknowledge them when they happen and remind your self that such thoughts only trip us up when we pretend we don’t have them!

Once we become aware of our fears we become more agile and willing to cross the proverbial stream with a new horse. The following seven steps will keep you astride that lively and spirited career steed even when things are bumpy and unpredictable.

1.Money isn’t everything. Don’t expect to take a pay cut, especially if you have transferable skills. But, if you do accept a lower salary, make sure it’s a fair exchange for a more rewarding career. Be careful here. Sometimes we get caught up in how it will look to others if we take a pay cut and what does that say about us? Remember only you can assess whether a pay cut is worth it.

2.Know your passion. When you're true to your mission, you experience peace and stability. When you ignore the truth, you experience disharmony, indecision and doubt. Work at achieving goals that are compatible with your passion. Trust that your resourcefulness and creativity will make things happen.

3.It’s your life. Close friends and family members may have trouble envisioning you in a different career. Expand your network; make an effort to meet new people. Attend professional events, join an industry association or meet other job seekers online. Remember, what do you want? If you know that answer, your personal power will help you achieve your goals.

4.Jump often. Risk taking gets easier with practice. Start with small risks in daily activities. Think of a risk you would like to take. What would you gain from taking it? What's frightening about it? What's the worst thing that could happen if it turned out badly? If the worst happened, what would you do? What could you do to minimize this? What information would make this less risky? If you broke the risk into small steps, what would the first step be? When could you take it?

5.Get creative. Become involved in activities, relationships, hobbies, and spiritual/community activities. With this new focus you may even discover you’re enjoying that unsatisfying job now that you have a more balanced perspective.

6.Don’t give up. The career path is not linear – it’s more like a spiral. On average, it takes four years to change careers, according to Herminia Ibarra, the author of Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. It’s a process of trial and error – you will likely face a few disappointments and failures.

7.Be a cheerleader. As you go through a career transition, enthusiasm can help you meet the challenges and overcome the obstacles. When you're networking or job hunting, your enthusiasm can often overcome the reservations potential employers may have about your career change.

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