|  May 7, 2013

The big career change: what’s holding you back?

Thank you so much to Alison for sharing this post with The Prepary! I hear from a lot of clients and friends that they’re thinking about career changes but they never quite pull the trigger. While at the end of the day making the change may not always be the right thing for you, Alison gives great advice on how to think through this, and how to really put your dream career within reach.

Alison Elissa Horner specializes in helping young professionals figure out their career direction. You can sign up to receive free tips on navigating your career at www.alisonelissa.com. 

Does this sound familiar? You’re unhappy with your current job. So while ‘working’ on today’s tedious assignment you begin to daydream about something better.

You think, hmm, maybe being a consultant would be fun. And for a few blissful minutes you picture this new life, full of sunny skies, interesting projects, happy clients, and of course, a pay raise. A peaceful smile crosses your face. Why hadn’t you thought of this before?

You furtively pull out your smart phone and start googling “consultant jobs”. In the space of less than a minute your fantasy world comes crashing down. Three to five years of experience? Starting salary less than what you’re currently making? Suddenly you remember that friend of a friend you met who was a consultant. She was miserable. All that travel. The boss from hell. You stash your phone, your head hanging just a bit lower, and return to staring blankly at the computer screen in front of you.

And the cycle continues… each week with a new idea about what’s next.

But months pass. You don’t take any action on making a career change. You start to believe that you don’t know what you want, that there’s nothing out there for you, that your current miserable existence is all there is to life.

The Diagnosis

You’re suffering from a condition I see all the time in my work as a career direction coach for young professionals: early dismissal. Early dismissal is when you mentally shoot down potential career paths before they ever get a chance to be a real possibility for you.

There are three main reasons we give when we’re eliminating our own options.

1. We decide that we wouldn’t actually like the job or be any good at it (based on our own limited understanding of what the job entails).

2. We look at all the steps it will take to transition to a new job or field and decide, why bother, it’s impossible.

3. We get caught up in the opinions of other people. So and so would think I’m wasting my life if I did that.

 The symptoms of early dismissal are:

  • you consider new careers in your head only
  • you take no action
  • you lose your bearings about what would be a good fit for you
  • you succumb to doubts, worries, and a feeling of ineptitude
  • you feel pretty sure things are never going to change

The Cure

Early dismissal is a sneaky condition because we often don’t even realize that we’re caught in it. We have so many justifications. We think we’re being realistic. We think we’re saving ourselves from disappointment. We think we’re avoiding mistakes.

Your excuses can seem so reasonable that the fact that you’re caught in an ineffective cycle can go right over your head. So the first step in curing early dismissal is to realize that you’re doing it.

The next steps are as follows:

  1. Early dismissal only thrives when it is left alone in the depths of your own brain. So pick a confidant before moving on to the steps below. Who is likely to not only be open to your ideas, but also encouraging? A great career coach is optimal here, but a kind friend or acquaintance will certainly do.
  2. Write down a few careers that you’ve previously dismissed. These should be the ones that you keep coming back to, the ones that are always somewhere in the back of your mind.
  3. Note the reason you dismissed each career. Was it because you thought you wouldn’t like the job, because you thought the steps to get there would be too hard, or because you thought important people in your life wouldn’t support your choice? Categorizing your reason puts you into the position of observing your brain, rather than getting caught up in what it’s telling you.
  4. Now, write down three reasons why each of these careers would be a good fit for you. The goal here is to gently re-open your sense of possibility.
  5. Talk your ideas over with your confidant. If you picked a good person you should start to feel a flutter of hope. (If you don’t feel this try finding a new person to bounce your ideas off of.)
  6. Temporarily forget figuring how to make your career change. Also, for now, forget to care about what other people will think.
  7. Instead, focus on getting a test experience. This entails finding a low-risk, low-commitment sample of the career you’re interested in. This may involve freelancing, volunteering, shadowing someone for a day, or conducting an informational interview.
  8. Gauge your reaction to this real world data point. Did you enjoy the experience? Did you learn things about the field that you were unaware of before? Go over your experience with your confidant.
  9. Continue dabbling in test experiences until you feel more confident about making a career decision.

By talking things over with a trusted advisor and checking your ideas out in the real world you will finally get out of your own head. You’ll stop the endless loop of early dismissal. And you’ll be much better equipped to actually take action on your career change.

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