Career Changers: These are the lessons I learned along the way. What you need to know If you’re stuck in your career change, there are three main challenges – or paradoxes – that you’re going to come up against. 1. It’s you that wants to make a change, but it’s also you that’s your biggest obstacle In the depths of my despair about my job, there were signals from all around me that I wasn’t in the right place: I was embarrassed to talk about my work with others at parties; I couldn’t imagine doing my boss’s job (nor the one her boss had); and I was petrified that I’d reach 60 or 70 and not feel proud of the work I’d done in my life. On a day-to-day basis, I just felt numb – uninspired by the meaningless work I was doing, and seemingly stuck in a Groundhog-Day-reality of waking up to the same story every morning. Yet, at the same time, I had no idea what else I wanted to do (or if I did have wild ideas, I had no sense of whether they were feasible). I had no idea where to start or how to go about the career change process. I was also scared of taking a cut in salary; scared of what my family and friends would think, and scared of losing the status I’d worked so hard to achieve. Ultimately it was me – my fears and my lack of knowledge – that was my biggest obstacle. I’d wager you’re in a similar position. 2. You can’t figure it out by figuring it out Like I was, you’re probably a knowledge worker: paid to think, to solve problems, and to interact with others. Why then, haven’t you been able to figure what else you want to do? The simple reality is that if the solution to your career change lay in more analysis – in making more lists, reading more books, taking more psychometric tests, or simply figuring it all out in your head – you’d have found it by now. 3. You won’t find a job by looking for one These are all functions of conventional job market mechanisms not being designed for career changers. Through no fault of your own, you’re simply not going to stack up against other people with experience and skills in the different field you’re interested in. What you need to do There are solutions to each paradox, but they’re likely not what you think they are (they weren’t initially for me). 1. Do it with others, not alone. The biggest challenge I faced in my career change was inertia. I wanted to change, but I didn’t want to risk the security of the job I had. I only really started to make progress when I deliberately put others around me. I started seeking out others in my company who also wanted to escape; I got a coach; and I started to meet and hang out with different types of people (one of which was to end up leading me to a job I loved – see more below). The net effect was different ideas, different connections, and accountability – all of which led, finally, to forward movement. Think of your career change as an expedition, not a day-trip. 2. Act it out, don’t figure it out As the coach who I worked with at the time said, “Richard, it’s like you’re standing in a forest and you have a number of tracks in front of you. But you’re paralyzed because you don’t want to make a mistake. And the challenge is: if you don’t take any of the paths, you’re never going to get out of the forest. If you take one of them, it may not be the right track initially, but you can course-correct.” When I started to act rather than analyze, things started to change. I did a part-time journalism course. I loved it, but it wasn’t for me as a career. I shadowed my friend who worked in PR for half a day. I did the same with a friend who worked as a Japanese yen bond trader in an investment bank. Fascinating as it was to get a glimpse into these different worlds, neither appealed. But notice what I was doing. As Seth Godin talks about, I was stepping into different worlds – sparking ideas and, at the same time, crossing off possibilities, rather than leaving them as open questions in my mind. I was also testing ideas in a way that meant that I didn’t need to leave my day job before I’d figured out what I really wanted to do. In short, action precedes clarity, not the other way round. 3. Look for people, not for jobs “Job sites, recruitment consultants, CVs / resumes and Google all have their uses in your career change. But they’re not the place to start .Focus instead on connecting with people. The power of being in front of people is that you can present the whole you – something a CV or resume simply can’t do. I didn’t get the job there through a formal application. I got it because I built relationships with people in the organization. I did some pro-bono work, which led to consultancy work, which led to an interview for a full-time job. Remember: people first, jobs second.