The Most Important Lessons From My Career Change (Part 2)

Natasha on the beach in Costa Rica

It's been 18 months since our Community Manager Natasha kick-started her career change. While she's loving where she's reached, it's also been an up-and-down journey to get there. Here, she shares a second set of candid lessons from her shift.

(Click here for Part 1)

Dear Careershifters,

The process of articulating these lessons for you has been deeply interesting for me. What I’m clearest about is the fact that my ‘career change journey’ is far from over, even though I’m firmly established in jobs I love. I realised early on that changing career isn’t just about changing your job. It’s about exploring your identity, your priorities, your place in the world. It raises questions of growth, of power, of what it means to live.

And once you crack the lid on this box of frogs, my friends, it’s very hard to put it back on. I love my work. But I’m still discovering more things that I’d love to do at some point in my career. And I’m still using the lessons I learned right back at the start of my journey. I’m practicing new ways of looking at things – and that’s the most powerful move you can make when you’re searching for a career you love. It’s a mindset switch – a sidestep and a shift in perspective. It’s a new way of looking at work, at yourself, and at the way the world operates.

In the same spirit, here are four more lessons:

Change your relationship with ‘work’

I was at a crossroads in my career change. I was sitting in a coffee shop, totally confused about what I wanted to do with my life, and seriously considering packing in my efforts and going back to the familiar 9-5 grind. And then I overheard an interchange between a man and his daughter, out for lunch near the university. I didn’t catch much of the conversation, but what I did hear was this:

“What do you think the word ‘work’ means? It’s work – you’re not supposed to enjoy it. It’s just a way to make money so you can afford to enjoy the rest of your life.”

That line has been uttered so many times, by so many people, but at that moment it was exactly what I needed to hear. Something about what he said just felt so wrong. Whoever that man was, I owe him a thank-you, because that sensation both spurred me on and prompted me to put some of my own thought into what work actually is, and what it could be.

I’ve always loved the way people talk about an artist’s ‘work’. In this context, the word work means something completely different: a contribution; an offering; an oeuvre. And it’s directly connected to who they are as people. It’s a personal effort; a manifestation of what they’re like, what’s important to them, what they want to say. Artists don’t talk about ‘work-life balance’. Their work is such a fundamental part of their life that the term simply doesn’t make sense. Why, I wondered, should it be any different for the rest of us?

When I switched my thinking around the idea of work, the ideas for what I could do completely changed. Rather than trying to find jobs – boxes that I needed to contort myself to fit inside – I looked for ways in which I could contribute authentically to the world. What work could I construct that was fundamentally me-shaped? What did I want my offering to be? Who did I want to be in the world? What do I want to be remembered for?

Rather than holding ‘making money’ at the centre of my conception of work, I tried to focus on the idea of contribution – of adding value to the world – and naming that ‘my work’.

And the whole experience became so much easier.

I started doing what I wanted to do – whether it was paid or not. I started writing. I set up a blog (more on that below) and explored an idea for a project that I’d been ruminating over for months. I signed up for a course. I started offering people my time, my energy, my knowledge, my service, and they accepted – gratefully.

That gratitude eventually turned into cash. I’m still not sure exactly how. But I’m pretty sure it had a lot to do with that mental switch from ‘work-as-money’ to ‘work-as-offering’.

What does the word ‘work mean to you? Let me know in the Comments below.

Stop thinking, start doing

Right at the beginning of my career change, I started a blog. Launched with the intention of researching and setting the stage for a book, I set up the page for free in about half an hour. Three weeks later, it was picked up by a major figure in the field and shared via her social media streams. My stats rocketed, and I found myself on a whole new path.

I’d thought about that project for months. I’d imagined how things might go if I ever started it. I doodled logos on napkins, dreamed of readerships, comment streams, the book launch. I doubted the integrity of the concept, wondered if anyone would care, tore my hair out over the fact that I didn’t know how to scale my business… and at the end of all of that thinking I had got absolutely nowhere.

Half an hour of fiddling about on a blogging site and a few weeks later, and I was clear about what the project was capable of, where it could go, and how successful it could be. I learned more in one month of that project about who I was, what I wanted and what I didn’t want than I did in the entire previous year. And elements of what I discovered were a total surprise.

I knew the elements of it that I liked. I knew what I didn’t enjoy doing so much. I knew what people responded to and what they didn’t. I could navigate my way around the tools I needed well, and I could see a way of monetising what I was doing that I would never have thought was possible before I got started.

I shelved the concept for that blog shortly after and left it on the back burner of my mind. I may pick it up again in a while, but for the time being I’m simply enormously grateful for what it taught me.

Doing trumps thinking, every time. Don’t let an idea pass you by without picking it up for a shake and a test-drive. Small, low-risk experiments: a 5-Minute Works Of Genius, for example.

You know this already. I know you know this already. But knowing isn’t good enough, buddy. Thinking isn’t good enough. Get on it.

What action could you take today to test-drive an idea? Let me know at the bottom of the page

Ask for what you want, not what you think you can get

Remember that time I told a guy I was a freelance writer, when I’d never been paid to write a single sentence? That guy wound up as my first ever client. And when he asked me what my fee was for the job… I decided to take another punt. I had no idea what to charge (freelance writing is a variably paid gig), so I asked him for what I actually wanted to earn for the job.

It was a figure far, far higher than I thought he’d be willing to pay.

He thought it was a bargain.

I lived off that paycheque for three months. 

We are our own greatest limitations.

One of the most insidious negative habits we often have is self-censoring our own desires. When given an opportunity to make a request, we bypass the moment where we ask ourselves: “What do I want?”. Instead, we leap straight to: “What’s reasonable? What’s realistic? What do I think I can have?”

We ask for the fee we think someone would be willing to pay, instead of what we want to be paid.

We ask for a ‘realistic’ option, instead of what would truly make us happy.

We ask for the garden salad, when our belly’s howling for the steak.

Stand strong in your commitment to getting what you want from life. Dare to be honest (with yourself and with others) about your desires. When offered an opportunity, take a minute to think about what you actually want, and be gracious and bold in your articulation of it.

Give people the chance to give you what you want.

Maybe they’ll say no. But maybe they’ll say yes…

What do you secretly want that you’re not asking for? Tell me in the Comments below

Don’t take my word for it

I eat blogs and articles on career change and lifestyle design for breakfast. I’m constantly hungry to find out more about what it means to craft a life you love. But when I first started changing career, I was more interested in questions like:

Is it really possible to make money doing X?

How hard is it to start a career as a Y?

Am I the kind of person who would be good at / enjoy Z?

I took personality tests, interviewed friends and family, sent enquiring e-mails to people who worked in the industry I was interested in. And that was great. I’m still proud of myself for taking those actions.

But let’s be clear about something. You ask questions like those, and everyone has an answer for you: your parents, your neighbour, the guy behind the counter at the phone shop; bloggers, philosophers, consultants, entrepreneurs, people like me. And analysis-paralysis has a twin brother called ‘Stuff Other People Say’.

What other people have to say is never, ever to be taken as truth until you’ve experienced it yourself.

Everything that has ever been done was once done for the very first time. Everyone’s experience of the world is joyously and frustratingly unique, and what worked for me may not work for you. What I think is ridiculous may be exactly what you need. And what the experts say today might be achingly, hopelessly wrong tomorrow.

Please, don’t take my word for anything. Get out there and try it.

Which piece of advice could you test-drive tomorrow?

Until next time,

Natasha X

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is Head of Content and Head Coach for Careershifters. She also speaks, writes and facilitates events on the art of human connection.