By Liz Carmack
Perhaps you’ve achieved a career goal only to realize it was the wrong one after all. You can pivot from your misstep toward success.
“You are never too old to set a new goal or to dream a new dream.”
C.S. Lewis, British scholar, novelist and author of The Chronicles of Narnia
Congrats! You just achieved an important career goal. Your dream came true. But wait, you now realize that you made the wrong move.
After all your hard work, that’s a tough truth to swallow. I once set aside my writing career and took hours of training in user experience (UX) to become a UX designer. I decided to switch focus because I enjoyed conducting website usability tests and designing information architecture to help website visitors navigate pages.
For two years, I wrote less and less and interacted more and more with screens as I marched toward my dream. But I eventually visualized what my day-to-day life as a full-time UX designer would look like—and I hated what I saw.
Deep down, I realized that I didn’t want to spend my days staring at screens and interacting with websites. Yes, the UX designer salary was tempting, but I knew I’d miss the creative challenges and sheer joy I get from researching topics, interviewing interesting people and writing.
Pivoting my career back to writing and resharpening those skills after letting rust accumulate wasn’t easy, but I did it with concerted effort.
If you think you’ve achieved the wrong career goal, consider these tips to help you clearly assess your situation, take smart next steps and learn from your experiences.
Reflect on Why the Goal was Wrong
Avoid making the same mistake twice by clearly understanding how you landed where you did.
Perhaps you pursued a professional certification or advanced degree, or you undertook other training that is no longer critical for success in your industry. Before signing up for additional education, make sure you thoroughly research your field’s emerging trends. Two ways to better understand the state of your industry are by participating in national and regional professional organizations and by following the social media feeds of respected industry leaders and peers.
Consider how quickly your industry is evolving versus how long it would take you to achieve specific goals. Will the training remain relevant by the time you’ve completed it?
Talk to peers who’ve attained certifications or degrees that you’re considering and ask what they think are the pros and cons before you pursue the same educational goals.
Maybe you switched careers entirely, only to realize that your new job wasn’t a good fit. If this is the boat you’re in, do some soul searching (at the minimum). Make a list of what you like and don’t like about your new position; then, list what type of work and work environments make you happiest and the skills you excel at. Research positions that would make the most of your skills while offering you a better fit. This simple exercise will more intentionally orient you toward your next professional goal.
Or, better yet, meet with a career counselor. The sessions I spent with career counselors during critical stages of my career helped me tremendously. With their guidance and me putting in the work, I was able to clearly see my best next steps. (Too bad I didn’t consult one before my deep dive into UX design!)
Don’t be Embarrassed to Change Plans
Remember, you’re the one in charge of steering your career. Muster the courage to acknowledge your misstep.
It can be awkward to tell peers or clients that your plans have changed—especially if they’ve supported you throughout your hard work to achieve your career goal. But if you thoughtfully decide a course correction is the best move, swallow your pride and let them know your plans.
Be prepared for questions (or even criticism) when you share your news. You might feel like a failure. But making a thoughtful career pivot can showcase your ability to adapt to a changing industry or demonstrate your strategic chops as you realign your work to better match your strengths.
Who knows, someone may share important professional connections or other resources with you to help you start down your new path.
Learn from the Experience
The time you spent achieving your goal, only to walk away from it, wasn’t entirely wasted – if you learned something along the way.
Perhaps you now better understand your industry and what it takes to be successful in it. Or maybe the experience prompted you to reassess the work you do.
This experience also might help you better connect with yourself and develop a deeper understanding of your strengths and the type of work you find most satisfying. The University of Texas’ Center for Professional Education offers a Career Planning Workbook to support you. Download it for free and develop your comprehensive career strategy using introspection, exploration and evaluation.
It takes courage to admit the goal you set and achieved was wrong. Pivoting away from it toward something new is scary, too. But with thoughtful effort, you can turn this challenge into an opportunity for future success.
Liz Carmack is an award-winning writer, editor and author of two nonfiction books published by Texas A&M University Press. She has worked as a communications professional for almost four decades.
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