Career transitions are the worst, but necessary

Career Opportunities podcast logoCareer transitions are the worst, but necessary
By Douglas E. Welch

Listen: Career transitions are the worst, but necessary


As someone who is constantly in the middle of a career transition, I am frequently reminded how difficult it can be. Like many transitions, mine are not the “short, sharp, shock” of moving between companies or towns, but rather a slow, almost daily progression. To outsiders, it might not even appear I am changing careers, but at the very heart of my work life, I am.

As with any transition, there are days when I wonder whether the process will ever end. The fact that you can’t see the end can makes it ephemeral. I have an idea where I want to end up, but I am sure once I get there I will see another path and start a new journey. I think this is a normal part of life, even if it can worry us and leave us feeling a bit confused.

The fact is transitions, both large and small, will always be a part of your life and work, so you might as well learn how to embrace them. There are ways you can manage your fears and use regular reflection to make sure that you stay on track.

First, have an end in mind. Your vision of the completed career transition will never quite match the reality, once it arrives, but like every good navigator, you have to have a destination in mind. Like a golfer aiming for the flag, even when they can’t see the actual hole, you at least know that your goal is in that general direction. Being aimless will have you turning in circles almost immediately.

It may seem counter intuitive, but once you have a goal, you need to start adapting it almost immediately. Sometimes we don’t know what a job or project entails until we actually start to work on it. These early discoveries can influence our goals immensely. Correct and adapt at every occasion. Otherwise you risk sticking with a goal long after it is feasible or useful.

I see this quite often. People profess to want something, but having achieved it, they find themselves at a dead end. This is particularly true with teachers. Making the transition from being a student in a classroom to being responsible for 30 children in a classroom is often insurmountable. It is very likely that they already knew this as they worked though their required student teaching, but after spending so much time getting their degree they probably thought they couldn’t change their goal. Do everything you can to adapt your career transitions so you don’t go down this path.

Don’t go it alone, either. Talk to your friends, your family, even selective co-workers about what you are trying to accomplish. It is very likely that they will have some good advice to offer. Sure, you might hear “why do you have to do that?”, but this is actually a good thing. People who challenge our assumptions force us to think more clearly about those assumptions. If we can answer our friend’s concerns then we can be assured we have taken the time to think things through. Now, some people will be universally negative where change is concerned, but these people are easy to recognize and easy to avoid. Their reaction to transition is often more illustrative of their fears than any flaws in your plan.

We face transitions large and small every day of our career. Making one decision instead of another leads us down a different path. Your job is to insure that your are thinking clearly each step of the way, adjusting your thinking and goals and navigating in the right direction for you. Transitions can be challenging, but they are desperately necessary to a long and productive career. If you are not changing, you are not growing and if you are not growing then you may never build the career you deserve.

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