How to Change Careers When You Are Stuck

by Jeff Hittner

Ivy Jeff.jpg

Building a 21st-century career requires GAME: Growth Mindset, Accountability, and Micro-Experiments.

Every Friday afternoon, the same refrains circle around the world (ok, around your cubicle).

“I hate my job.”

“This work feels meaningless.”

“Should I quit my job without a safety net?”

“I can’t keep doing this for the next 20 years.”

“I don’t want my bosses’ job.”

Yes, you’ve been saying it out loud to yourself (thanks Siri!). So you know what comes next: that exciting weekend when you commit to updating your resume and actively looking online. You see a world of possibility. There are some amazing roles out there!

But then miserable Monday returns, and after dropping your resume into the black hole that is every company’s online application process, you’re settling back into frustration. “Does LinkedIn really need to tell me I’m the 86th person interested in this role?!”

The unfortunate truth about career change is now staring you in the face: you won’t find a job you love by looking for one.

Wait, what? New jobs, and especially career changes, don’t magically happen through a Muse.com application or a resume writing course. No, to build a 21st-century career requires GAME: Growth Mindset, Accountability, and Micro-Experiments.

This search is about launching your career transformation and it needs the vision to match it.

Growth Mindset:

First and foremost, a growth mindset helps you push aside that question your grandmother first asked you many decades ago: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s not about the what. It’s about the who. Instead of focusing in on a vision of what you do throughout your career, envision who you intend to be as a person and how a job could complement that vision of yourself.

We’re not born to be an accountant or an a@$hole. That is the most basic philosophy behind growth mindset: our abilities can be developed, our brains are malleable and talent is merely a starting point.

When we believe we’re capable of a different career story, amazing things can happen. But it begins with shifting our mindset to consider the meaning and purpose of career itself. Here are some important questions to consider in this process:

  • What values are core to who I am?

  • When am I my best self?

  • What are the ‘must-have’ life experiences I aspire to live out over the next 3-5 years? (For example, becoming a yoga instructor, opening up a surfing lodge in Costa Rica, running a marathon, writing a book). How will these impact the types of jobs I am considering in my search?

  • What are the areas of my character I want to explore? (For example, building great relationships, solving intractable problems, helping disadvantaged people, etc.)

By focusing on the who rather than the what, we also dramatically expand the number of roads available to us on our journey.

Second, when we’re looking to change jobs – particularly into something more meaningful – we tend to narrow down our search to roles that we imagine will provide us with the perfect balance of autonomy, riches, and impact. Let us burst your bubble here: these jobs won’t appear in your search. They are attainable, but through grit, hustle and time – time spent learning in a role or building something that’s yours. 

Even more honestly, you need to look at how the goals you’re seeking out actually change when you find fulfilling work.

Related: How our relationship to money transforms with fulfilling work

To start reimagining what’s actually possible in your specific career situation, look at these sets of tradeoffs:

  • Money vs Impact

  • Time vs Money

  • Job security vs opportunity

  • Risk vs Fulfillment

Plotting these tradeoffs is as much about looking backward as forward. See where you’ve been before deciding where you are going. You’ll discover with many of these variables you’ve never spent more than a few moments in “perfect equilibrium.” 

The earlier you look at your tradeoffs, the bigger the benefit will be. Recognizing what you want to prioritize will again widen the aperture of the roads you will consider following.

Accountability:

There is no GAME without a second player. Accountability ensures you have someone in the game with you, helping you make progress every single day.

Changing careers is a journey. Sometimes the journey is easy, but most of the time life gets in the way. You have commitments, responsibilities, workload, that 7 pm conference call, and simple inertia all putting brakes on your desire to change. So you need to move through this process with ‘an accountabila-buddy,’ a person who can keep you accountable to the goals you set for yourself.

Changing careers is a journey. Sometimes the journey is easy, but most of the times life gets in the way.

It shouldn’t take you long to think of someone else that wants to make a change. Text them and have them hold you accountable. Set up a plan. Maybe you’ll meet up in person one evening a week to work on this together. Maybe you’ll share the three small steps you’re committing to before the end of the month. Develop a structure you can commit to with this person and support one another through the ups and downs of this journey. One option: CommitTo3, a goal-tracking app you can use with an accountabila-buddy.

When you are on the hunt for meaningful work, it’s not about the job. It’s about the people. And you need to meet lots of them. A friend and mentor in our program offers a great example of how to have the courage to put yourself out there. She was ready to leave her role so she went into her list of contacts going back five years and sent a vulnerable email to over 200 people with the title “I need your help.” She articulated that she was stuck and needed names of people (friends, friends of friends, etc.) that were doing work in one of three areas that interested her.

The response was amazing:

“I heard back from over 60 people (I hadn’t spoken to some of them in years). They were so open to supporting me. Even the ones that had no names to offer provided encouragement, compliments, and their own ideas. This process led me to the employer I have today.”

Micro-Experiments:

Thanks to Hollywood, we believe in the myth that we can create change overnight or through giant leaps. This myth ensures we’re successfully paralyzed by inaction and fear. If you had to quit your job tomorrow, would you find a new one you love the day after? Probably not. And where would you even start? So instead of doing something, we don’t do anything, because giant leaps feel incredibly scary (as they should).

Contrary to popular advice that wants you to “quit your job and follow your passion,” we don’t recommend this approach. No one ever succeeded alone or overnight. We repeat. No one ever succeeded alone or overnight.

The better analogy to how change or success in a new area actually happens is by climbing up a staircase. Each step, however tiny, is progress. And the staircase is long. 

Knowing this, how do we approach changing careers? We start with micro-experiments, the smallest possible steps you can take to test out a new direction. Let’s imagine that you want to quit your job and open a cake-pop (cake on a stick!) specialty bakery but the thought of actually doing it sounds overwhelming. 

The smallest possible steps in this direction could look like this:

  • Bake 30 cake-pops over a long weekend.

  • Invite five friends over and have them bring five friends you don’t know.

  • Give a demonstration of your cake-pop and get their feedback.

  • Ask for suggestions where you could set up a simple pop-up stand.

  • See if people would buy them.

Run this small test before doing anything else (and definitely before turning in your notice). The micro-experiment gives you instant feedback, positive reinforcement, and renewed energy to take another small step.

All our micro-experiments have something in common. They MUST involve others. Research is not a micro-experiment. It can be an interim step, but a micro-experiment requires feedback (directly or indirectly).

Building a 21st-century career is within your reach.

We all have a yearning to feel fulfilled in our jobs. A 21st-century career has an impact, meaning, autonomy, and purpose (and pays the bills as well!). This tall order is certainly possible, but to get there you got to have GAME.

Consider which area of GAME you are most hesitant to attack first? It’s important to spend a little time understanding why, but even more important to get some momentum, so begin with one of the other two focus areas first. Share your thoughts with us as you take action!