Two years ago, I had a terrifying realization: I was in the wrong career. The work wasn’t fulfilling and the culture was wearing on me mentally and emotionally. As I looked ahead of me up the corporate ladder I realized it would only get worse at the top. How had this happened? And more importantly, what now?! I needed a career switch!
If you relate to my experience, you know how scary it is to realize that something needs to change. But what I’ve found is that realizing you’re not fulfilled in your job is a catalyst for launching yourself into the meaningful career you want. Currently, I work for a purpose-driven social enterprise doing meaningful work that I actually enjoy. And I get to work with people who inspire me to grow as a leader of positive change. Taking the time to introspect and reflect helped me get here. Ask yourself these 5 questions so you can navigate the transition, too:
What are you good at?
Start by taking a step back to audit your strengths. Look for things that you genuinely enjoy doing that energize you (not just what you’re good at). You can use self-assessment tools like Gallup’s Strengths Finder to gain insight into your core strengths. Additionally, you can get a more holistic perspective by asking friends or colleagues to complete a reflected best self exercise. Taking the time to identify and prioritize your strengths will set you up for success in choosing a career path that is a better fit. Research shows that the use of our strengths in our work is tied to greater job satisfaction, engagement, and productivity.
What do you care about?
When I was navigating my own transition, I realized that one of the biggest sources of my dissatisfaction at work was a lack of purpose. Think of purpose as the “so what” behind the tasks you spend your time doing – why does it matter? Purpose is not a cause — it’s what gives you energy while you work. For me, that means doing work that has a positive social impact. Resources like the Imperative Purpose Assessment, ALV’s Illuminate Your Purpose Program, or books like The Invisible Leader can help you uncover your own purpose drivers. This helps you hone in on the type of work that gives you a deep sense of fulfillment so you feel confident making a career switch.
What options are out there, and how will I know which is best for me?
Once you’re clear on your strengths and purpose drivers, use that insight to set a vision for where you want to go. Do some research to see what industries, organizations, and types of roles exist in the space you want to move towards.
When I was doing this research, I learned about the social enterprise movement. That’s how I decided that I wanted my next role to be with a mission-driven organization using business as a force for good. With this goal in mind, I narrowed down the scope of my search based on what was important to me. At MovingWorlds, where I work now, we use a “career validation framework” in our leadership development programs to guide Global Fellows through testing their options. By taking a human-centered design approach to your career, you can create hypothesis about what type of environment is best suited for you. You then to conduct small tests by volunteering, observing, and/or networking to decide what fits.
What transferable skills can I use to build experience?
Ultimately, it’s experience and proof of being able to deliver results that will get you your next role. Even if you’re pivoting to a completely different industry, many of the skills you’ve developed are highly transferable. They can be leveraged to connect the dots between the two careers. For example, my experience at a large corporation helped me develop skills like marketing communications, public speaking, and processes optimization.
I continue to use those skills in my current role, just applied in a different context. What skills can you transfer to apply in a different context? There are many different ways to get experience, so try to think outside of the box. You could gain experience by volunteering, job-shadowing, board service, and even traveling if you’re spending your time productively. Take a few steps outside of your comfort zone to get the experience you need to develop your skills and confidence. This also helps improve your network and resume.
How can I connect with like-minded people on the same path?
Surround yourself with people who encourage and inspire you along your new path. I became a member of MovingWorlds before being hired by MovingWorlds. By taking that step I put myself in the position to take advantage of that opportunity when it arose. Join a local professional group to network and even find a mentor. Check out MeetUp.com to see if there’s a social impact group in your city. Online communities are valuable, too – try resources like Google Groups and Reddit.
A friend of mine once described leaving his secure role at an organization he’d been attached to for a decade as “tantamount to cliff diving into the ocean”. I would agree with that assessment. But on the other side of that fear is a rewarding career switch that fits you – instead of the other way around. As Silicon Valley entrepreneur Randy Komisar said, “And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”