Career Change: Now…Later…Never?

If you’re one of those fortunate people who knew at age 10 what you wanted your life’s work to be and have never wavered from that, congratulations! You’re almost certainly one of a fairly small minority.

Most of us have progressed through multiple career changes; many have done it a lot. Sometimes it’s a question of personal growth, changes in our outlook on life, the realization that we’re capable of more than we’re doing. Whether or not that fits your situation, you might still be considering or have considered a career change or find a compelling reason to do so later on.

I often work with clients who need or want to make a career change, and it can sometimes pose a major challenge–for them as the individual most closely affected by the situation and for me as the professional who wants to help them achieve the desired result. Consequently, I interact frequently with colleagues on this subject and also read extensively about it to gain useful insights.

Should You Make a Career Change?

As I’ve written in the past, a lot of factors can influence the decision on whether to make a career change. For one thing, you might not always have a choice–for example, if your industry basically goes away, you will be forced to look at alternatives. For another, a career change might require an economic sacrifice that you and your family can’t afford under current circumstances.

I do career coaching and consulting, which includes helping clients identify the factors for or against a career change in their particular situation. I do not provide career counseling, which requires intensive training I don’t have, so if someone who comes to me needs that kind of support, I recommend they contact a qualified career counselor. I work with clients to develop a career action plan that will help them move forward. Part of that plan involves determining the pros and cons of the career change and prioritizing the actions needed to implement the plan.

The key here is to conduct a thoughtful review of your situation, seek expert help and advice that’s relevant to your needs, and make a decision that you (and perhaps your family) can live with as comfortably as possible.

Career Change: If Not Now, When?

In some cases, you might have trouble deciding not only whether you should make a career change but also when would be the right time to do it. An article by Kathy Caprino on Forbes.com, titled “5 Ways to Tell if You Need a Career Change,” offers a few pointers on this topic. Her 5 tips on deciding to change careers are:

  1. You are chronically worn out, exhausted and depleted.
  2. Your skills, responsibilities, and tasks are not you at all.
  3. You’ve come to the point where your salary no longer makes up for the boredom and emptiness you feel.
  4. Despite all the “right” choices you made in your career, the outcome feels very wrong.
  5. You have the irrepressible feeling that your talents and abilities could/should be used in a totally different (more creative and impactful) way.

I could easily add to Caprino’s list. As an example, if your industry is changing and moving in a direction you find unsatisfactory, it might be time for a career change. If geographical or other factors are prompting you to relocate to an area that will make it difficult to continue in your present career, exploring other options could become essential.

Career Change Tip: Look at your situation as unemotionally as you can and put the necessary effort into evaluating what’s both possible and practical for you. Don’t waste time longing for something you can’t or won’t pursue effectively.

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Success Lessons from Unusual Sources

You might think that following the example of people who have “made it big” in their careers would give you a boost in the same direction. Sometimes it could, but learning from those who didn’t hit the big-time or from those who did and then lost it all can prove just as instructive.

For instance, you can find a list on Wikipedia of inventors who suffered the extreme failure of being killed in connection with their own inventions! Fortunately, most career challenges don’t carry that level of risk.

From Failure to Career Success

Quite a few people have failed numerous times before they finally achieved noteworthy success. One “failure to success” list I found included people such as the following:

  • Henry Ford: “…his early businesses failed and left him broke five times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company.”
  • Sochiro Honda: “Honda was turned down by Toyota Motor Corporation for a job after interviewing for a job as an engineer, leaving him jobless for quite some time. He started making scooters of his own at home, and spurred on by his neighbors, finally started his own business.”
  • Albert Einstein: “Most of us take Einstein’s name as synonymous with genius, but he didn’t always show such promise. Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social.”

And from Career Success to Failure

Robert Ripley, the originator of the “Believe It or Not” concept, went from being a penniless kid to a millionaire during the Great Depression. He did it because he had a talent for cartooning and a passion for being the best at what he did, plus a good insight into what people wanted to buy. That was the success part of his story. On the other hand, he died at the age of 59 because he spent more time working and drinking than he used to on keeping in good physical shape.

Other sad stories abound. For example, “celebrity photographer [Annie] Leibovitz may have gotten up close and personal with everyone from John and Yoko to the first family…, but she couldn’t seem to focus on her finances. By 2009, she was in such dire straits that she had to put up some major collateral….”

Success Lessons to be Learned

I think most realistic people understand that they’re going to have to work to become successful in their careers, but that’s not the whole story. A key point, from my perspective, is that if you consider success to be something you can achieve and maintain regardless of what you do from then on, you’re kidding yourself. There’s a lot more to it than that.

You could lose everything at some point or, at best, discover that it wasn’t as satisfying as you thought it would be when you started. You could fail many times without achieving success, but still succeed if you keep trying and do it smartly.

Surrounding yourself with the wrong people can stand in the way of success or take it away from you. By wrong people, I mean those who flatter you into believing you’re better than you are, who build you up for their own benefit, who don’t tell you honestly when you’re being a jerk, and so on.

On the other hand, building a strong network of people who genuinely want you to succeed can make a huge difference between your success and failure.

The choice is usually yours.


Global Outlook and Your Career

Can you have an isolationist view of your career, and would you want to? Whether or not you plan to seek employment outside your home country , you might find it valuable to explore the concepts of a global outlook and an isolationist view; then look at your career management from a different perspective.

According to Wikipedia, “isolationism is the policy or doctrine of isolating one’s country from the affairs of other nations by declining to enter into alliances, foreign economic commitments, foreign trade, international agreements, etc., seeking to devote the entire efforts of one’s country to its own advancement and remain at peace by avoiding foreign entanglements and responsibilities.”

You can’t afford to ignore what’s happening outside your current company if you want to minimize the likelihood of being sandbagged by a corporate catastrophe. By the same token, you can’t afford to pretend that what happens in other countries is no concern of yours.

At best, isolationism was an ineffective policy, even decades ago. It’s much worse than just ineffective today.

Be Globally Informed–It Can Boost Your Career

Natalie Jesionka has written an article for The Daily Muse, titled “Why Knowing about the World can Help Your Career.” She makes a case for the positive side of taking a world view in your career and presents 3 reasons to consider broadening your outlook:

  • Sit at the Table: We’ve all been there, caught in a conversation we feel left out of….But when it comes to global issues, sticking around to offer your insight and hear what others have to say can help you “sit at the table” for important conversations and position you as informed and knowledgeable among your colleagues. In particular, you want to be informed about how the events happening in another country impact your own work….Identifying the global connection can help you network, be taken seriously, and understand your company’s relationship to the world.
  • Understand Business Culture: No matter what field you’re in, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself traveling abroad for business or working with someone from another culture at some point. And in order to successfully conduct business, it’s important to know the basics of the country and what the culture values….When you are doing business at home or abroad, being globally aware will help you make the most of the opportunity—not to mention avoid some serious mishaps….
  • Acknowledge Your Relationship to the World: …What happens in the rest of the world is directly related to what happens here—especially in the professional environment….As you go through your work day, note [of] how many things you use come from another country—and you’ll find that our offices couldn’t function without the rest of the world. Then, make note of the people you talk to who originate from somewhere else. It’s much easier to communicate and connect when you have some background knowledge about the person’s origins to share or discuss. And it could mean the difference between winning over that business deal or promotion or not….”

Too Busy to Keep a Global Outlook in Your Career?

Yes, we’re all busy, and you might feel as if you’re busier than most people. Maybe you are, but even a small effort towards keeping a global outlook can position you for a more successful, sustainably profitable career than burying your head in the sand and hoping that ignoring the outside world will keep trouble from your door! To quote philosopher Carl Jung, “Nobody, as long as he moves about among the chaotic currents of life, is without trouble.”

Show yourself to be a business professional who stays on top of things–not just locally or nationally but globally–and I’ll bet you’ll find that your career progress and success is stronger as a result.


Are You a Leader or a Follower?

A few months ago, I posted the question, “Are you ready to be a (better) leader?” Since then, I’ve continued to explore the topic of leadership. “Are you a leader or a follower” is something of a trick question, because it can have more than one “right” answer.

I suppose it’s possible that some people who are considered leaders don’t make good followers because they have an intense drive to move things forward. Taking a back seat to another person, even temporarily, might not be in their DNA. However, I can’t help thinking it’s essential for a really great leader to understand what it takes to be a good follower. It seems to me you need to have experience as a follower to gain that kind of understanding–to be fully aware of what it takes to motivate people not only to follow you but to follow you effectively in pursuit of a goal.

When this idea first came to me and I decided to write a post about it, I thought it was my own insightful notion. Then I had second thoughts and realized I might not have been the first person to discover this concept. I did a little looking online, starting with the phrase “leaders and followers,” and–yep!–I found out that a whole raft of people have been writing on this topic. In fact, some of them, like Michael Hyatt, have been doing it for years.

Great Leaders and Great Followers

The blog post I found by Michael is titled, “Why the Best Leaders are Great Followers.” Michael has been a leader (he was an executive at a publishing company before branching out on his own), and he says, “I contend that if you want to be a great leader, you must first become a great follower. Although it is rarely discussed, this is where almost all of history’s greatest leaders got their start.” Then he gives three examples from the Bible: Joshua and Moses, Elisha and Elijah, Peter and Jesus.

The flip side, according to Michael, is that “history’s worst leaders never learned to follow. As a result, they became tyrants, making the lives of their own followers miserable.”

Michael suggests 5 characteristics that describe a great follower–clear, obedient, servants, humble, and loyal. If any of those terms make you cringe or cry, “politically incorrect,” try to withhold judgment until you’ve actually read what Michael says about each of the characteristics.

Leaders and Followers–Not an Either-Or Proposition

Can you be both a leader and a follower? Maybe not simultaneously, but I believe you can be both at different times or in different circumstances. For example, if your job requires you to lead a team that’s tasked with achieving a challenging goal, you’d better be the best leader you possibly can in that situation.

On the other hand, if you’re a member of your company’s executive management team, you need to be good at taking direction and acknowledging the leadership of someone else. Of course, you’re also contributing value to the team, and that is likely to be as a leader in one sense (of your team or organization)–just not the leader of the executive management team.

Do you absolutely have to be a leader? No. Some people are happy and fulfilled as followers and make a great contribution in that role. There’s nothing wrong with that. The important point is being happy as a follower. An unhappy follower, especially one who really wants to be a leader, is not a desirable situation. If that describes you, I strongly recommend exploring what it would take to position you as a good leader (maybe even a great one) and then taking steps to get there.


Career Management & Time Management–How They Mesh

You might consider yourself a savvy career manager and still miss the boat if you actually aren’t using your time wisely. Before you say, “Who, me? I’m a great time manager!” take a few minutes to evaluate yourself honestly. Maybe you’re not doing quite as well as you think in that regard.

Difference Between Career Management and Time Management

In my view, here’s a concise version of both these concepts–you might have a different view:

  • Career management: A well-thought-out plan for a healthy career with progressive action steps to be taken that help you get where you want to go and stay where you want to stay. (This includes planning and conducting a successful job search when that’s your goal.) Note the mention of “well-thought-out” and “action steps.” The two need to go together–and will, if you’re doing it effectively.
  • Time management: A plan that relies on careful organization and execution of tasks (“to do” items) within a fairly specific time-frame. As you probably know, any number of systems and approaches have been presented by “experts” to guide people like you in achieving successful time management. If you’re not doing well at this, it must be because you’re doing something wrong, right? Perhaps, but not necessarily.

Productivity and Time/Career Management

As noted, I believe you need to combine (mesh) career management and time management in the most effective way in order to be truly productive with both of them. I don’t know about you, but I feel as if I’m constantly seeking new and better ways to be more productive in my business and personal life. Because I’m a human being, not Wonder Woman, I sometimes come up short of that goal. Maybe you have, too. If so, you might find it worthwhile to read an article I came across today by Janet Choi, titled “4 Ways You’re Lying to Yourself About Being Productive.”

Choi’s article offers 4 self-deceiving views of productivity and a possible solution to each one (listed only briefly below–read the article for more detail):

  1. Lie #1: My Day’s Full of Activity, So I Must Be Super Productive. Solution: Use a “Done” list rather than a “To Do” list.
  2. Lie #2: Please, I’m a Multitasking Master. Solution: Practice single focus; try to concentrate on just one task at a time.
  3. Lie #3: Schedule, Schmedule! I Go With the Flow. Solution: Get into rhythms instead of timetables–replace itemized tasks with higher-level goals.
  4. Lie #4: No Worries! I’ll Do it Tomorrow. Solution: Find an accountability ally to help you overcome that pesky foe of productivity: procrastination.

Will this make a positive difference in your career management and time management success? Hey, it couldn’t hurt, and it might just help. When you really make the most of your time, instead of just kidding yourself, you could also find your career management planning becoming much more effective and…well, productive.

To briefly summarize: Mesh your career management and time management activities so they move you toward ongoing achievement of your career goals, instead of spinning your wheels and deluding yourself into thinking you’re really accomplishing something worthwhile.


Career Success: Damage Control vs. Smart Choices

How can you damage your career? Let me count the ways! (Apologies to poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning!)

It’s not hard to imagine a number of actions you might take (or not take) that could interfere with your ongoing career success. For example, you might say something you shouldn’t or to someone you shouldn’t, do something non-verbal that aggravates someone you don’t want to aggravate, miss a critical deadline without letting your boss know there’s trouble until too late…. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Two Approaches You Can Take

What it boils down to is that you have two approaches to consider: (1) Figure out how you can try to do damage control after-the-fact. (2) Make smart choices before the situation blows up in your face.

Of course, you could run into a situation you honestly couldn’t have anticipated. However, I suspect that scenario is relatively rare. In most cases, if you find yourself struggling to handle an unfortunate and possibly career-destroying challenge, it’s because you selected approach #1 to dealing with potential issues. I don’t recommend that!

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt Your Career

Alison Green has written an article titled “5 Things You Didn’t Know Could Hurt Your Career.” In it she talks about several not too obvious ways in which you could damage your career success:

  1. Staying too long at one job. (She says something between 8 years and 20 years is the zone you might want to be careful about).
  2. Being too good at something you don’t like. (Focus on getting great at something you really like.)
  3. Not speaking up when you disagree with the boss. (Strive to work for someone who’s not looking for “yes-men.”)
  4. Recommending someone for a job as a favor to them. (Remember, if they’re not really well qualified, it’s your reputation and career that could be on the line.)
  5. Not going to workplace social events, ever. (That doesn’t mean you dance with a lampshade on your head at the office Christmas party!)

What Alison is basically saying–and what the main point of this post is–is that most of the time, you hold the keys to your career success and have the power to maintain a positive path. It’s up to you as to how you choose to manage your career; however, damage control versus smart choices isn’t really an option in my book. As has been said before, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

If you get hit by something you couldn’t have anticipated, you will at least know that you’ve done your best all along to maintain a healthy career. No shame in that. On the other hand, if you get run over by a train you should have seen coming and avoided, too bad. You probably won’t get much sympathy in that case!