It’s normal to jump around to different jobs near the start of your career—the average person changes jobs four times during the first decade of their career, according to a study by LinkedIn.
But what about making not just a job switch, but a complete career switch? It’s a little less clear how often people in today’s workforce are doing that, but it definitely happens, especially as mentalities surrounding work change. Our generation has said it values making a difference and feeling emotionally fulfilled in our jobs over other things, like making as much money as possible.
If you’re a few years into a career that you thought you wanted, but are realizing you might actually want something else, it can be scary. Finding a job is hard enough without having to find a job in a completely different industry. And if you think you want to pivot but don’t know where to—well, that’s the million-dollar question.
“There are very few people who know very early on what they want to do as a profession who then actually end up involved in (that) profession and end up thriving and enjoying it,” purpose and change coach Alex Durand said. “It’s not uncommon for somebody who had a vision for what their early professional career could be like to end up doing that work and becoming disillusioned. …
“It’s common for most of us in our 20s and 30s to negotiate that lifelong story we’ve had as it pertains to what we thought we wanted to do work-wise.”
Through his company, Frable Consulting, Durand guides people through these challenging questions daily. He shared some first steps for figuring out what you really want to do with your life, and doing it.
When we’re unhappy, it’s a natural instinct to rush to fix whatever the problem is. You might start polishing your resume, networking, maybe even applying to jobs. But you’re only creating a false sense of productivity, Durand said.
If you’re unhappy at work, there’s a good chance you don’t actually know what’s bothering you, he said. And if you dive into something new too quickly, you could find yourself in exactly the same situation somewhere else.
“I would not recommend looking for jobs or opportunities until you have clarity about what your search is for,” Durand said. “Because you’re going to gravitate to what you know and what you want to change to is something you can’t imagine …
“You’re better off reading a book or hanging out with friends, … doing something else that’s going to fulfill you intrinsically, until you get to a point where you have enough data to narrow down the search and figure out what you are hunting for.”
So what should you be doing instead of rushing to apply for jobs? “Sit with the emotions” you’re feeling about your current work situation, Durand said.
“(Be) able to name and be aware and feel what the dissatisfaction is… Is it my boss? Is it the profession itself? Is it the culture of the organization? What is it that I’m missing?” he said. “Really doing a data analysis of emotions, thoughts, insights, gaps in knowledge, of self-awareness.
“Once you have that raw data, you can start to ask the questions of, ‘What do you want?'”
This process goes beyond thinking about being “happy” at work right now and thinking about a career as a 50- or 60-year journey, he said.
“We don’t feel fulfilled in jobs where we can always knock it out of the park,” he said. “Over time, that lulls… It’s not (just) about happiness at work, it’s about finding challenge. …
“Only if you have found options or paths that you’re willing to fight through those obstacles for, only then do you know you have something worth doing.”
Once you’ve worked through those feelings and think you have a handle on what’s really going on, start mixing things up in other areas of your life. Do something you’ve always wanted to try, like taking a painting or cooking class.
“You have to start doing small new things so you can make a larger change,… finding little experiments to push yourself out of your comfort zone,” Durand said. “That all starts to open up that stale air that you’ve been recycling day in and day out. … That’s going to rattle things around enough that you can feel like you can start making changes.”
Did you decide you want to stay in your industry after all, but determine your boss (or something else) is ruining your current job for you? Figure out if a shift in approach can help you work through that problem so you can stay in your current gig. If not, start the search for a new job in your field.
Did you decide a career change is needed? Fair enough. Now you’ll need to figure out what you want to do instead, which can be tricky, but is definitely doable.
Once you’ve been through the stress and disappointment of realizing your first career wasn’t right for you, you won’t want to do it again. That means choosing a path that will be a better fit this time around. Durand said the vast majority of his clients don’t know what career they want to pivot to.
But how do you figure it out? Durand offered a few thought exercises to try:
If you only count the experience you’ve had since you graduated from college or technical school, “you’ve erased the first 22 years of your life,” Durand said. “So what you have to do is go back and pick out the pieces that are still relevant to you. … A lot of your skill set, interests and learning capacities come from before you graduated.”
Going back in time can help you remember what you’ve consistently gotten excited about throughout your life, which can help you inform what you want to pursue going forward.
It could be a day you volunteered, “or it could be when a friend called you and asked you for advice…, and just the service of being that person and being a good listener, that really motivated you. It can take any number of shapes,” Durand said.
“What are the last two or three moments of your life where you felt like you had a surge of unlimited energy?” he asked. “Most of us have those, even if they’re hard to find.”
Find patterns in what has given you energy and made you feel like the best version of yourself.
“Curiosity is really what we should be replacing the word passion with,” Durand said. “Anyone who has been passionate about anything in their life (knows that) passion burns out—it’s something that’s really intense and it burns out over time.”
However, curiosity lingers. Take stock of what you’re truly curious about—and it can be stuff far outside your realm of experience, like sea lions or wine-making—and use that to guide your decision-making.
“What have I been reading a lot of? What do I tend to click on online, not counting any Buzzfeed quiz articles?” Durand said. “Something where you want to put in more effort to be more competent and knowledgeable about.”
Then require any career choice you make to fit with those values.
“What those five values are, they become your funnel filter,” Durand said. “Any choice you’re making, if it doesn’t hit the first three, it’s not important.”
Durand said that he “(encourages) people to be kind to themselves” throughout this process of self-discovery, which can be incredibly difficult.
“The willingness to go through a process like a career change takes courage and it’s not a linear path and it takes vulnerability to go through it,” he said. “It’s not a process for perfectionists. There’s no such thing as the perfect career or the perfect job or the perfect next chapter.
“We change and evolve… so be kind to yourself and know that it won’t be the last time you go through it.”