4 Unexpected Things That Might Happen When You Make A Career Change

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Newly Updated

They're scary. They're exhilarating. And if you're not prepared to deal with them, you might as well stay in your current career. Here, Natasha shares four curveball side effects of shifting careers you probably haven't considered. How many are you ready for?

Shifting into fulfilling work isn't just about moving into a new job.

You already know that. You've already experienced how emotional and challenging career change can be, no matter what stage of the game you're at.

But there are also a few things that happen when you embark on a journey like this that you'd never have predicted.

And before you get too far into the thick of it, these curveballs are worth knowing about. Because not everyone is willing to take them on...

1. You might need to get new friends

Leah works for a luxury estate agency and chose a shift into fulfilling work as her New Year's resolution. She emailed me a few weeks ago, with a familiar challenge:

"I'm finding it really hard to talk about my career change. My friends seem supportive on the outside, but they keep cracking jokes about me 'running away', and on more than one occasion someone's said something that really cut deep. I don't think they get how important this is to me, even though they've seen me in tears about my job a number of times."

You're comfortable, you and your friends. You have your rhythms, your habits, your unspoken agreements. You have your favourite pubs, your favourite topics of conversation. They know all about your awful boss, and the time you had to work until 1 a.m. to finish that terrible project.

You found one another on similar paths. Maybe you met at university, or through mutual work friends. They understand you, because they understand your life.

And now you're throwing them a massive curveball.

You're not just complaining about your job any longer; you're doing something about it.

For some people, this feels like an attack. After all, they've been unfulfilled at work for as long as you have, but they're not ready or willing (yet) to take the bold steps you're taking. Every conversation you have about the journey you're on serves as a tough reminder of what they're not doing. And they might not like that so much.

For others, they love you so much that they're afraid for you. You're taking what looks like a big risk, after all. They only want you to be safe and happy, and for them, this feels like a dangerous step. They're supportive, but you can feel a deep uncertainty behind their smiles, and it's making you twitchy.

You want to be able to talk freely and openly about your shift. You want to share all the new things you're discovering, to get advice and support from the people in your life with each step you take. But there's just something in the way…

When you start to take your life on in a big way, and when you start to move in directions you've never explored before, having a strong community of people who 'get it' is invaluable.

So, if you're feeling held back by well-meaning naysayers, or even undermined by the people you hoped would have your back, what do you do?

The good news is, you certainly don't have to dump your friends.

But you might need to get some new ones.

If you’re open to this:

  • Don't assume the worst of people who don't share your dream of finding fulfilling work, or who don't seem supportive. Most people who seem like naysayers are scared – either scared for you, or scared of how what you're doing makes them feel. Be brave, be kind, and be selective in what you share with them. Reassure them about their concerns, and by all means celebrate your successes with them, but don't use them as your primary supporters.

  • Find events, places, and opportunities to meet other people who share your passions and interests. Search Meetup.com, seek out industry shows and events, and look online for websites and blogs that have a community element. Get to know new people. Seek out the ones that share your perspective on the world. Then, hold on to them. Tight.

  • Get ready to learn, to play, to come home at the end of a coffee date or an event buzzing with excitement. Prepare to be consistently inspired and amazed by what human beings are capable of, and honoured to know the people you get to spend your time with.

If you're not open to this:

  • Do not attempt a shift into fulfilling work.

2. You'll likely have to try on a new identity

Alice took part in our Career Change Launch Pad. When I last spoke to her, she was well on her way into her new career. Excited though she was, she had also found herself puzzled by a challenge she hadn't foreseen:

"I've always been the driven go-getter in my family. I was the one who took on the big, tough challenges in life, worked my fingers to the bone, and ultimately came out victorious. Of course I became a lawyer.

"And now, looking at my future, I feel really uncomfortable about becoming someone who doesn't have that overcoming-adversity thing constantly going on. I'm almost ashamed of it, it feels so indulgent and light. I never saw that coming."

We say it over and over again at Careershifters: changing career isn't just about changing your job; it's about changing your life.

Our work is so closely tied, in so many ways, to our identity and sense of self. It's inevitable that when you make a major move at work, your personal world will also undergo something of an upheaval.

You may not recognise the person you discover you might be.

And it might not feel comfortable.

It's likely that you're pretty proud of who you know yourself to be, one way or another.

Maybe you really like being the Quiet Rebel; the one who buckles down and does the work, but is staging a revolution inside their head every hour of the workday.

Or maybe you're proud of being the Underdog; the one who never expected to achieve this level of success, and loved the surprise on everyone's faces when you landed promotion after promotion in a competitive industry.

Perhaps you're the Noble Supporter, who makes everyone's lives easy. You're not happy, but you do like the appreciation and gratitude you get from others, and the positive impact you see you make on people's lives.

Who are you, if not that person?

If you choose to take on creating a career you love, you'll have to be willing to find out.

If you're open to this:

  • Cultivate a sense of curiosity about who you could be, outside of an unfulfilling career. Start paying close attention to the things that light you up; to new insights about how you work best; and to what's really important to you when you strip away your current context.

  • Try actively articulating who this new 'you' might be. Just as Alice had named herself 'the driven go-getter' in the past, she now had the chance to give herself a new name; one that felt accurate and exciting when she imagined her future.

  • Be prepared to grieve a little. Your whole life has been set up in a way that's consistent with your old career. Your future probably doesn't look like you expected anymore. You might need to say some goodbyes. It may all be a joyful explosion into an infinitely better life – and equally it might feel a little sad. Be prepared for that.

  • Celebrate the fact that you're growing and developing as a human being, that you've stepped outside a Groundhog-Day existence and you're experiencing what it means to shift and transform.

If you're not open to this:

  • Do not attempt a shift into fulfilling work.

3. Your new career might become a stalker

As someone who travels the world full time, space in my backpack is precious. So, when I pull a packet of bath crayons (age 3+) out of the side pocket, it's understandable that I get some funny looks.

But, ladies and gentlemen, my work gets everywhere. I've seen lifestyle design analogies in chicken soup recipes, I find hooks for articles in meditation class, and yes, some of my best work-related ideas have come to me in the shower.

Hence the bath crayons.

Because I'll be damned if I forget three bolts of inspiration every time I rinse my hair.

And this is another pesky side effect of doing work that's perfectly congruent with who you are; you'll see it everywhere.

Every TV show, newspaper article, and radio item will suddenly seem to be about your new career. Day-to-day life will become a kind of adventure, with new skills and insights and angles leaping out at you at every turn.

It's almost as though you're wearing a fresh set of glasses, and everything seems to be filtered through the cast of your new career.

While this is exciting, it can also be a pretty intense experience.

There's so much information to process, so many new people to meet and ideas to explore. You've landed in a whole new world, and, beautiful though it is, you don't yet know which way is up.

If you're open to this:

  • Enjoy it! Embrace the world becoming a fascinating new playground, and take every opportunity to explore what you've discovered. Little miracles will become a regular part of your daily life. Revel in them.

  • Find ways to capture the things you're learning and experiencing (bath crayons, Evernote, excited conversations over dinner with the people you love). The more consciously you can notice what's showing up, the more prepared you'll be to use this new information in a positive and practical way.

  • Get ready for the people around you to become more excited and positive about the world. Passion, curiosity and joy are infectious. Your enthusiasm will spark something new in your friends and family. The quality of your conversations will shift. You'll start to see an upward spiral in the world around you, rather than a slow, downward slide.

If you're not open to this:

  • Do not attempt a shift into fulfilling work.

4. You might have to exchange comfort for intensity

"I thought I was just signing up for a career change course, but the past 8 weeks have been such a roller coaster. It's affected every area of my life. I've done things I never thought I would do, I've met people I never thought I would meet, and I've got to know myself afresh. I've cried, I've celebrated… I forgot this is what life could be like." – Maria, Career Change Launch Pad participant

A fulfilling and passionately lived life is not always easy, and neither is the journey there.

And that's the single most common reason people give up: because they're not willing to let go of the security of the familiar, to rock the boat, to take a risk here and there and upend the routine and rhythm of life.

Going after an extraordinary life requires that you open yourself up to the extraordinary fullness of existence: the sorrows and the failures and the rejection as well as the joys, the dizzy heights and true fulfilment.

Even once you're in a career you love, chances are you'll find it demands more of you. You'll be heart-invested, rather than duty-bound, so the work you do will feel important and valuable on a whole new level. Some days, it will drain you. Others, it'll send you rocketing skyward.

If you're open to this:

  • Take self-care seriously. Learn what energises you, and what refills your tank. Be gentle with yourself when you need to be, and make sure you've got people around you who can lift you up when you need to be pulled out of a dark hole.

  • Be honest with yourself. You know when you're bailing out and being a wuss, when you could take that little risk but it would be easier (in the short-term, at least) to settle for something less. Practise stretching the boundaries of your comfort zone – pushing past the point at which you'd normally stop – and celebrate the things you achieve as a result.

  • Keep your eyes on the long game. What kind of life do you want to look back on, when you're old and grey? What stories do you want to tell your grandchildren? What do you want to say in your 90th birthday party speech? Remind yourself of the fact that this is not a dress rehearsal. Life is in session. And you are one of an extraordinary minority who are on the court, in the arena, and playing the game full out.

If you're not open to this:

  • Do not attempt a shift into fulfilling work.

Finally, you might discover you're capable of far more than you knew

"I have found an amazing strength, determination and resilience within myself that I never knew I had. I've felt both joy and tremendous fear throughout this process, but I've carried on despite it, and with each step the fear gets less and less." – Sarah, Career Change Launch Pad participant

All these side effects are challenging. They're intense, they're exhilarating and they're very rarely expected when you first start out on a career change.

But you are capable of meeting these challenges head on.

We've seen it over and over again: people who never dreamed they could make it through the confusion and the anxiety, landing in careers they're proud to tell the world about.

Step by step, little win by little win, you can find your way through the fog.

And if you're willing to dance with the unexpected obstacles along the way, you'll find yourself with some unexpectedly wonderful results.

What other unexpected side effects are you noticing in your own career change? Let me know in the comments below!

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is head coach, writer, and experience designer for Careershifters. When she's not working, you'll find her listening to neuroscience podcasts, learning pottery, and dreaming up her next adventure.