How To Navigate The Tricky Waters Of A Career Change

Figuring out that you're in the wrong job is the first step. Then comes the hard part—figuring out how to make the career switch.

Do you step into the office some mornings and wonder how you got there or what your life would look like if you had taken a different turn or studied a different field?

Karen Elizaga, a New York-based executive coach and author of Find Your Sweet Spot, knows what it’s like to be trapped in a career that isn’t working for you. A former corporate lawyer, Elizaga was unhappy and disengaged. “It took 13 years for me to realize—when I was knee-deep in legal documents at a law firm and feeding my hungry soul a steady stream of chocolate to compensate—that in fact, my sweet spot did not live within the four walls of a law firm,” she writes.

While she thrived on being around other people, as a lawyer Elizaga spent most of her day sitting alone in her office and although she hated conflict, her job forced her into situations of negotiating contentious provisions. It’s no wonder she was miserable. After writing down her strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes, Elizaga had her “aha moment” and left the law firm. She now coaches others on how to turn their careers around. So, how can you tell if you’re in the wrong career? Ask yourself these three questions:

1. Is your paycheck the only thing fueling your workday?
While we all need a paycheck to survive, Elizaga argues those who are working in their sweet spot feel they would do their job for free because they love it so much.

2. Are you a chronic complainer?
If you wake up every morning wishing you could be anywhere else but where you are, it’s less likely you’re simply sleep deprived and more likely headed out the door to the wrong job.

3. Do you have poor performance reviews?
Performance reviews can be an indication of job fit. “If you’re meant to be where you are, chances are you’re doing some excellent work,” says Elizaga.

If you answered yes to these questions, you may be in the wrong career. Perhaps you already knew that but don’t know how to get out. Follow these four tips and step into a career that moves you:

Do an assessment.

Before thinking about what job title or industry best suits you, Elizaga advises to first make a list of your strengths, weaknesses, what you like and hate to do. Once you have completed your analysis, you can then look outside and ask what industry lines up with the things you wrote under strengths and likes.

Avoid dwelling on the past.

After spending thousands of dollars on law school and hundreds of hours networking and building her career, Elizaga was hesitant to throw all that time and money out the window, but the thought of spending the next 20 or 30 years trudging it out in a career that wasn't a right fit was even more terrifying. She advises clients to avoid thinking of the years spent in the wrong career as time wasted and chalk them up to experience. "Anyone can take what they've learned and move it to an industry that's going to suit them better," she says.

Jumping ship isn't always the answer.

Walking away from an unfulfilling career isn't always an option, especially for those who can’t afford the financial consequences of making a switch. But, Elizaga argues, these individuals aren't lost souls destined to suffer in unsuitable careers forever. "Sometimes simply changing your mindset or how you approach your work, how you work with others or how you take care of yourself outside the office can help [turn your career around] to better suit your strengths, says Elizaga.

Don't react too quickly.

Change can be seductive, especially if you're feeling trapped in a miserable career. Elizaga has seen individuals jump at opportunities simply to escape their current dynamic and realize they went from one bad situation to another because they hadn't taken the time to analyze their strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes first. "If you're really secure about where you excel and where you fall down, you can look outside and say, ‘Now that I know the kind of person I am and the kind of job I would enjoy, I can look out at the universe of jobs that are out there and make the move,'" says Elizaga.

[Image: Flickr user mikeyskatie]

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4 Comments

  • cdf20007

    This article really doesn't deliver on the headline's promise. The article provides very elementary information about how to decide whether you should change careers, not how to navigate complexities while actually in the process of changing careers. THAT is the article I expected to read when clicking this headline... can you write that one soon?

  • Jon D. Andre

    This advice may seem a bit off-the-wall, but developing a consistent meditation practice can help you with several of these points, particularly "dwelling on the past" and "reacting too quickly." Being more mindful can also help you get past all that noise/mental drama so you can figure out what you really want to do.

  • Michelle Jones

    I've seen a lot about meditating in the news lately (several pieces here on Fast Company), but there isn't really a clear set of instructions I can find, and a lot of what I read conflicts with other things I read. Any advice on where and how to start?

  • Jon D. Andre

    Google meditationshift. They have a great blog with some insightful articles on your mind/thoughts, and they have a 21-day course that is excellent.