Changing careers: why taking your time really pays

Changing careers: why taking your time really pays
An article from our expert

When it comes to leaving your job, everyone has their own way of doing it. Some people leave quickly and never look back, while others may spend weeks, months or even years dreaming up the perfect exit. There are also those who never take the plunge, but live with the regret. A few take their time, getting to know the market and carefully considering their options while keeping their job. Before taking the plunge, they make sure that they know just what they’re getting into. When it comes to changing careers, I believe that patience is a virtue. Because even if life moves fast, change takes time. Here’s why I believe slow transitions are the way to go.

A smooth transition

Whether it’s down to a high-pressure job, a toxic manager or colleague or boredom, plain and simple, there are many reasons why someone may choose to leave a job abruptly. It’s perfectly normal to want a quick exit when you feel like you don’t belong at work. Professional challenges are often a sign that it’s time for a change. But they can also distort your perspective somewhat. Focusing only on the negatives can increase the desire to quit, which may ultimately lead you down the wrong career path.

That’s because the temptation to shift gears is at its highest when things aren’t running smoothly. You might think, “In the future, I want to work for a nice boss,” or “I’m looking for something more hands-on, like manual work.” You make your escape by changing careers. But the results can sometimes be disappointing. Although you may get a nicer boss or to work in a more hands-on role, there are other factors to consider, such as the working conditions, workload, location, work hours, job security and salary. Every job has its share of annoyances that can cause career changers to second guess their decision. And since switching jobs isn’t a cure-all, it’s better to take time and evaluate the situation.

Before there were any problems, the job you have today probably seemed like a good option. So what’s wrong with it now? Sometimes it’s a shift in goals or priorities, while other times, the context has changed. It’s important to mark passing a milestone while taking a new direction, questioning what you no longer want and what you aspire to. If you decide to quit because you don’t have enough autonomy in your job, is entrepreneurship the only solution? Changing jobs is not enough in and of itself. What do you want to achieve or improve? What is the ultimate purpose of making a move? Finding the answers to such questions takes time.

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Before you change, test, imagine and plan

The real change begins the minute you start envisioning alternatives. Actually changing jobs is often just a small part of the process. It’s the tip of the iceberg. The idea itself has been developing at a deeper level over time. I see it every day in my consulting work. You undergo change when you look into different careers, take a skills assessment, meet professionals you admire, hire a coach or look through job offers. It doesn’t matter if it takes you six months, a year or three years to implement. It’s important to run through various scenarios, look inward and open up to new possibilities. This time can be used to explore all available options.

Some career changers explore a field that interests them through part-time, volunteer or freelance work. This is a safe way for people to try out new career paths. Then there’s the trend of “job crafting,” where an employee makes gradual changes to their job. For example, someone might take their time, tweaking tasks and responsibilities slightly so that they are more in line with their individual skills and aptitudes. Slash careers” or portfolio careers, where you are a journalist/copywriter/actor or an accountant/graphic artist for example, are another recent trend. This term is used to describe professionals with multiple income streams. But working concurrent jobs can serve as a temporary solution as well. Think of it as a chance to start something new and, slowly but surely, leave your old job behind.

By ensuring a smooth transition, you can ease into your new professional identity. That’s because seeing yourself differently, letting go of a self-image you’ve outgrown and envisioning your future all take time. Before I started coaching, I was the HR manager at a multinational. I had to get used to my new identity as a coach while simultaneously mourning the loss of my professional identity, that of a woman developing her career in constantly shifting international organizations. And while my transition wasn’t yet underway, volunteering as a counselor and psychologist allowed me to see myself in a new career path.

Likewise, an executive interested in pursuing a more hands-on career could intern during their time off, or an art director may consider taking on a few clients to try out a freelance career. It’s a great way to launch your career change. Face-to-face with reality, you can make genuine progress, meet people you identify with – or not! – learn from their experience and figure out who you are. By taking your time, opportunities can arise at their own pace.

Sustainable change doesn’t happen overnight

When you’re feeling trapped, a spur-of-the-moment decision like quitting can be extremely tempting. Making a change seems much better than staying put and complaining or dragging things out because you’re scared of being unemployed. As transitioning to a new career is generally anxiety-provoking, you might feel pressured to rip off the sticking plaster or accept a second-rate option because you think nothing better will come along. Fear is perfectly normal during this stage of the process. But making a smooth transition gives you time to tackle those fears one by one.

I’m always surprised when my clients overlook interim solutions simply because they’re holding out for a more radical change. That was not the case for Ariane (not her real name), who accepted a transfer to offices outside Paris, knowing that for her it was just the first step towards change. Once she got settled in the new region, she planned on making a bigger move: changing employers. And why not? Incremental transitions can work in your favor. Quick and easy doesn’t always spell success. If you’re tempted to rush things, what are you afraid of? It’s a question every career changer must ask.

More than anything, changes allow you to restore balance in areas that no longer seem to be working. And your individual transformation can have a significant impact on those closest to you. From friends and family to colleagues and mentors, your support system may need rebalancing too. Major life changes can throw everything off balance. A carefully thought-out plan is more likely to succeed. That’s why many people look for guidance during these critical moments. “The deepest tendency of all human activity is the march towards equilibrium,” said the French biologist and psychologist Jean Piaget. Here, the aim is not change for its own sake but change as a means of growth and greater well-being. In other words, personal development is part of the constantly shifting process of life itself.

Slowly but surely

A client once told me, “My problem is taking the first step.” Even when the desire to change is strong, many people hold themselves back. And that’s normal. If you stay put, it’s likely because you’re not ready to change. Overly ambitious goals lead to procrastination. Known in behavioral science as the “intention-action gap,” the inability to translate intentions into action can lead to mental blocks. This is especially true when the potential risks outweigh the benefits. The real challenge involves managing the relationship between a desire for personal growth and the need for security. An overwhelming challenge can paralyze you, whereas too much routine can make you die of boredom. Identifying your fears and the risks involved in making a move is an essential step when changing careers.

Is a lack of self-confidence holding you back? Self-esteem is nourished by action, according to the psychologist Christophe André. So why not test the waters and take it slowly? Whether you conduct your own research online, take extra training or talk to people in your field of interest, there are many small steps you can take to get started. More importantly, smaller tasks come with the satisfaction that things are moving forward. “The secret to taking action…is just to get started,” joked the philosopher Alain. By testing, exploring, talking and making adjustments as you go, you can start – slowly but surely – moving towards your goal to change. I’m not saying stay where you are. On the contrary! But let’s get rid of this need for speed. In professional transitions, patience can be a sign of deep reflection. Instead of putting pressure on yourself or waiting until you have no choice but to move, try to set yourself a reasonable deadline. “I want to have changed jobs by next summer,” for example, is a perfectly reasonable timeline. Trust that change will happen when the time is right for you.

Translated by Andrea Schwam

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