Career Transitions

I’ve been in the fortunate position of watching a lot of people undergo career transitions during the past several years, myself included. I’ve noticed a very simple recurring pattern that I’d like to share with you. This pattern is so common you could almost call it a rule.

During the pre-commitment phase, when people consider making a major career change, they usually focus on the problems and obstacles in front of them. How will I support myself and my family? How can I justify abandoning my progress in my current line of work? What if I make the switch, and it doesn’t work out?

This focus on obstacles doesn’t help people transition. It only paralyzes them and keeps them stuck. But pretty much everyone has to deal with this phase.

In truth everyone who makes a career move has to deal with obstacles. The specifics are different for everyone, but the general patterns are extremely similar: attachment to the old career and its perks, concern about the uncertainties ahead, social and family resistance, lack of money to navigate the transition period, having to take a pay cut, cascading changes like moving to a new city, etc. If you’re considering a career transition yourself, it’s unlikely your obstacles are unique.

So what determines who actually commits to the transition vs. who remains stuck? I’ll tell you it has nothing to do with the size or nature of the specific obstacles. People with every advantage, including money in the bank and abundant family support, stay stuck all the time, while those who seem to have the odds stacked against them proceed as if the obstacles weren’t even there.

The difference, in my opinion, is that those who successfully transition see themselves as more than capable of overcoming the obstacles in their path. Their internal resources like focus, desire, and self-discipline compensate for their lack of external resources. If they need more money than they have, they find other ways to get what they need. If their families don’t support them, they say, “Too bad, I’m doing this with or without your help.” If they have to take a pay cut, they find a way to live more cheaply and eat lots of rice.

On the other hand, those who remain stuck seem to believe that external reality is bigger and stronger than their inner resources. Consequently, they seldom make a serious attempt. Instead they just stare at the obstacles and complain about them. I especially love when grown men complain, “My Wife Won’t Let Me Start My Own Business.” Meanwhile those with far fewer advantages are asking, “What can I do?” instead of “What can I complain about?”

Personal development plays a major role here. Many people have told me they never would have been able to succeed in making such transitions if they hadn’t put so much effort into working on themselves first. This includes building focus, discipline, and confidence. When people reach the point of believing that their inner resources are strong enough to handle the external obstacles, they get moving.

Your inner resources are like a muscle. If you don’t build them, they’ll atrophy. A weight only seems heavy in relation to the strength of your muscles. Similarly, an obstacle only seems daunting in relation to your personal resourcefulness.

If you think a problem like having no money in the bank or having an unsupportive family is enough to stop you from switching to the career of your dreams, recognize that the real problem is that you believe you’re too weak to deal with it. Someone else who’s stronger on the inside will look at your problems and say, “You’re letting that stop you??? What a wuss! I know a 12-year old who could handle that easily.”

If you really want to switch careers, step one is to go to your current boss and say, “I quit.” Pretty complicated, eh? But for some people merely imagining this scene creates an adrenaline surge. Once you’ve taken that step though, you’ll figure out step two soon enough. This is a direct, guaranteed route to a career change. People do it all the time. And believe it or not, it actually works.

I know your problems seem big to you, but lots of people have already solved essentially the same ones. You can go to any library and find books explaining how they did it too. The physical step-by-step solutions are easy to come by, but the downside is that virtually all of them require a certain degree of inner strength, courage, and discipline. Sorry, but there’s no getting around that. If you don’t have the strength to say, “I quit” to something you clearly don’t want, then consider building that strength sometime before you die.