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Making a Career Change (When You Don’t Know What You Want)

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Not everyone follows a straight career ladder, climbing from one promotion to the next, Ines Kretschmer reminds us.
But if you are facing into another 30 odd years in a career that doesn’t make you happy, then putting some time into figuring out what you want is time well spent.
A reader asks for help in deciding her next move.

 

Dear Daily Slog,

‘I have worked in accounts and payroll positions for most of my career. There were a few years in my 20’s when I took time out to study in the area of social care and tried my hand at that for a while for found it wasn’t for me. I fell back into the finance administration area after that, and have had some moderate success with promotion and additional responsibility over the last few years. 

The thing is, I know my heart isn’t in this work but I can’t seem to figure out what my next career move should be. 

I have researched other industries and roles but making a career change now, in my early 30’s, is a scary prospect. Because I don’t know exactly which area i should go to next, I could take that leap into a course or role and then again figure out that I’m not suited to it. Any advice would be appreciated’. 

 

Dear Reader,

Thank you very much for your email.

There are different theories and metaphors about how we describe or view careers, and one very common metaphor is the career ladder, implying that we climb from promotion to promotion and consistently reach a higher level of responsibility resulting in better paid roles, exactly as you describe your career in the finance administration area so far.

But there is also the metaphor of a career path, and this path is not necessarily linear or up the ladder. Still, figuring out the right path for ourselves in accordance with what fulfils us, or matches best with our circumstances, is an important task to take on to ensure that we are happy with our career choices – although it can be a scary prospect at times.

 

Would you really want to spend another 30 years in your current field when you already know now that your heart is not in it?

 

You are in your early 30’s and may feel it is too late to change your career path now, but you probably have at least another 30 years of employment ahead of you. Would you really want to spend another 30 years in your current field when you already know now that your heart is not in it?

The “transtheoretical model of changes” (Prochaska et al. 1992) is a model that explains 5 stages of change and has originally been developed in another context, however it can be applied to the process of career change as well. I won’t go into it in depth, but here, briefly, are the 5 stages:

  1. Precontemplation (dissatisfied with current situation but not ready yet to accept that change is needed)
  2. Contemplation (reasons for dissatisfaction become clearer and change is actively considered as a possibility)
  3. Preparation (exploring ideas)
  4. Action (ideas become plans and plans result in actions)
  5. Maintenance (stabilization and consolidation)

The fact that you have already started to research other industries, but are undecided whether you should make a move, suggests to me, that you are somewhere between contemplation and preparation (it is only a model so stages can overlap of course).

To me this goes to show that you are already in the middle of the process of a career change. That does not mean you are in a rush or should put yourself under pressure – it has been shown that on average it takes around two years from the decision to change to the actual transition and you should definitely follow your own pace.

 

Research shows, quite clearly, that those who have given it a try are usually more satisfied with their career

 

Your fear of not making the right choice may hold you back from giving things a try. Everybody is different and has to make their own decisions, but I would like to share with you that research shows quite clearly that those who have given it a try are usually more satisfied with their career, ultimately, and those who changed out of interest for the role are again more pleased with their choice than those changing for a better salary or status.

So if your heart is not in what you are currently doing I would strongly encourage you to at least continue to explore other options.

From your email it appears that your biggest concern is that you do not really know which area you should go to next. As scary as it seems, this really is a very common issue at this stage of a career change, although the reasons for this uncertainty can vary and therefore so does the approach to tackling the issue.

Without knowing further details about your career path so far, your circumstances and the research you have done into other options, I can only recommend a two-fold approach.

 

Analyse your career decisions so far.

Just because you now feel your heart is not in it, it does not mean that at the time you chose this area, it was not the right decision (consciously or subconsciously) based on your skills, interests, upbringing, circumstances and many other factors that influence our career choices.

Try to dig out what made you chose this path in the first place and which factors may have changed. If you understand your choices in the past, you are less likely to feel that you have failed, as you understand that your choices were based on good reasons, but the circumstances or yourself may have changed.

This will give you more confidence to trust your new career decisions and this confidence is very important for your future success.

 

Understand yourself at this stage of your life

We tend to be most fulfilled in our work when we find a role that is in-line with our values and natural strengths.

If you are uncertain what your values and strengths are, you could use some tools to inspire you (there are many tools online, one that is free of charge and that I find helpful is the “VIA Survey of Character Strengths” that can be found here).

Personally I would always reflect on any findings of such tools critically, but they can certainly provide valuable inspiration and be used as a starting point.

Once you have a clearer picture of what your interests, values and strengths are, you can then launch into figuring out how these findings can be translated into a new career path.

 

The sheer number of options can make us freeze as we don’t know where to start. This is a common issue and should not hold you back.

 

The options these days are vast. There are so many roles across a dizzying number of sectors, further education options etc. The sheer number of options can make us freeze as we don’t know where to start. This is a common issue but don’t let it hold you back.

You can narrow your options down by starting with your most important requirements, and then narrow them down further. Or you could evaluate a limited number of jobs (say 5) by giving them points based on how they rate with your 5 biggest strengths or values and then add the points to give you a clue.

A career change can be a complex, daunting and sometimes difficult process. But if you feel you are not fulfilled where you currently are, and your heart is not in what you are currently doing, and especially with almost a whole working life still ahead of you, I would recommend that you get to work on it.

There is a lot of assistance out there. Information can be found in books, gathered from agencies, looked up online. You can hire a career coach to support you individually. The process might take a little time and that is perfectly ok, but the journey can be fun too, as you have so many options and the end result could be a far more fulfilled professional life.

I hope my reply helps and I wish you the best of luck!

Ines

 

About Ines Kretschmer

Ines Kretschmer is a Personal, Leadership and Executive Coach, based in Dublin. To book an appointment with her contact her on 087 414948 or email kretschmercoaching@gmail.com

 

If you have a career issue you would like help with email the details to us at contact@thedailyslog.com and we will source a suitable professional to help. All correspondence will be kept confidential.

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