Why You Should Stop Thinking About Your Career Change (And 5 Effective Things To Do Instead)


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Stuck in your head? Going round and round in circles trying to figure out what else you can do? There's a reason all that thinking isn't working for you. Natasha explains why and shares five fun, practical techniques you can use right away to find clarity and momentum for your career change.

How long have you been thinking about making a career change?

Weeks? Months? Years?

It's possible you've been thinking about it so much, so often, and for so long, it doesn't even feel like a real possibility. It's just another daydream you disappear into, or a theoretical problem, like a difficult algebra equation, that you keep trying to solve.

And, although it's a delicious daydream, it also sucks. Because all you really want to feel is progress, momentum, direction, clarity… and there's none of that in your shift right now. Not in the real world, anyway, once you float back down from your wishful, frustrated career reveries.

It's easy for a shift into work you love to become part of the 'long-term daydream' category of thoughts in your head: something you think about, read about, build castles in the air about, but never actually do anything about. Sure, perhaps you read articles like this on your lunch break at work. Maybe you browse through job postings on LinkedIn and make lists of your transferable skills. But, as you're probably feeling, that doesn't really seem to get you anywhere.

You're on a beautiful carousel, going around and around and around the inside of your head…

The danger is that the longer your shift lives in the world of theory, the less likely it is to become a reality.

You stop relating to it as something you could actually do, and instead, on a subconscious level, you file it in with things like headlining Glastonbury or playing in the World Cup final. Great fun to think about, but not believable enough to spend time on working toward.

And so you find yourself in this frustrating position of waiting for a lightning bolt: inspiration, the right connection, someone to give you a chance. But those things aren't inside your head, are they? If they were, you'd have found them by now.

The only place that career change happens is out here, in the real world. That's where progress lives. That's where momentum builds, where clarity can be found, and where your ideal career might just be waiting for you.

There are two simple things that will bring your career change out of La-La Land and into the real world, and the great news is you're already very familiar with them:

  1. Conversation
  2. Action.

Ideas For Action

Even as I write this sentence, I can hear it rising: the babble of voices in your head saying things like:

"Oh great, that's your top tip for career change? Take action? Like it's that easy…" or "I'd love to take action, smartypants, but what if I don't know what action to take?"

It is hard to know what action to take, especially when you're right at the start of your shift and you're not even sure where you're going.

But the great thing about this situation is that you really have nothing to lose, except maybe a little time (and to be honest, if you're not making progress, you're probably not using your time in an ideal way anyway). Give one (or all) of these techniques a try this week, and let me know what happens in the comments below – I'd love to hear!

1. Throw your hat over the fence

In his memoir, the Irish writer Frank O'Connor tells a story of how, as a boy, he and his friends would go for long walks through the countryside, hopping stiles and fences and walls on their way. When they came to a fence that seemed too high to climb, he says, they would take off their hats and throw them over the top… and then they had no choice but to follow.

When you're considering a career change, it's easy to spend time vacillating; wallowing in indecision and navel-gazing. Should you go for it? Should you stay where you are? Maybe you'll just go for it… but not now. Perhaps you'll just think about it a little longer…

It's important to be responsible about your shift. Caution and care in matters as fundamental as these are vital. And, at the same time, if your shift is actually going to happen, you might need to give yourself a little push.

Throw your hat over the fence.

Give your career change a little injection of "no turning back now…"

Now, I'm not suggesting that you throw your boss a scathing letter of resignation, set fire to your desk and moonwalk out of the office. Throwing your hat over the fence can take all kinds of forms, and it doesn't have to mean putting your livelihood on the line.

Last year, I worked with a client who sent an email to everyone she knew, promising that she would donate £500 to charity if she wasn't working part time and completing her qualification as a nutritionist by the end of November.

In an email to me in December, she said:

"To be honest, just the act of telling everyone what I was up to would have been enough pressure to get me moving, but the added fear of having to stump up £500 really worked!"

How could you put a little pressure on yourself to take action on your career change?

2. Make a date with your future

There are some things we make time for, and others we do when there's nothing else in our schedules. And career change, (oddly, given that it feels so important) usually seems to fall into the latter category.

Perhaps you'll idly scroll through job listings on your lunch break at work. Or you'll buy a career-change book, and read it when you manage to find a little time… or maybe you won't, and it'll simply sit on your shelf for months.

Maybe you'll find your mind wandering to the question of your shift during your commute, or a particularly dull meeting, but as soon as you have to get off the train or somebody says your name, your line of thought is broken and the topic slips your mind again.

Because it's all a bit piecemeal, you rarely feel like you're actively making progress, and the motivation to make time for it dwindles.

With career change, as with anything, you get out what you put in. And if you're not prioritising your shift (and your future happiness) right now, you can be pretty sure it's not going to magically materialise out of nowhere next week. Or next month. Or next year.

Making time to focus on your career change can sound like a drag, but it's not hard to reframe into something more enjoyable – like setting up a regular 'date' with your future. For Amina, who took part in our Career Change Launch Pad, Sunday mornings were her time to invest in her future self.

"I've started making a real event of it. I plan my date during the week, whether that's sitting in my favourite cafe and sending out emails, applying for jobs or reading a career-change book, or whether it's something more active, like trying out a new activity or going to a meetup.

"Because I know that time is dedicated to my shift, I also have to get serious about coming up with something to do with that time, which has led me to try things out that I never would have done before. I actually really look forward to Sundays now, and I start my week in the day job knowing that I've made progress toward my new career the previous day."

The age-old lament of the career changer: "I just don't have time to focus on my shift!"

It's time to make time – the dream will never become a reality without it.

Where can you create time for a date with your future?

3. Get your (lab) coat love, you've pulled (an idea)

It's a sickening feeling, almost. You're lying in bed at night, or sitting in the midst of your morning commute, and you're racking your brains for clarity. What could you do, if not this? What would you shift to? Is any of it possible? How would you make it work?

Possibilities and ideas pop into your head, closely followed by the voice of self-doubt, and the inside of your skull becomes a seething mess of voices and excitement and doom and boredom and frustration.

And, for many career changers, that's how it stays. Ideas pinging off doubts, bouncing into the forefront of your mind and then disappearing again. Maybe some are briefly investigated, usually with the help of good old Captain Google, but they rarely make it much further than that.

That's why there's no sense of progress, of development, of momentum: because there's not much more than six or seven inches for these ideas to travel inside your head. And the real world is out here.

The only way you're going to take an idea further than you have so far – the only way to bring your shift out of daydreamland and into reality – is to test it.

Scientists don't sit at home thinking about their ideas for long (if they do, we call them philosophers). They get into the lab and experiment. They put a couple of things together and watch them react. They create new things that didn't exist before, by giving 'creating' a try.

And to get your career change out of your head and start creating new possibilities, new avenues for exploration, new opportunities to take, you need to do the same thing with your ideas.

For an in-depth look at how to do this, and a great example of someone who got seriously scientific in his shift, check out our Lean Career Change approach.

Sure, your idea might be a dud. It might not work out the way you thought. But at least you'll know, and you can set it aside. And, chances are, something else will show up in the experiment that will lead you down a different path.

Your experiments don't have to be big. They don't have to be risky. But they do have to happen outside of your brain for any meaningful progress to occur.

Ideas For Conversation

You can't be what you can't see.

You can't imagine what you don't have words for.

New ideas, new possibilities, new opportunities… these come into your life through conversation. Someone mentions a career path you've never heard of. You ask a question and get an answer you could never have imagined. So, if you want to make real-world, tangible progress on your career change, it's probably a good idea to start talking about it. A lot.

4. Ask a simple question (get a simple answer)

Everything you want to know about your career change is out here waiting to be shared with you. Right now, as you read this sentence, there's at least a thousand people who have the answer to your most pressing career-change question (probably far more than that, but let's play it safe for the cynics).

All you have to do to discover what you need to know is ask.

And yet, you're probably incredibly well-trained in the art of not-asking. Independence, dogged persistence, knowledge… these traits are respected and held on to as though they're untouchable. You should be able to do everything on your own. You should already have the answers, and, if you don't, you should hide that fact from people, because it's shameful.

Asking for help makes you vulnerable. People might say no. They might laugh at you. They might not want to help, or think you're silly, or something else awful and inconceivable. So you battle through, a stoic soldier in the fog, getting absolutely nowhere and pretending everything's fine.

And yet, you know as well as I do that there's nothing more beautiful and more flattering than a request for help from someone who respects who you are and what you know. It's a gift to be wanted, to know that you can help someone with something that really matters to them.

This strange tension between wanting help, but not wanting to be seen as needing help… it's the single most destructive element of the way people go about their career changes. It drags the process out unnecessarily, and it makes the whole thing an incredibly lonely journey.

That group of 'a thousand people' who have the answers you need? Two things about them:

  • You probably already know a good handful of them
  • They'd probably love to help you

The turning point in my career change came in the form of an email. I wrote it in 20 minutes, and pressed send. Within three days, I was on the phone to Richard at Careershifters, laying the foundations for the most fulfilling, inspiring, powerful career journey of my life. And that email? Purely a request for help.

Around the same time, I sent an email to a huge group of my friends. It said something along the lines of:

"I'm in the process of searching for a career that makes me insanely happy to get out of bed in the mornings. If you could imagine what that career might be for me, drop me a line and tell me what it is… and if you know anyone who already works in that field, tell me about them, too."

Purely a request for help. And the support and the ideas and the celebration flooded in.

Who could you ask for help with whatever you're challenged by right now? How many people could you give the opportunity to feel valued and needed and supportive? Who would you be willing to share your journey with?

5. Play a game of 'Shift Sneak'

In a previous life, I worked on the phone as a charity fundraiser. The repetitive conversations and vitriol from angry people disturbed at dinnertime drove my closest colleagues and I to distraction, and we used to entertain ourselves at school with a game called 'Word Sneak'.

One of us would choose a silly word, utterly unrelated to whatever the call we were making was about (Blunderbuss, angle-grinder, earwax), and the rest would compete to see who could slip it into a conversation first.

High-octane entertainment, clearly, and not very professional, but it did take conversations in some fascinating directions.

Given the power of conversation to bring new ideas, connections and perspectives into your world, it makes sense as a career changer to talk about your shift as much as possible, with everyone you meet. Of course, you probably don't want your current boss or colleagues to be in on your plans, but where else could you make your career change a topic of conversation?

The great thing about 'Word Sneak' is it can be played not just with single words, but with entire topics of conversation.

See if you can drop career change, your career ideas, or 'careers people love' into conversation with at least three people every day. It doesn't matter who they are; the point is to make a practice of bringing the career change conversation, and your curiosity, out of your head and into reality.

Faye, another Launch Pad participant, has been discovering new ideas, lessons and possibilities for her new career everywhere – simply by talking about careers with everyone she meets:

"Even if at first impression I think that [their career] is not something I would want to do, I'm becoming curious, and far more open to looking for some common ground, or something in their experience that might resonate or be a good lesson for me."

The newsagent. The barista at your coffee shop. The woman sitting next to you on the bus. Your uncle, your brother's new girlfriend, the friend of a friend you've just met in the pub…

Challenge yourself to talk about the search for work you love at least three times every single day.

The trick to making Shift Sneak really work, incidentally, is to frame conversations positively. Shift Sneak is not about creating opportunities for a good old moan about how awful your job is. Ask people about what they do for a living. Tell them what you're up to and ask for their advice. Gather fresh perspectives, new ideas, and more connections from unlikely (or likely) sources.

And the great thing about this game? It's not the kind of positive conversation people have often, so chances are, next time they see you, they'll want to know how you're getting on. Built-in accountability. Priceless.

If you're going to take one thing away from what we've talked about here, I hope it's this:

Life exists out here.

Progress occurs outside of your head.

Your ideal career, and the methods you'll use to shift into it, are not inside your mind right now.

If they were, you'd already be doing work that brings you alive.

Next time you find yourself stuck in daydreamland, come out. Join us out here.

Because if you want your ideal career to become a reality, it helps to live in reality yourself, too.

What are you going to do this week to take yourself from 'dreaming' to 'doing'? 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.