Businesswoman looking out window while seated at desk in office

Day in and day out you work hard, and dedicate yourself to something, but you’re not fulfilled, or worse, your dreams came true and it didn’t chalk up to all you thought it’d be. Now what?

I recently worked with a client, Maeghan, whose greatest aspiration was to become a manager at an acclaimed biotech company. This was a vision she had for herself 10 years down the road, and boom, it suddenly landed in her lap a year later. Instead of feeling joyful and excited in the role, it fell flat and left her with the thought, “Is this really it? Now what?”

Sound familiar? The good news is, there is a lot you can do to move forward and make a career change or pivot that is aligned with what you want. But there is one choice that you must avoid like the plague: remaining inactive. 

If you have wanted change for a while, you are stuck, and staying there isn’t going to help you feel any better. After all, you can’t think your way into clarity! It’s something that comes from action, be it hiring a coach like me, or talking to the right people in your life, for a breakthrough.

Sure, grabbing a glass of wine with a friend and venting about how much you dislike your job feels good in the moment, but it isn’t making the problem go away. You need to stop putting a bandaid on a broken arm and start taking steps forward to fix the problem.

Here are three things you need to start doing to make a career change that aligns with what you really want.

1. Conduct a self-audit.

Action is something that feels difficult to start, but like going to the gym, half the battle is walking through the door. The best way to begin is by taking brave microsteps forward that will help you realize that there are more paths available to you than you imagined.

One of the best microsteps you can take is to do a self-audit and ask yourself questions that will lead you to your truth:

  • What is working for you, and what isn’t?
  • What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
  • What are you good at, that you enjoy being good at?

As scary as it may seem, answering these sorts of questions will lead you to reconnect with yourself. The truth is, as a society, we are more disconnected and lonely than ever before. That isn’t just with other people, it is also within ourselves.

Move the self-audit beyond your thoughts by taking notice every day of what makes you physically feel uplifted, energized and expansive. If there are certain people, tasks or topics covered in your day that lift you up, begin to jot these down, without limiting it to workplace happenings. In my recent TEDx talk at Leiden University I discuss three key steps you can take to figure out what you really want. One involves doing a joy journal, this is an ongoing list of all the things in your life that bring you joy.  I suggest you begin journaling this list every day for a month.

Action Step: Take yourself on an audit date. Set a date and time on your calendar a month from now where you will review both the answers to these questions and the list of joyful moments you have been building. During this time, begin to notice any common themes that arise. Are most of your energized moments when you are talking with people, solving a problem or executing a task? Use this self-audit to review when you feel yourself expand versus contract.

2. Lean on others’ experiences to help you.

Most people will change careers 5-7 times throughout their lifetime, and with more than 12,000 career options available, there is no shortage of options or people to network with. It’s really about narrowing your options down, and one of the best ways to ensure you’re on the right track is through talking with people who are out there, doing work you are considering. These conversations are necessary because they’ll take you out of the fantasy and into the truth of the roles you’re interested in. Nonetheless, hold each person’s experience lightly as one person’s experience doesn’t define the reality of an entire job for everyone. Collect enough feedback to make a proper judgment call.

Part of this journey means being more open to basic conversations anywhere and everywhere. The next time you are standing in line at a cafe or the grocery store, consider chatting it up with the person next to you. People crave human connection, and if you are willing to give it to them, they will remember you and you’ll likely start to create what I like to call “intentional magic” which is the art of continually putting yourself out there, only to suddenly inspire great results in your career. When it comes to your career, fortune favors the chatty. After all, you never know who you might meet walking down the street when your face isn’t buried behind a phone screen.

You’ve likely heard the saying, “I was in the right place at the right time.” Well, start being there, physically and emotionally.

Action Step: Begin cold networking. Hop on LinkedIn and find 10 working professionals whose career path intrigues you. If possible, find their personal email and reach out to inquire about having a call or grabbing a cup of coffee to learn more about them. Bonus points if you do this with your fellow college alumni, who will find an immediate connection, and incentive to reply, as a result of  your mutual alma mater. This is the quickest way to get a clear view of what their job is actually like, and whether it fits with what you discovered about yourself during your self-audit.

3. Build accountability.

Building a career and life that brings you purpose and joy really does take a village. If you think you can do this alone, you are in for a wild awakening. The process of shifting careers isn’t necessarily smooth sailing, as you will want people in your corner rooting for you.

Data suggests that people are 65% more likely to meet a goal after committing it to someone else, and their chances increase to 95% if they build in ongoing meetings with their partners to track progress. Accountability works. So, find someone who can help you develop and stick to a concrete plan for making a change.

Action Step: Find an accountability partner. Reach out to someone and set up a recurring call or meeting to review your career change process. This could be a close friend, mentor or professional coach like myself. Be sure to stick with it, don’t let the meetings get canceled or fall off the calendar.

Maeghan worked through this process with me as her career coach, and was able to realize her passion wasn’t in management, but in building leadership teams. She used her management experience to rework her resume and pivot into a career path more aligned with her true values.

Making a career shift is a brave move. Be proud of yourself for being honest and willing to pursue something new. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself marinate any longer in thought. Get out there and start taking action.