How To Get Out Of Your Head And Into Action (Finally) With Your Career Change

A runner on the starting blocks

Newly Updated

Frustrated and exhausted from running constant circles inside your head? Watching the days, months, and even years sail by, while you're left paralysed in the face of your shift? Natasha shares four tested approaches to get you unstuck and into motion towards finding fulfilling work.

"This year, I'm going to make a career change – find work I love and move into a completely new field."

What a statement.

The idea is enormous – a seething mountain of questions and threads and uncertainties and fears.

And in the face of such an intimidating goal, it's easy to stay stuck in your head, chasing your tail, waiting for something to change.

In a recent annual survey, we learned that 50% of our community have been considering a career change for more than two years – and almost 20% of you have been thinking about it for more than five.

It's completely understandable: when you're unsure of where to turn first and how to make things happen, getting trapped inside your own mind (or 'doing an ostrich' and sticking your head in the ground) is a perfectly relatable reaction.

But if you're committed to getting out of your head and into action, to finally seeing some tangible progress with your career change in the coming months, here are a few fundamental approaches that we've seen help hundreds of people get the ball rolling.

Swap a shoe

Writer Gretchen Rubin says there are four types of people when it comes to forming habits, and producing results:

  • Upholders, who respond readily to outer and inner expectations
  • Rebels, who resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Questioners, who question all expectations; they'll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense
  • Obligers, who meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

(Find out which you are here.)

Knowing which one you are, she argues, can be priceless when it comes to productivity, particularly when you're trying to create results that are either hard to produce, or that you don't quite know how to produce.

Why?

Because you can 'trick' yourself into doing what needs to be done by working with the needs and desires of the 'type' you are.

Rubin tells the story of an Obliger who committed to going to the gym three times a week. As an Obliger, she knew that trying to do this without any external accountability would be incredibly challenging, if not futile. So she teamed up with another Obliger, and at the end of every gym session, they swapped one gym shoe for the shoe of the other woman. That way, each HAD to return to the gym for the next session, or her partner also wouldn't be able to train.

It's a hilarious example, but it perfectly illustrates the way that knowing (and embracing) your natural predisposition to getting things done can provide a huge boost to your ability to take action.

Think of a time in your life when you've produced results against the odds – when you've been pushed for time, for example, or when you didn't initially know how to go about tackling the challenge ahead of you.

Graham took part in our Career Change Launch Pad a couple of years ago. A classic Obliger, he was amazed at how much easier the process was when he had a team of coaches and other career changers to answer to.

"It's strange, because you're not asking me to hand in homework and I could easily fly under the radar without completing anything. But somehow, just knowing everyone's doing this together makes me take my shift more seriously. There's a whole team involved, and my success becomes their success. I've always been taught that I have to figure things out on my own, and that you shouldn't rely on other people to achieve your own goals. But actually, for me, it's very powerful."

What approach did you use to break through the blockage and come out the other side? And how could you apply this to your career change?

Get territorial 

Time is one of the biggest challenges career changers face.

Between day jobs, families, hobbies and other activities, if there's anything that's likely to get sidelined in your life, it's your big scary career change.

And once sidelined, it dies.

It becomes a nice idea, or a daydream on a train, or a thorn in your side as you lie awake at night, but nothing more.

Sound familiar?

There are a multitude of reasons that you might not create and protect time for your career change.

Maybe you feel as though you wouldn't know what to do in the time you'd blocked out.

Maybe the whole subject feels self-indulgent and guilt-inducing.

Maybe there are always – always – more urgent, immediate matters to deal with.

But there's one thing for sure: until you create and protect time to focus on your career change, your career change will not happen. 

Unprotected time is a vacuum. It will be filled, one way or another.

Set aside at least two hours per week to dedicate to your shift (on our Launch Pad, we require a minimum of three and a half for high-intensity, accelerated progress) and protect it fiercely.

Get territorial about your time. Block it out in your calendar as an uninterruptible, immovable object.

And if you can find extra ways to slide some shift into your week, do so.

"I set myself the eight weeks of the Launch Pad to tackle my career change in a way I never had before. Eight weeks to dedicate time and effort to my shift. The weekly calls and the Missions really helped, but basically it was the first time I'd made my career change a priority, timewise, rather than just hoping it would somehow happen in between the day job and the school run and everything else." – Janet, Launch Pad participant

How could you make working on your career change a regular feature in your week? 

Unleash your inner pedant

It's all very well having time blocked out in your diary every day, or every week, to focus on your career change.

But if you don't know what steps to take or what you're doing, the time you've safeguarded for your shift can rapidly turn into career change quicksand.

Set a clear, actionable goal for each chunk of time you've set aside, and make sure that the balance of outcomes you're setting yourself is skewed in favour of tangible, real-world results.

For example:

"Choose three industries I'm inspired by and find one person in each to connect with" is a task worth doing.

"Research possible career paths" is woofty as hell.

If you don't set tangible outcomes for your time slots, you run the risk of spending all your career change time on what I call 'passive action' – researching, list-making, Googling, reading inspiring articles…. which is all lovely, and it doesn't ultimately yield results.

And results – clarity, connections, feedback, experiences – are the only things that will get you to where you want to be.

In our Career Change Launch Pad, we take participants through our own proven career change process, sending them on Missions each week to complete and learn from.

For our Launch Pad graduate Sarah, this was a game-changer:

"I realised how much time I'd been spending just staring at my computer screen, filling my head with thoughts but never actually getting anything done. I had time set aside to work on my career change, but when it came to actually using that time, I flapped around and wasted it. Sometimes it felt like I was getting somewhere, but at the end of the day I was still just sitting in my chair at home. Nothing had actually happened.

"Having a clear Mission to complete meant I could hit the ground running, and I always came out at the other end having achieved something clear and exciting."

What's the first clear, tangible outcome you can set to achieve in your career-change time this week? 

Make a wave to ride

A couple of years ago, I hosted the Las Palmas edition of the World's Biggest Eye Contact Experiment.

I had never organised an event like this before.

I had only moved to the city a few months earlier, I knew only a handful of people there, and my Spanish was rusty, to say the least.

The prospect of pulling off an event like this was, frankly, pretty scary.

But I had committed to doing it, and I was completely in love with the project, so I sat down one day to get started.

I wrote out some plans with brightly coloured markers, I imagined how it would go… and then I went and made a cup of tea and wondered how on earth this thing was going to happen.

Weeks passed. I kept trying to put it out of my head, hoping that at some point I’d have a boost of inspiration and get everything handled.

And then I remembered a phrase that comes out of my mouth at least 14 times a day at Careershifters: don't do it alone.

It's a core principle of our methodology. It's why our Launch Pad courses are big, fun, supportive groups of like-minded people playing together. It works.

So I asked myself: why am I trying to eat this elephant alone, when I could be throwing a dinner party? How do I build a team to support me?

I started talking.

I told the woman who works at my local corner shop. I told the teacher at my acrobatics class. I sent a message to the guy who runs the local digital nomad coworking space, and to a girl I'd met on the beach the week before.

Word spread.

Suddenly, I had offers of help pouring in. Someone had translated the information on the Facebook event page. Someone else wanted to come with me to the local authority to notify them. I discovered that a good friend I'd met a few months earlier was a part-time documentary filmmaker, equipped with a beautiful video camera and all the editing software we'd need. When my doorbell rang one morning, I opened the door to find a total stranger wielding a couple of canvases: "I had these spare. Yaiza said you might need them for your eye contact thing."

Every time I went into the corner shop for milk or a bottle of water, the woman behind the counter asked me how the event was going. I had to have something to tell her. So I kept taking action.

It felt like a wave – like this event and this conversation had taken on a life of its own in the awareness and actions of other people. All I had to do was ride it.

I say them all the time, but now I was blown away by how incredibly powerful those four words actually are. 

Don't do it alone.

Start talking about your shift, with anyone you can. Ask for ideas, for support, for accountability. Ask them to ask you how it's going every time they see you. Find ways to make your success their success. Build a wave to ride.

"My biggest achievement has been hooking up with you guys, people who totally get my desire to change and don't think it's weird, etc. I desperately needed your voices in my life rather than the people I'm around 8-10 hours a day. I've found it easier to not even discuss my career change with them because I have you all. That alone has helped me become doggedly focused." – Annie, Launch Pad participant

How could you start applying 'Don't do it alone' to your career change story? 

None of these approaches are revolutionary. None are rocket science. But they are – we've seen it time and time again – deeply, powerfully effective. So please – don't wait for something to happen in your career change. Don't wait another week, another month, another year, reading interesting career change articles and scrolling through jobsites, hiding away from what you're really capable of doing. 

Step up.

What are you going to do this week to get your career change out of your head and into the real world? Let me know in the comments below.

And if you're ready for structured support to get into action with your shift, with input from career coaches and a community of bright, motivated career changers like you, join our Career Change Launch Pad. Doors close on Tuesday 5th February for our next cohort. Find out more and apply here.

Natasha Stanley's picture

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