Is a career change a good idea?
It’s a question I get asked a lot and I assume it’s because I did it. And to those who feel trapped, fed up, stuck, frustrated or burnt out; dropping it all, giving two fingers to the establishment and heading off into the sunset to do something totally different, on your own terms, can seem utterly intoxicating and alluring. So, how can you decide if shifting or pivoting your career is right for you, or whether it’s a costly mistake?
How did I decide it was right for me? Well, honestly, I didn’t. I had spent about four years acknowledging the fact that I was getting bored where I was. I had spent all of my career in the same discipline, and I had circled almost all of the commodities in that area. I had managed a team; I had trained and mentored talent, and I had fronted a number of ‘special projects’. I really felt stuck, I was struggling to see a way up, I wasn’t sure I wanted up, and sideways felt a bit meh. I felt boxed.
In a number of ways, I think I am the textbook example of how not to pivot.
I did not have a concrete plan
I was not certain what I wanted to do even
I did hardly any research into whether my vague ideas could provide me with a sustainable income
I jumped with both feet, in one go, without a safety net or a plan B
I was asked recently what made me leave such a secure role in such a secure company, risking my financial security so completely. My answer was adventure and the need for jeopardy. I now know I have a strong value around adventure and as a naturally risk averse person historically, I needed the fear. I am very aware, very aware – what a first world place this is to inhabit, and not at all a place open to all.
Even though there was so much ambiguity and naivety in my decision, I know there were some things I did do right:
I saved up a buffer, over those four years I scraped any excess cash into a pot with an inkling it may later buy me some time
I didn’t have a plan- but I defined my first next step (formal training in my case)
I left BMW on the very best of terms, with my friends, colleagues and management backing me
I trusted a gut feeling that I couldn’t explain to anyone coherently, in other words I backed myself
I got the sincere buy in from Rob (the hubby) – I recognised this decision would impact him as much as me
Do I advocate this way? Not really no. I think there are many ways that I could have made my road easier, saved myself much worry and possibly even reached this point faster. It has taken me two years to get clear on what I was aiming for – I.e., the what. Two years to discover that I was not done with procurement, that I want it in my career. Two years to understand that procurement and coaching both have a role to play in my fulfilment; two years to define who I am trying to help and what impact this has on me – the why. And slowly, oh so irritatingly slowly, I am navigating what is working and what isn’t - the how.
I have a lot of clients come to me looking for big change – and some of them go on to implement just that. Some do leave the corporate life. Many do not. I shall repeat what I have said before – change does not have to be seismic to have seismic results. Sometimes it’s a tweak that’s needed, that’s all.
So, for those considering a career shift, here’s my tips and what I have learnt:
Spend time on the why and the what. I don’t believe you must have it all figured out – indeed sometimes you need the space to figure it; but do inhabit these questions and reflect before you take action. I recommend Find your Why – Simon Sinek as a lovely starting place.
When you have a better idea of the why and a what, have an idea of the how – what do you need for the next step?
Research is your friend.
Try before you commit. If you are thinking of a complete pivot, how familiar are you with this new world? Go to night school, get some qualifications, get some work experience in your free time. Talk to people who do this for a career – ask them some candid questions on what to expect.
Training … it’s so expensive. Is your area of interest complimentary to your current role? Transferable skills? Will your employer sponsor you through? It’s worth asking. Be mindful of any conditions attached.
Network, network, network. You cannot have too much support. And build it up before you leap.
Know your finances: understand what outgoings are fixed. How much money must you have month to month?
Be realistic. Are you going to match your former salary immediately? If not, and you need to – how will you manage the gap? What is a satisfactory income going forward?
Ease in. Mine was the two-foot approach from a large height. So many other ways – can you experiment with a side hustle and maintain your initial career? Is part time corporate feasible?
Never burn your bridges. Your current network is invaluable. Keep them close. There is also nothing attractive about someone slagging off their former employers, makes people wonder what you may say about them if you work with them.
Nobody can tell you what is right for you. And sometimes what you need or decide to do, doesn’t necessarily appear logical or even sensible. It doesn’t make it wrong. I had many people raise an eyebrow at me; only you can know.
AND AND AND… take it easy on yourself. Here’s some smaller shifts:
Love your company but not your role? What else can the company offer you? Talk to them – believe me companies really really want to retain good talent. Ask them to support a move. It’s also such a safe place to try something new – somewhere where you have the reputation already.
Love your role but not your company? What would a great employer look like for you? What would you want to see and feel? Remember your network? Ask them who knows a company like this… you don’t need to answer a job advert to access a company.
Have an inkling you want to stay as an employee but hell no doing you what you do now? Get some help constructing a skills based CV. Identify what skills you can offer someone else – it may offer up some unexpected opportunities!
Would I change what I did? I’ve asked myself that question many times and my gut answer is no, I wouldn’t. Had I not been in such a fortunate financial position then I would have had to act differently. But the journey has taught me a lot, and mostly things I didn’t know I needed to learn. Coach training when I did, and how I did, put me in the path of humans whom I can’t imagine being without now. Completely leaving corporate allowed me to recover from a deep fatigue – I’m not sure I could have embraced procurement again without it, and I can see so much to add to smaller purposeful companies and start-ups, with my skills here. It’s important work. And would I be right here if I had gone a different way? – almost certainly not.
So, a reflection to take away… is a career shift right for you? The answer is within.
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