YOU CAN BE HAPPY. Over the years, we’ve seen thousands of CCB students move from less than glamorous roles to careers they love. At some point, almost all of those people felt like you do: stuck, with no obvious solution to get unstuck. They couldn’t fathom starting over.
Their barriers to happiness sounded like this:
“I don’t want to go back to school. I’m still paying off loans from the first time around!”
“I’m too old and I’ve worked too hard to start at the bottom of any company. I can’t take the pay cut. I have too much pride for that.”
“Would I like to consider another industry? Sure, but I don’t have any skills for that.”
“I don’t love my job, but I can’t bear the thought of throwing away all my years of experience.”
Sound familiar? Well, what our CCB students soon found out is that exactly ZERO of those excuses are valid. When you move to a happier career, it doesn’t mean you have to start over. Your past career experience can help you figure out what pieces you have (examples: flexibility, working with great people, supportive boss, etc) that you want to keep and then sub out the stuff you don’t want! Figure out what’s missing, and then substitute what you don’t want for more of what you do want.
Most people believe they need experience or schooling to make a massive change, and that’s certainly a (potentially long, difficult, and expensive) path to happiness. However, we have a different route that saves time and money.
You can get unstuck WITHOUT:
going back to school
starting at the bottom
surrendering your experience
Your Step-by-Step Path to Getting Unstuck and Loving Your Career
Most people fall into 1 of 2 categories:
- They say, “I just need someone to help me articulate my skills and experiences and make them transferable and help me with my LinkedIn profile and resume.”
- Or they think they need 5 years of new experiences before they can find a role they really want to be in.
The first one isn’t how it works in reality, and the second usually isn’t true either. Career change is hard, but so is staying in a job that’s not a great fit.
If it’s going to be hard either way, you might as well choose to move toward a career you could love.
(Settling never gets easier.)
Consider Laura’s story:
From the outside, someone looking at my resume would be impressed, but I hated it. I wasn’t proud of anything I’d been doing because I wasn’t happy doing it. It didn’t mean I didn't understand there were impressive things on there, but it didn’t feel like me or impressive to me because I didn’t like the process of doing it. That lack of confidence is tied into that anxiety of trying to figure it out. What if there is nothing for me? What if I’m always unhappy at my job?
Hear that fear? Listen to what she has to say after her career change:
I'm happy at work, I'm challenged at work, I’m proud of the work I'm doing and lessons I’m learning. That’s counter to the state I was in before, where I was getting down on myself for not making a change. It impacted the rest of my life because I was feeling a loss of confidence, loss of motivation, and general discouragement overall.
We helped Laura use her existing skills, experience, knowledge, and degree to make a transition into something new. We also helped her identify what she already had that she was unwilling to give up. This usually includes flexibility that allows you more family time or a great salary.
We call these priorities “Career Keepers.”
Here’s what the math looks like for your ideal career transition:
Existing Experience + Career Keepers + Missing Must Haves = Your Ideal Transition
At Happen to Your Career, We use a tool we call the “Ideal Career Profile.” The Ideal Career Profile helps career changers define unique expectations, skills, and desires. We only focus on those areas that they enjoy immensely or those that complement what they want to move into.
We do this because people’s skills, experience, and knowledge is far, far more transferable than they realize.
Don’t Fall Prey to the Sunk Cost Fallacy
Consider Jenny’s story: Jenny was a research scientist. Even though Jenny was dissatisfied with her job and knew she needed a role where she could teach and share her love of investigation and science, she felt compelled to stay in her role.
I didn’t want to let down my family (which is full of scientists and academics), my advisor, my professors, my peers, and other women in science. I felt like I needed to live up to their expectations and fulfill the investment we all made in this research track.
Can you see the emotion in these statements? Behavioral economists have a name for this phenomenon. It’s called the sunk cost fallacy.
The sunk-cost fallacy points out that it really doesn’t matter what happened in the past or where you invested or didn’t invest. This has no real bearing on your reality in the future; it only FEELS like it does. These feelings and emotions makes us do things that don’t make any sense.
Here’s an example close to home:
My father-in-law just recently retired as a cabinet maker and general contractor, so I helped him post his tools and equipment on Craigslist. Over the years, he had accumulated a lot of equipment, and originally, he paid top dollar for it. For example, he had a $3500 planer that he bought 20 years ago. He had a lot of offers for it at $800, $1000, and $1200, but he said that he’d rather haul it to the dump and set it on fire than sell it for less than what (he felt) it was worth.
Of course, that makes no rational sense. He should accept the $1200 instead of setting it on fire, but that’s the type of thing that we do as humans. We don’t always behave rationally.
In Jenny’s case, she felt like she had achieved a lot, not just for herself but also for women by working in male-dominated areas of research science. For this reason, it was important to her that she was still getting to use much of her background as a scientist. At the same time, she had experience as a teacher and knew she loved that more.
So how then do you combine all of these needs, feelings, and wants along with reality?
In the end, Jenny accepted a role leading a university’s scientific outreach programs.
Here are the steps Jenny took to find career happiness:
- We helped Jenny identify what she’s great at and what’s most important to her.
- We then helped her use this information to build an initial list of organizations.
- She began the process of getting to know the people in these organizations.
The difference in our approach is that YOU have total ownership. YOU are the person seeking out the organizations (not them seeking out candidates). YOU are the one deciding if they stay on the list or get removed.
It’s backwards from the conventional approach almost everyone uses to find their jobs where you submit a resume and hope to receive a callback.
If you’re doing what almost everyone else is doing to get their next role, you’re going to get what almost everyone else is getting: a job that doesn’t fit as well as you’d hope.
But How Can You Tell if Your Career Goal is Impossible?
When it comes to role changes, some career coaches use a ranking system for difficulty. For instance, if you swap industries, that’s one level of difficulty. Looking to swap industries and jobs? That’s a deeper level. Adding in a potential move to a new city or state? According to these (wrong) coaches, your dreams may need to die…
These career coaches drive me crazy. The best coaches don’t show you obstacles; they show you a path to opportunities. I want to share four stories of successful career changes that just might blow your mind. Keep reading for the 4 most common types of career transitions.
The Bridge Job
Jason: I just started a new role where I oversee how we sell our products and how delivery takes place. As part of the product offerings, there is a big focus on training. I have a couple training developers under me putting together e-learning and training guides, and then training our consultants. I run that portion of the business.
This is a great role for me. It allows me to develop skills to branch out on my own. I know this is a shorter term game—I know I’ll move on to something on my own. It’s a good gig along the way.
Here’s how Jason landed the good gig:
- Jason figured out that his current job was no longer a great fit, and that he wanted to create an experiment to figure out if he should be running his own business.
- He had an honest conversation with his boss and told them that he would likely be leaving in the next 6 months. At the same time, he suggested that he work on a project that would benefit the company. His boss thought this was a great idea and temporarily shifted part of his role to that project.
- Jason began looking outside the company for potential jobs that would be helpful in getting him to his own business.
- He also continued to have open conversations with his boss about what he was interested in and where he saw opportunities for those interests to benefit the company.
- Jason learned he was actually really enjoying the project he was working on and asked his boss if it could be his full time job, pitching the results that they were getting as solid evidence to help him create his own position.
- Several months later, Jason had himself a bridge job that was perfectly designed and created with him in mind.
The Same Career, But BETTER
Tanya: I work with Wanderlust, which started as a yoga studio but now produces festivals and events throughout the world. I can’t say I was lucky because it took a lot of hard work and perseverance. I got myself into a position where I am now part of the production team bringing Wanderlust into Europe and the United Kingdom. It’s full steam ahead.
Here’s how Tanya got the train moving:
- She clarified what she actually wanted. She worked with our team to do this over a few weeks but paired down her search to producing events for a company that she felt in tune with the mission.
- With new clarity, she began building a list of her ideal companies
- Next, she used LinkedIn and Gmail to reach out to people that were in her network that appeared to have a connection to these organizations.
- Tanya leveraged the power of introductions.
- Then she conducted test drive conversations.
- The top company on her list was Wanderlust. Tanya learned through her test drive conversations that they needed an events person. Since she was already in contact with the organization, it was easy to simply continue the conversation and ask how she could be considered for the role.
- She went through an informal interview process and both she and Wanderlust felt like it was an amazing fit.
The Location Changer
Rebecca: This is about finding what is my best fit for my skills. This is about finding the next best step in my career for me to be successful, where the average person might put in 100% and get 100% back, but maybe I put in 100% and get 150 to 200% back because I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do. That’s what I'm looking for here… What's most important is I focus on finding this, the next best step for me.
Here’s how Rebecca made it happen:
- We initially helped her define what she really wanted.
- She originally anticipated that she wouldn’t want to continue to practice law, but we realized that many of the things she wanted could be achieved by simply making a location and company change.
- She began having conversations with people working on the West Coast in California—where she wanted to end up.
- She also began finding organizations that needed her skill set and experiences.
- She made a list and began both reaching out to and applying to those organizations. A lot of this took place over the phone since she couldn’t simply go to coffee with people living across the country.
- Since she focused only on the location and organizations she knew she was interested in, she began having her conversations and interviews relatively quickly.
- By focusing on this small pool, when she received her job offer, she already knew that it would be a great fit.
The Industry Crossover
Louise: I'm a commercial manager. I just started working for a great company, actually a radio station here in Australia. It's a completely different industry than I've worked in before.
Here’s how Louise describes her transition:
For me, there was a couple of key buckets. When you look at the culture of a company and the location, you know whether there is a different type of industry and whether flexibility plays a part.
I started talking about where I wanted to go, and one lady asked me to create a pitch. Lisa worked with me to create this five or six-page deck that would explain who I am and what I want very succinctly and effectively. All these things really helped me sell myself better in the interview but also helped me recognize that I didn’t want to work here anymore.
And so at the end of last year, this opportunity came up at a radio station. It's a different vibe. I've gotten into a situation now where I ticked off five of my main boxes of what I need including company, location, and the culture. The culture at the radio station is amazing and everyone's friendly. This sounds so small, but I was in the kitchen making myself a cup of tea and people were coming up introducing themselves saying, “Welcome, we haven't seen you before.” Whereas in past companies I've been in a situation where people are just walking past each other without smiling.
Tanya changed countries AND industries at the same time. Rebecca and Louise changed locations and industries. Jason ended up creating his own job and now also has a startup working with some partners on top of it.
What does that mean for you?
Don’t ever let someone tell you something is impossible.
Why You’re Stuck and Why You *Think* You’re Stuck Are Very Different Reasons
The reasons you think you’re stuck and the reasons you’re actually stuck are two completely different things. That said, people’s perception of being stuck is enough to stop them from continuing to try.
There are two kinds of career changers:
Group 1 says, “I’m going to make this work for me.”
Group 2 says, “I hope this will work out for me.”
That difference revolutionizes the experience and the pace of success. It’s not just about having the right mindset at the time of entry, though. For Group 2, it’s about training yourself to become the type of person who says, “I’m going to make this work for me.” And for Group 1, it means pushing yourself to stay in that mindset.
You have to train and practice to feel like you have more control over your life. When you feel like you have more control, you find more ways to influence your life.
Here’s why people *think* they are stuck:
What’s stopping me is “having the actual face-to-face connections.”
I’m “waiting for financials” to start a business
“No one’s offered me a job.”
“Lack of time”
What do you notice about all of them? Each person is focusing on events that are external to them that they can’t control.
On the other hand, people who are rapidly progressing toward their goals often place their focus on things that they CAN control or influence.
In our research, this shows up in statements like:
“I’m the only thing stopping me right now.
“I’m working on figuring out where I can be an asset to companies.”
“Clarity in what it is I desire.”
Even though these statements are still about being stuck or what’s stopping them from moving forward, they are inwardly focused.
Scientists and psychologists call this inward or external focus your “locus of control” This means if you are more inward focused, you believe you have higher control or influence over most of the situations in your life. If you are external focused, you believe much of what comes your way is determined by external forces.
Want to know the crazy thing? People that believe they can influence a situation are often the ones that do. People who don’t believe they have influence waste their time and energy waiting on external factors.
3 Ways to Unstuck Yourself
So here’s what it all comes down to. We recommend three steps to getting yourself unstuck:
- Practice feeling in control.
- Recognize when you are blaming external factors for your situation. Reframe your circumstance from an internal lens and believe you WILL change your career for the better.
- Develop a plan.
- Follow the steps Justin, Tanya, Rebecca, and Louise followed. There are tips all over our blog for making connections, designing experiments, and defining your desires.
- Build momentum. One small action per day will move you forward.
- You must keep moving. Every time you get a small victory—the scheduled interview, narrowed focus on companies, conversation with a potential coworker—you must celebrate and keep going. (Here’s a post on momentum.)
If any of these steps are too much on your own, get help. Whatever you do, don’t stay stuck.
Life is too short to be unhappy with aspects of your work and your career. If you don’t know what to do, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.