Want to Change Career? Challenge Your Expectations First


Challenging Your Career Change Expectations

It’s taken you a while, but you’re now aware that a change in career is required. Perhaps it’s been niggling at you for years; that feeling that your career path (which you somehow fell into) is not the one you want to be on anymore.

So, what now? Where do you start?

On occasion, I’ve seen clients start our coaching together full of enthusiasm and optimism about their future. However, over the coming months, this sometimes fades. They start getting itchy feet, desperate to get out of the job they’re in, and anxious about their continued lack of absolute clarity about what they want to do.

Over the years, what I have come to recognise is that, very often, these clients have something in common - their rigid expectations around career change, and what it should look like, start to erode their confidence in what’s possible for them, and their ability to make a career change.

Great Expectations

These are the most common expectations I’ve seen, which end up getting in the way of people changing career successfully:

  1. I expect this to happen quickly
  2. I expect to have a lightbulb/eureka moment of absolute clarity
  3. I expect my new career path to start and then continue along a neat straight line
  4. I expect you to tell me what job I should do

The rest of this article seeks to challenge these expectations, and hopefully offer you a more helpful mindset and perspective to take with you on your career change journey. So, let’s take each one in turn:

  1. I expect this to happen quickly

    Unless you’re talking about securing your immediate next step, career change can take a while - think years, not months - especially if you’re looking to move in to something completely different.

    It can also take a while to first figure out what you really want to do in the first place. The process I work through with clients has 7 (out of 12) sessions dedicated solely to that - exploring who you are, what you stand for, what drives you, what your personal and professional preferences are - so that any career change decisions you make in the future are made on a deep foundation of self-awareness and understanding about what works best for you.

    Then there’s the period of exploration, where you’re encouraged to test and trial your career ideas so you know how they might look and feel in reality. Then it can take time to bring your new career path to fruition.

    In my experience, the clients that have the most success with their career change are those who are patient, and are willing to invest time and energy in to exploring what they really want, before making it happen in a considered and well thought through way.

  2. I expect to have a lightbulb/eureka moment of absolute clarity (and certainty)

    I often wonder where this expectation comes from. Perhaps it’s those friends who seemingly always knew what they wanted to do in life, or those stories of people who had an epiphany one day, quit their job and became a *insert perfect job here* overnight. I have to say, I’ve never met anyone in my life or career that has had a lightbulb moment like that.

    A more helpful expectation would be to see it more like a dimmer switch situation, where, over a period of time, the idea you are considering begins to sound like a great path to pursue, because over time it becomes clearer and clearer that it matches up really well to what you now know you are looking for in a career.

    We are complex beings, with a variety of needs that change over time. It’s unlikely that a new, shiny bright idea (that you haven’t somehow already thought of already over the years) is going to magically pop in to your head, which turns out to perfectly tick all your boxes.

    In each career, there are often pros and cons to be considered - hence the idea that clarity and certainty about your new career path are unlikely to come at the metaphorical flick of a switch. They take time to test and mull over.

    In addition, let go of the idea that you have to be 100% certain before you take any action. We are hardly ever 100% certain about anything, let alone something as important as our careers - we’re too hardwired to see risk in everything for that. Having a more realistic ratio expectation (e.g. being 70/30 certain) can free you up to move forward and really start to make things happen. Nothing has to be permanent either - there’s always room to pivot or re-adjust further along if needs be. Just getting started is the best thing you can do.

  3. I expect my new career path to start and continue along a neat straight line

    There’s a reason the book ‘My Squiggly Career’ by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis is being met with great acclaim. Career ladders and straight line career progression are things of the past, in my opinion. As the authors maintain, we're now living in a world of squiggly careers, where moving frequently and fluidly between roles, industries, locations, and even careers, is becoming the new normal.

    The clients I see who are more flexible and less rigid in how their new career path might look seem to be the ones that make the most out of their career change. It’s OK if it starts out a little vague, you take steps forward, backwards, sideways, upwards, downwards...who cares, as long as it’s enjoyable and makes some sort of sense to you as to what direction you’re going in.

    However, some clients get totally stuck behind the idea of wanting a neat step-by-step career path that offers 10-15 years of progression, direction, and certainty. This expectation can sometimes really hold you back because it’s a lot of pressure to put on just one job or career.

    I find it’s much more helpful to get clear on just the first few steps you want to take down a particular path (the first 5 years maybe), and then base where you go after that on those experiences, rather than trying to map out everything from the start. Who knows where life will take you, how your experiences will shape you, or how you’ll change over the years.

    Most importantly, this approach gets you away from ‘destination happiness’ type thinking (I’ll be happy when...), and into the more helpful mindset of recognising that we never really ‘arrive’ anywhere - our careers ARE the journey.

  4. I expect you to tell me what job I should do

    Oh, how I wish I could do this for you! Oh, how I wish I could wave a magic wand and it would all become crystal clear for you. Oh, how I wish there was a book full of absolutely every job title, career option and business venture out there for you to choose from. But there isn’t - and apparently 85% of the jobs that today’s students will be doing in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet, so it would be a bit of a crap book that would need updating every five seconds!

    Furthermore, who am I to dole out subjective advice on what job you should do, simply based on what you tell me about yourself, and your previous work experience (which you haven’t enjoyed that much anyway)? There’s no way one person can know everything, or know what’s best for someone else.

    I firmly believe YOU are the best resource for deciding what’s best for your future. You know yourself best. It’s also far more empowering and confidence-boosting to expect that YOU will come up with the idea, and that YOU will make career decisions based on your very own advice.

    The role I provide as a coach is to offer you the structure, tools, and exercises to help you gain the insight and self-awareness required for you to make informed career decisions for yourself. Of course, I provide resources to help you consider various new career options, but, often, clients have an exceptional talent for coming up with new ideas that are perfect for them all by themselves.

I hope that the above helps you to manage and perhaps challenge certain expectations you might have around your career change. If you’re onboard with the above, and ready to get started on making your career change a reality, then do get in touch. We can arrange an online Introductory Session (£35) and go from there.

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.