By Tara Levy
Check out these strategies for handling career changes with minimal anxiety.
“Opportunities don’t just happen. You create them.”
Chris Grosser, American Entrepreneur
Math majors: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
English majors: The distance between two points is a great premise for a novel.
Philosophy majors: What is the purpose of the journey between two points?
Engineering majors: Can we build a new way to travel between two points?
All of us, a decade or three later: What do we do at this point?
Fortunately for many of us, we are not bound to the responses our eight- or eighteen-year-old selves gave to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (Side note: Kids can’t stand this question. Ask them what they’re reading instead.)
Not only do people change jobs more frequently these days, we even change careers.
I used to find that I was the odd one out — the odd duck who graduated from law school, passed the bar…and went to work in the nonprofit sector without practicing even a day of law. Now, as I help nonprofits find and cultivate new leaders as part of my consulting practice, I encounter more and more people who are seeking intentional career and sector changes.
We seek change more regularly and for more reasons. And as change becomes the norm, we seek to find patterns and recipes to make change easier and less scary.
I find that the inevitable (and quite rational) anxiety that comes with change drops significantly once I have a strategy in mind, so of course I’ve created a plan for navigating career transitions!
- Find a mentor.
You need someone you can trust and who cares about your professional future. Don’t worry about finding someone in your current field or a target field. A good mentor will invest time asking you questions and helping you connect your ideas to possible paths and will connect you to people in their networks to explore those paths.
- Ask questions.
Channel that eight-year-old you and ask a lot of why and how questions. Get to know the person you are now and figure out what you truly care about and what you enjoy. Keep asking questions of yourself and those you encounter to hone in on things that excite and motivate you.
- Research and learn.
Follow that excitement to better understand the field and related jobs. Follow, then engage with experts on social media. Meet professionals IRL at a meet-up or conference in your city. Sign up for a course to understand the nuts and bolts. If you’re not devouring the new information voraciously, you may be heading in the wrong direction. Keep asking questions and follow new leads.
- Trust your instincts.
Recognize that you’ve made a lot of good decisions in your life so far, and trust that you’ve done the field work that your instincts can rely on as you forge forward. Combine your new knowledge and sense of self, and create an inviting resume that showcases your experiences, curiosity and potential in this new direction.
I’m still not sure what I will be when I grow up. I’m also not sure that I’ll ever feel fully grown-up. I do know that I will continue doing all these things and trusting that I’m heading in the right direction. With a mentor who cares about me, my commitment to understanding myself and my world, and my appetite for information, I trust I will get wherever I’m supposed to be going even if I can’t tell you right now where that is.
Tara Levy has been a leader in Austin’s nonprofit community for more than a decade. She is a two-time graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. Her undergraduate degree is from the Plan II Honors Program, and she followed that up by graduating from the University of Texas School of Law.
Learning and professional growth go hand in hand. For regular career insights and information on continuing education programs offered by UT’s Center for Professional Education, subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter, It’s Your Career.