Switchers Excerpt: 5 Mental Characteristics of Successful Switchers

Conquer Those Inner Demons!

Hirers aren’t the only people with distorted perceptions. We’re often our own worst enemies when it comes to the job search. Another favorite saying of mine is, “If that voice in your head were a friend, how long would the friendship last?” I’ll revisit a few additional mental characteristics that will help you defeat your brain’s attempts to thwart your career change efforts. When doubt and fear creep in, that little voice inside our head can be downright mean. And worse, we tend to believe it, even though we have no solid or consistent evidence that these messages are true.

  • You’re not ready.
  • You’ll look silly.
  • Are you crazy?
  • That is dumb.
  • You’re not worth that much.

The list goes on. Take a major risk, and your lizard brain defenses will kick in to try to “save you” from yourself. From an evolutionary perspective, change is dangerous—but on the other hand, if you can’t adapt, you die. Seth Godin wrote: “Fear used to keep our ancestors alive. Fear keeps you from taunting a saber tooth tiger. The thing is, most of us don’t have to deal with tigers any longer. But the fear still runs deep. We still feel the same feelings when we face possible failure, but now those feelings revolve around shame. Losing a videogame in private is fine, but asking a stupid question in a meeting is not.”18  Although our fear is trying to keep us safe, in modern society, it mostly serves to keep us stuck.

Here are the five mental characteristics that are universal among Switchers who attain success.

  1. Successful Switchers Have a Growth Mindset

Psychologist Carol S. Dweck defined a “growth mindset” as one where individuals believe that hard work and persistence can be engaged to enhance their abilities.19 Like people with an internal locus of control, they learn from feedback and believe that if they choose different behaviors, they will get different results. Individuals with a growth mindset take responsibility for their actions, and when they make a mistake or something doesn’t work as planned, they evaluate the situation and amend for next time. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe their abilities are static or innate and that practice or greater effort won’t make much difference. To maintain this belief, fixed mindset individuals have a desire to look competent, so they believe that failure is not an option. This leads to the avoidance of taking risks, seeking feedback, or trying new things, which means they give up more easily and usually fail to reach their full potential. Going through life with this mindset makes it taxing to accomplish anything, because it renders you powerless. When making a career switch, you will inevitably make mistakes. You’ll screw up, get rejected, and learn the hard way. Making a career switch takes what Angela Duckworth calls “grit,” that winning combination of passion and perseverance.20 If you are unwilling to trip up and embrace growth, you won’t get very far.

  1. Successful Switchers Don’t Compare Themselves to Others

Self-comparison is one of the most common cognitive distortions, and one that causes much misery. Whether it’s body image, wealth, or another status symbol, marketers are constantly eliciting our fear of not being enough to get us to use their products or services. When we’re attempting something new, we compare ourselves with the pros. We study their techniques, follow their suggestions, and model their actions. While this is a smart way to learn, it can also be demotivating if you start to compare your clumsy beginnings to their hard-earned competence. Don’t psych yourself out early in the process. Remember, just as we can always find someone who is better than us at something, we can also find someone who is worse. It all depends on what we search for.

  1. Successful Switchers Are Comfortable with Shades of Gray

All-or-nothing attitudes are damaging in the job search process. Sure, it’d be great if someone gave you a shot at a completely new career and let you keep your salary, earned vacation days, and the status perks you’ve built in your previous profession. But that’s unlikely, and if you’re thinking, “I want it all or it’s not worth it,” a major career switch may not be for you. There are no absolutes. No process works every time in every situation. One size does not fit all and there is no magic formula for success that doesn’t include some unknown factor (see Chapter One). Knowledge is learning the strategy. Wisdom is applying it correctly.

  1. Successful Switchers Don’t Fall Prey to the Fallacy of Fairness

Life is not fair. Really, it isn’t. It’s biased. The more energy you put into fighting for fairness, the less you’ll have for making a career switch, as Chapter Eleven will discuss. Is it fair that your dream company hired the traditional/younger/internal candidate? Is it fair that you’ve been putting your blood, sweat, and tears into this career change and it still hasn’t happened? Nope, not at all. But, it’s life. Stop pursuing “fair” and start figuring out how to succeed within the boundaries of reality. I once had a boss who worked very hard to treat everyone on the team “fairly.” Despite varying levels of competence, effort, and tenure, everyone had to adhere to the same standards and rules for the sheer reason of maintaining “fairness.” Guess what? The entire team thought this was unfair (especially the ones who had more tenure or felt they were top performers) and the strategy backfired. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder. It’s also like a mirage in the desert. Use your time for more fruitful pursuits.

  1. Successful Switchers Are Agile

To adapt is to survive and, like most worthwhile endeavors, a career switch rarely happens overnight. Being agile means evaluating the process, seeking feedback, making changes when needed, and above all staying positive in the face of adversity. You will be rejected. You will be disappointed. You may feel like giving up. Expect these feelings going in, create a strategy for dealing with them when they arise, and add them to your checklist as another to-do of being a Switcher. Jia Jiang, author of Rejection Proof, recommends reframing rejection and using it as your motivation.21 In fact, Jia made a career out of being rejected and set a goal to be rejected for a hundred days straight as a way of desensitizing himself to the sting of rejection.

Do you know what happened? He actually failed to get rejected in most cases, leading him to convince a bank to let him make paper airplanes from $100 bills, race bikes at Toys“R”Us, and fly a gyro plane among other crazy stunts! One of the key transferable skills for Switchers is an ability to be agile, so dig deep and engage this skill. Also, learn when to alter your approach and when to stick with it. This is tough to discern at times. When a strategy isn’t working, some people jump to amend it too quickly, before even giving it a chance to start showing benefit. Others hold onto a useless tactic for far too long, afraid to cut their losses and try something different. If you get similar advice from several different people—for instance, if they say you need to get certified before employers will consider you—then it’s likely something to pay attention to and address. On the flip side, everyone will have an opinion—so be careful not to change your strategy with every piece of feedback. Follow the data, but also trust your intuition.

EXCERPT: From Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Successby Dawn Graham, published by AMACOM, an imprint of HarperCollins. Copyright © 2018 by Dawn Graham.

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