571: Career Switch

A Thousand Things to Talk About
571: Career Switch

If you were given the chance to completely switch careers today, what would you choose to do?

Full episode script

Changing careers happens. Seriously, I promise, it does. Statistically, most people have at least a few different careers throughout their lifetime — it’s something we’ve talked about in previous episodes. That doesn’t mean that changing careers comes easily — changing careers is a big enough deal that there’s everything from consultants to career change boot camps to entire forums built around nothing but how to change careers.

In many ways, it’s surprising that more people don’t go through a full career change when you start looking at the research. Quote:

The “Vodafone UK Working Nation report”, based on findings from a survey of 3,800 people and over 20 hours of inter-generational focus groups will give hope for the future to people in their early thirties who, according to the survey, are suffering a severe bout of mid-career depression. When asked about ‘negative feelings’ regarding work, the 31-35 year old age bracket topped the poll in every category, including ‘feeling undervalued’ (59%), being ‘unfulfilled’ (49%) and being ‘de-motivated’ (43%).  

Crucially, the report also comes with a stark warning for the characteristically optimistic ‘Generation Y’ (those born after 1980) – discussions in the qualitative phase of the research suggested that one of the biggest issues facing British business over the next ten years could be the ‘inevitable’ disillusionment that will hit these youngest members of the workforce as they start to reach their thirties.


So.. when you do decide to change careers, there’s a right and a wrong way to go about it, right? According to Herminia Ibarra in the December 2002 Harvard Business Review, quote:

Conventional career change methods are all part of what I call the “plan and implement” model of change. It goes like this: First, determine with as much clarity and certainty as possible what you really want to do. Next, use that knowledge to identify jobs or fields in which your passions can be coupled with your skills and experience. Seek advice from the people who know you best and from professionals in tune with the market. Then simply implement the resulting action steps. Change is seen as a one-shot deal: The plan-and-implement approach cautions us against making a move before we know exactly where we are going. It all sounds reasonable, and it is a reassuring way to proceed. Yet my research suggests that proceeding this way will lead to the most disastrous of results, which is to say no result. So if your deepest desire is to remain indefinitely in a career that grates on your nerves or stifles your self-expression, simply adhere to that conventional wisdom, presented below as a foolproof, three-point plan.

We learn who we have become—in practice, not in theory—by testing fantasy and reality, not by “looking inside.” Knowing oneself is crucial, but it is usually the outcome of—and not a first input to—the reinvention process. Worse, starting out by trying to identify one’s true self often causes paralysis. While we wait for the flash of blinding insight, opportunities pass us by. To launch ourselves anew, we need to get out of our heads. We need to act.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.