Successfully Change Gears After Choosing the Wrong Career Path
Whether you were pressured to pursue your current career path or didn’t have any other options, once you know you’re in the wrong place, suddenly your head is flooded with questions and doubts:
- What am I going to do?
- How am I going to tell my parents?
- How is my spouse or significant other going to react?
The anxiety can become a tidal wave, but there are things you can do to make a plan before everything falls off the rails.
Before you start thinking about what you want to do and how you’ll break the news to everyone, take the time to remember who you are. If you feel so lost that you can’t even do that, reach out to those closest to you and ask them for help. Ask your peers and loved ones to describe you in a few words. Ask them what they think you’re good at.
When I forgot what made me me, Jennifer (a good friend and my North Star) suggested I write a personal tagline so I could have a quick way to remember who I was at my core. Think of your tagline as your email signature or Instagram bio. After thinking about hundreds of buzzwords, I came up with:
Journalist by day
Social entrepreneur by choice
Now it’s your turn: Take out a piece of paper and write your name at the top. Make a list of your buzzwords and see which ones jump out at you. They could be anything from author, speaker, and philanthropist to father/mother, boyfriend/girlfriend, daughter/ son, volunteer, etc.
In addition to the buzzword test, Jennifer also asked me to watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on how to find your why, will force you to ask yourself some tough but awesome questions. She also told me to write my eulogy from a friend’s perspective if I died at my current age (I was 32 at the time), and then write another eulogy from the perspective of either someone I knew or someone I didn’t know 60 years later. I wrote that eulogy as though my husband were reading it after I died at the age of 92.
The eulogies will:
- Help you find a little more clarity about who you are and what you want
- Help you have a better sense of what you’re chasing after
- Help you find your brand
The best part about doing these for me was the opportunity to explore more deeply why I was doing what I was doing. They helped me create a filter for gauging what I was going to spend my time, energy, and resources on so I could make decisions that were more in alignment with what I really wanted.
Once you’ve gone through these exercises, try another exercise I suggest to my clients. Think about what your perfect job would look like and write a full job description for it. If you need some inspiration, go to LinkedIn, look up people you admire, and read how they describe their work. Those key terms may help you find the right language. After you’ve done that, think about how you want to feel in that job and add that at the bottom of your page.
The goal of all these exercises is to help you face your fears around switching gears. And there’s one more task I’d like you to try.
If you’re really serious about turning your mistakes into opportunities like getting an internship, a different job, a meeting with a possible mentor, or even a second chance with a co-worker, you have to be willing to put yourself out there. And one of the ways to do that is to cold-call the person you feel compelled to speak with.
You’re going to need to dig deep so you can be quick and creative with your approach. Not all your attempts are going to be successful on the comeback trail, so get comfortable with rejection. Some things to keep in mind before you pick up the phone:
- Rehearse what you want to say and set a timer. Whatever your reason for calling, write it down and practice your pitch. You should be able to say why you’re calling in sound bites. Don’t overwhelm the other person with too many details.
- Be prepared for the person you’re trying to reach to actually pick up the phone. Let’s say you hit the jackpot and the person you’re calling actually picks up! Don’t waste time being caught off guard. Acknowledge your good fortune and get to the point by saying something like, “Thank you for talking with me. I’m so glad I was able to reach you. I want to talk with you about [describe the situation briefly] and how I could handle this better in the future” if you’ve made a mistake on the job. If you’re cold-calling a company, tell the person why you’re calling, such as “I read a lot about you and your company and mission, and I’m interested in working for you as part of your amazing team.”
- Follow up. As soon as you hang up the phone, send a thank-you note or email to the person you spoke with, then do whatever you said you would. If you said you’d send your request via email, send it. If you’re supposed to call another number, call it. Don’t lose momentum. Go right back to hitting the ground running.
- Take a time out. After you’ve made your call(s) and completed your follow-up tasks, take a few minutes. Get some fresh air, turn on some music, give yourself some time to regroup—and remember to acknowledge and congratulate yourself for having the courage to make the call(s) and take the first step toward switching career gears.