How Do You Know if it’s Time for a Career Change?

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You’re bored and antsy, but perhaps not that bored and that antsy.  You’re wondering…should you look for a new job?  Change careers?  Or maybe just buy a new outfit?  How do you know when it’s time for a change?

For me, the “aha” moment—which doesn’t always happen—came when I was in Brussels as the lawyer half of a team negotiating to bring Walt Disney’s World on Ice to Europe for the first time.  Pretty cool, right?  I furiously took notes as my colleague, Allen, and his Belgian counterpart negotiated the deal.  Suddenly, they clasped hands and stood up.  They had a deal!

“Did you get all of the terms?” Allen asked. I was the lawyer. It was my job. I nodded that I had.

“We’re going to get some dinner. Please write up the deal so we can sign it before we head out tomorrow,” Allen continued.

We were in a construction trailer.  There were some stale pretzels and nuts in a chipped yellow bowl.  A glass of tepid water sat in front of me.  And that’s when I knew that I no longer wanted to practice law.  I wanted to be Allen.

I did two things after they left.  First, I drafted—by hand because laptops didn’t exist yet—the agreement to bring the show to Belgium.  Then, as I munched on the soggy nuts and pretzels, I put together a multi-step plan for extricating myself from the field of law and moving into business.

I don’t pretend to think that this  “aha” moment was completely sudden.  To the contrary, I’m  certain that I must have harbored quiet doubts about my career choice for some time.  Because, let’s face it, I had a dream legal job, and, although I’ve always had great respect for the legal profession, I still wasn’t content.   That night was just the spark that finally set me in motion.

I’m not suggesting that it’s easy to know when to change careers, because it’s usually not.  Here are three questions you can ask yourself to help determine if it’s time:

  • What are the pros and cons of your current job situation? Take stock. What’s good and what’s not?  Consider things like salary, work environment, schedule, how the work aligns with your personal values, and advancement opportunities.  What would it take to optimize your current situation if you were to stay put?
  • What will it actually take to switch jobs/careers? Outline a simple plan and see if it energizes you or brings you down.
  • Think—deeply and concretely—about why you are hesitating to make a change. Is it because you’re not truly that dissatisfied or is it fear that is holding you back?

As you contemplate making a career change and feel both overwhelmed and excited, talk it through with someone.  Find a person who has been there– a coworker, friend, or a professional coach– and share your concerns.  An objective point of view can often help to clarify the decision and make the process easier. Someone who is skilled at asking the right questions can be a powerful ally.

So, think about transforming your career as a way to unlock your potential and feel better about yourself.  Yep, transformation.  It always trumps boredom and antsiness.

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