Changing careers at any age requires a leap of faith. Sometimes we do it because we are bored or frustrated or reaching for a dream. Sometimes we do it because we have to – industries are fluid, technological changes happen rapidly, not allowing for anyone to ably predict their career path very far ahead. Our careers, our very selves, have to shuffle and dance and change all the time and few of us do that easily.
Why is change so hard? How do we overcome our fear and inertia and make the changes necessary for reinvention at every stage of our lives? So many potential clients come to me saying that they want to change their careers but don’t know what they want to do. I tell them to start small. How can I start at all they often ask me? I have no time!
Let’s start there and take a look at how we spend our time each day. The American Time Use Survey (ATUS) provides nationally representative estimates of how, where, and with whom Americans spend their time, and is the only federal survey providing data on the full range of nonmarket activities, from childcare to volunteering. The latest data, from 2015, shows the following time use on an average work day for employed people, 25-54, with children:
- Working and commuting 8 hours
- Sleeping 9
- Leisure/sports/media 6
- Caring for others 2
- HH activities 1
- Eating and drinking 0
- Other 5
People without children at home have even more time. It is our nature to focus on what seems important today, right in front of us. In order to prepare for the future, we have to carve out a little bit of time now to learn more about ourselves and set the goals for our lives. If we don’t we run the risk of doing lots of little things every day – cleaning the house, watching YouTube videos, catching up on Facebook – without ever figuring out what work speaks to us. We all have a little bit of time to spare. We have to make ourselves a priority.
I ask people to carve out 30 minutes four times a week. Put that time in your calendar. Time spent setting your long-term goals is important. Long-term can be about more than work obviously; retirement, travel, writing your novel, feeling healthy and joyous! But to achieve any goal you have to work toward it in small, manageable steps.
Before you can reinvent yourself, you must know who you currently are. Know your strengths and weaknesses and what really gets you excited. This takes time and honesty and often the help of someone who really cares about you and with whom you can be honest. I always ask my clients what they wanted to be in seventh grade? While “fireman” may no longer excite you, that question can open up a conversation about your true self, before your career choices were colored by what you “should” or were expected to do.
This step can take time. Do the work. This is often the hardest task of being a coach: I can only ask you questions that are designed to provoke your own inner reflection. I can help you be accountable to yourself. I can’t tell you what you should be doing with your career.
Even if you’re pretty certain about your future direction take the time to talk to people who are actually working in the job that you’re idealizing. They might present a reality that doesn’t line up with your dream. So many people who ask me about becoming a coach are genuinely surprised when I talk about the difficulty of keeping a stream of potential clients in the pipeline; that was a part of the profession they really hadn’t considered!
Once you have your direction, it’s time to start listing the steps to get there or the information you need to gather. At this stage you need to get realistic and set concrete, small goals. Consistent movement toward your target is reinforcing; keep making progress. All change takes time and it is so easy to put off that small goal today and say I’ll start tomorrow. We all know that doesn’t work. Break every goal into small, doable steps. Break those steps into smaller steps, steps that you can do easily each day. Give yourself lots of rewards for doing them. Track your progress.
And if you just can’t get a direction? Stuck? Hate your job? Can’t find a job? No clue to what you want to do? Go for a brisk walk (or run). Meditate. Sit down with a clean piece of paper and write a draft of your obituary. Thinking about how you want to be remembered often brings clarity. Life is so short and then we die.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett