Should I Give Up On My Career Switch?

In my experience, most switchers give up on their career dreams too early or for the wrong reasons. Here are some of the causes I’ve noticed:

  1. Burnout and frustration from engaging traditional job search strategies that aren’t designed for a career changer (e.g., online applications).
  2. Pressure from naysayers who aren’t able to visualize the change or are envious that you’re doing what they fear to do themselves.
  3. Imagined obstacles that result from your brain trying to protect you from risks.
  4. An unrealistic expectation of quick or easy results.
  5. Not knowing where to begin or getting stuck along the way.

We’re all human, so these reasons are understandable, but none are worthy of standing between you and your professional dream. There are resources to help including books, career coaches, podcasts and network contacts. Like any lofty goal, you’ll get farther with support than if you try going it alone, so ensure that you’ve built this into your strategy.

If you’ve been struggling with whether or not it’s time to revise or abandon your career switch strategy, asking yourself these questions will help:

  • Are you deciding based on emotions or based on data? Truth be told, all decisions have a component of emotions in them since the amygdala plays a role, and then we usually rationalize our choices by selecting data that fit the decision. Humans are master rationalizers, which makes answering this question tough. However, if you’re making decisions while sleep-deprived, burned out, after a tough rejection or even while hungry, it’s possible to come to an erroneous conclusion. Give yourself time to sleep on it, or even take a week or two off from your search and reassess.
  • Can you honestly say you’ve exhausted all of the paths? Based on the type of switch (industry, functional or both) and what’s happening in the market, certain career changes can take longer than others. Also, if you’re factoring in a cross-country relocation or moving into a very competitive field, these situations will impact the length of search. If resources are becoming a challenge (e.g., financial), it may be helpful to get objective feedback from a career coach or other non-involved party (sometimes family can be too emotionally invested) to check your assumptions.
  • Have you determined that your non-negotiables are more of a priority? In every career change, there are things that we gain, things that we lose, and things that remain neutral including factors such as status, compensation, schedule and autonomy. If you’re clinging to a non-negotiable, for example resisting a pay decrease, perhaps this change isn’t worth the sacrifice. Or maybe the search process is too lengthy or too much of a step back to be realistic. Only you can decide, but if the end result would be a fulfilling career with a draining lifestyle, that likely isn’t sustainable. Keep in mind that some changes may be temporary (e.g., less autonomy), so weigh this into your decision.
  • Have you determined this isn’t the best time to pursue a switch? There are certain realities in life, and often we have to prioritize. Starting a job that requires constant travel may not make sense with small children at home. Moving to a new location may not be feasible at the moment due to caring for an aging family member. This isn’t a reason to give up on your switch forever, and could actually be a perfect opportunity for you to begin to build skills and network contacts in your desired field in preparation for your future career switch.
  • Have you found another way to fulfill the desire? In some cases, you may find fulfillment outside of your day job, either though a hobby, volunteer opportunity or a side hustle. This may be a great way to maintain your professional identity and compensation, while gaining fulfillment though other avenues. In fact, turning an interest into a full-time job could backfire. Some hobbies become a burden, devoid of joy when they turn into the primary source of income. Clarity comes through action and this may be an important lesson to learn on the way to your switch. There are many ways to find meaning in life and not all of them stem from your day job.
  • Have you learned something about the switch that’s made it less desirable than originally thought? As you research your career switch, what seems like an ideal career on paper may be something else entirely in practice. Many positions are glamorized on television or on social media when in fact they require a lot of desk time, hotel time or overtime, none of which you realized when you initially pursued the role. Doing your market research will help you avoid this pitfall, and can also reveal some peripheral opportunities that may be more appealing.
  • Have you received clear messages that this is a long-shot? While many people will scoff at your career change idea, most have no idea what factors are really involved so be careful whose advice you pay attention to. However, if several people in the decision-making chair consistently point out key skills, certifications or credentials that are required (and you don’t have), you have a few choices: 1) find a way to earn those credentials no matter how long it takes, 2) modify your target to include a stepping stone career or an alternative position that incorporates similar types of work, or 3) hang a shingle to carve your own unique path to your goal. There are many roads to a destination, some harder than others, but if you are determined to find a way, you will.
  • Have you lost sight of your reason for the change? If you’ve been pursuing your switch diligently and unwaveringly for several months or even years and it’s not happening, it may be possible that time or contextual changes have shifted your priorities and you haven’t stepped back to fully evaluate it. When we’re focused, it’s easy to become myopic in our goal seeking, even when the result would no longer serve us. Be sure to check in with yourself (and the market) periodically to ensure you haven’t strayed off the course you intended.

While there is no one formula or indicator that can tell you the best path, thinking through these questions honestly and deeply will likely offer you some answers as to your next best step. And if you decide that making a switch isn’t the best plan for you right now, remember that you always have the ability to change your mind later. Many decisions that feel final are often not, and life has a way of presenting opportunities just at the right time if you keep your eyes and network open.

Happy hunting!

I started my corporate career as a recruiter, and over the past two decades have been helping job seekers attain great roles from the “other side of the desk” as a career coach. A Licensed Psychologist and Career Director for the Wharton MBA Program for Executives, I coach s…


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