Career change – a dramatic departure from the current situation

In June 2003, a business colleague had just done a most difficult thing: he resigned from his role as a Director of a Consulting company – the company that he “helped birth, helped nurture, helped grow”. He was leaving behind “everything that has up to now been my identity”.

A very able, soft-spoken professional in his late 30s, my colleague was deliberately saying ‘no’ to a six figure salary and comfortable lifestyle – a lifestyle and livelihood that he had secured for himself and his family over the past 18 years – to pursue a burning ambition or calling that would necessitate that he and his family manage on less that 10% of his current financial package. What had triggered this event? Why would he deliberately create this situation? What was his thinking process and rationale?

He was making a career change from a successful career in the Financial markets to becoming a Vicar of the Church of England. Making a career change is not something that is done overnight because it entails making changes to aspects of your self-image or identity.

“Roughly halfway through a typical career”

During mid-life, it is often usual to question and re-examine our career choices – within the context of our life goals. Experiencing dissatisfaction or restlessness with our current situation, we struggle with how to make sense of: Why is this happening? What do I do next? How can I decide what are my options? In other words, how do I best proceed? Discontent with the status quo propels us onto a personal quest, demarcating the learning and growth process of self-discovery.

Why does this happen? Put simply, it is a normal development stage of the human lifecycle. Other examples of stages are infancy, puberty, adulthood, etc. Sometimes the career change process builds up gradually with the feeling of restlessness or is triggered by a specific event.

The question of how to best proceed is complex. There is neither a quick fix solution nor one that someone else can decide for us. We start on a process – a personal learning and growth process that requires us to alter certain aspects of our personal self-image or identity. We may experience this as completely random, uncomfortable and overwhelming, especially at the start of the process.

But here are some commonalities about making a career change:

  • Changing career entails making changes, altering aspects of our personal self-image:
    • Shifting our mindset, our frames of reference and perspectives, eg reviewing our lifestyle needs, our emotional attachments to a certain job
    • Examining our assumptions about and re-prioritising our values and beliefs; re-aligning our personal goals and ambitions, eg dealing with the emotional and practical attachments
    • Reviewing the impact that these changes have for us and our families, eg shedding cultural, social, peer pressures and expectations; seeking confirmation and validation about new personal aspects and priorities

My colleague is very much in touch with his values; what matters to him most. Up until he embarked on his personal quest, he had his work life, his spiritual life and that was oK “life is going well.” However, he reached a point of realisation that he needed these separate lives to come together. Lasting just over a year; he describes the process as “generally speaking, it’s been quite smooth.”

  • Making a career change is a learning – mutli-layered, non-linear – and growth process of self-discovery. Defining moments are a key contributor to this process:
    • We identify what aspects of our ourselves we will discard
    • We clarify and re-affirm aspects of ourselves, that are most meaningful, that we want to keep
    • We open our minds by allowing ourselves ‘to think the unthinkable’ to generate and learn by experience about new options, eg are willing to entertain the new, seek role models and find out what they do to, build new personal networks.
  • The resources that my colleague drew on to help him were:
    1. Finding role models within the Church
    2. Using his personal (existing) network of family and close friends to support, affirm and validate his thinking
    3. Creating a “whole new network of people”

In other words, changing career in mid-life is a self-discovery process that takes time. The person going into this transformative process is not the same person who emerges.

In the end, decision-making and rationale are based on self-knowledge of likes, dislikes, talents, motives, values and beliefs together with new, updated knowledge, confirmations and validations which is the spiral or iterative process of a changing personal ‘frame of reference’. All of these come together so that we can summon up confidence and strength:

  • To make that courageous cut with the past
  • To strike out towards the new even when its end-state is not fully formed or guaranteed
  • To sustain forward momentum during this quite uncomfortable period of not fully knowing.

So if you are re-thinking your career choices, we recommend seeking out the following:

  • Support and assistance with the decision-making process
  • A structure with some tools to help you retain your clarity of thinking
  • An experienced mentor to act as counsel and sounding board

To receive the full article and case study, please contact Jennifer Rodriguez