I recently had another all too familiar conversation with an executive coaching client who has fallen out of love with his career. In earlier days, he was excited and energized by the opportunity to influence new prospects, drive new business opportunities, and develop impactful client relationships. After more than twenty years in his industry and function, however, his heart is no longer in it. Recent years have seen changes in industry regulations, as well as shifts in client attitudes that undermine the pride and satisfaction he once felt for his work.
My heart aches for leaders in this situation. For talented executives who have committed years of their lives to mastering their craft and maximizing their impact, it’s not easy to accept that it’s time to move on. Like ending a longstanding romantic relationship, leaving a once rewarding career is a genuine loss that results in sadness, disappointment, and anxiety. It takes courage to make the decision to move on and it takes time to heal the pain that results.
If you’re considering a career change, it’s important to recognize the complexity of your decision. Not unlike a divorce, you’ll likely experience a roller coaster of emotions from relief, hope, and liberation to fear, confusion, and frustration. It is normal to experience these feelings and critical to allow yourself the time and space to work through them.
If you’re ready to take your career in a new direction, consider the following steps:
1. Grieve the loss
No matter how ready you feel to move on and begin the next chapter of your career, leaving your current career behind is challenging. For most of us, our careers are tightly linked to our identities. Stripping your existing career away inevitably leaves a void, resulting in confusion, uncertainty and self-doubt. If you try to make a career change too quickly, you will find yourself haunted by unresolved feelings.
Have you ever tried to date too quickly after a break-up? The same principles apply here. Until you resolve outstanding issues and come to terms with your decision, you won’t be in a position to make healthy, productive choices about your future.
2. Reflect on your needs
If you’re like most busy leaders, you haven’t had much time for self-reflection. This might be the first time you stop and actively think about your career interests and professional goals. Before taking any action, be clear about what you want from your career. What have you learned about yourself throughout your career thus far? What strengths, skills and experiences would you like to leverage moving forward? What do you specifically want to avoid?
The clearer you are about yourself and your professional needs, the better prepared you will be to embark on a career change. Without this clarity, you increase the risk of returning to an unsatisfying comfort zone.
3. Engage others for support
Once you’ve had some time to recover and reflect on your professional needs, start talking with the people around you. Regardless of your level of self-awareness, you don’t know what you don’t know. Talking with the people who know you best can lead to important insights and ideas about where to take your career next.
The act of socializing your message with others also helps you become more confident in your career direction. The more comfortable you become with your story, the more you begin to believe in yourself. Talk initially with your inner circle, as you’ll experience less pressure to impress and deliver a cohesive message.
These three steps will help you ease the pain and discomfort of a career change and give you the courage and confidence to embrace a new career path.
Are you considering a career change? Have you recently made a transition? Please share your thoughts and experiences here.