5 Negative Beliefs About Career Change You Need to Drop
I’ve made three major career changes during my career. Each change was motivated by my desire to evolve my professional existence as my own interests and priorities evolved. And each change has also involved some sort of radical shift, either in job function, geography or the nature of my work, which ultimately allowed me to feel more satisfied and fulfilled.
However, stepping away from a linear, traditional career involves a lot of tradeoffs. Although each career change has always allowed me to spend more time doing work I truly enjoy, these changes also came with some cost and some loss: completely starting over, moving away from my friends and family, or walking away from a reputation I’d built.
Being comfortable with career change and being a peace with nontraditional professional decisions requires you to let go of certain beliefs that may have served you before. Here are five beliefs you may need to drop so you can feel comfortable relaunching your career.
1. "I Must Finish What I Started”
When I was in high school, I was a varsity tennis player. One of the first things you’re taught in competitive tennis is that you should never give up until the final point is scored. That you can always come from behind and still win no matter how far behind you are. Since then, I’ve always placed a lot of value in finishing what I started. The idea of quitting or throwing in the towel felt weak and noncommittal.
This desire to finish what I started is probably what kept me marching toward becoming a medical doctor after investing so many years into my pre-medical school journey. It wasn’t until the second week of medical school that I realized I had to walk away because medicine just wasn’t right for me. So I decided to quit and instead pursue a career in marketing.
If you want to make a career change, you have to let go of this idea that you must finish what you started. Walking away will inevitably involve leaving behind unfinished business. A carrot will always be dangling in the distance, whether that’s the next bonus, the next project milestone, or the next big promotion that’s just around the corner.
2. "Starting Over Equals Failure"
I’ve never been a fan of starting over. Starting over is frustrating. Starting over feels inefficient. And starting over can be depressing, especially if you’ve invested so many years into a particular path.
When I quit medical school, I actually felt like a complete failure. Like I had let down everyone in my family and myself by walking away from what could have been a reputable, admirable career as a doctor. However, starting over has often been worth it in my career. Whether it meant leaving medicine to pursue a career in marketing that I found much more stimulating or walking away from my first big corporate marketing role in the Bay Area to start a brand new, international life in London, which has been an incredibly enriching experience both personally and professionally.
If you want to pursue a different path in your career, you’ll need to get comfortable with the idea of starting from the beginning. While the next chapter of your career will certainly be built on the foundation of your past experiences, you'll need to be okay being a novice again. You’ll have to be okay with learning a whole new set of skills, building a new set of relationships, and adopting a totally different way of working.
3. "I Must Keep Up with My Peers"
When I landed my first big brand management role at a large, consumer packaged goods company, I joined the company as part of an annual cohort of MBAs who all started at the same time. Naturally, a lot of the water cooler talk seemed to focus on which person in our cohort was on deck to get promoted. You wanted to be that person, especially amidst the unspoken but well understood “up-or-out” philosophy common in corporate environments.
I think of myself as a competitive person across all aspects of my life, including my career. So when I hear about other people getting promoted, I’ll admit that sometimes, it leaves me wondering whether I’m “keeping up” with my peer group, especially since I now work for myself and don’t have clear measuring sticks for my professional progress.
If you want to step away from this idea of climbing the corporate ladder to make room for another pursuit that you would find much more fulfilling, you’ll need to let go of this idea that you have to stay in lock-step with your peer group. If you hang onto that need to have as fancy of a title as someone else, you may never step off that treadmill.
4. "My Salary Must Go Up"
When I was working in the corporate world, I caught myself thinking my salary was sort of like this measuring stick for my professional value and worth in the world. That environment also conditioned me to think this way. After all, the size of my end-of-year bonuses and salary increases were directly driven by my performance and potential within those organizations.
When I moved from the U.S. to the U.K. to move closer to my then girlfriend, now wife, I took a major hit to my salary, partly because marketing salaries are generally lower in the U.K., but partly because I had shifted from working at a well-established consumer packaged goods company in the Bay Area to a startup food company in London. Also, when I left my most recent brand management role to start my own career consultancy, my income took an initial dip as I was establishing my business.
I’ll admit, money is nice. Getting a big raise is nice. Landing an end-of-year bonus is nice. However, insisting that your salary must always go up could prevent you from changing gears to pursue work you find more meaningful because that may involve a salary decrease. Salary reductions are never pleasant, but stomaching this may be a necessary trade-off to make when you’re switching careers.
5. "I Should Only Apply to Jobs I’m 100% Qualified For"
I’ve been rejected from jobs where I thought I was the perfect candidate and performed well in the interview. I’ve certainly been rejected from jobs where I was an imperfect candidate.
However, in every single career change I’ve made, I had to apply for a role that initially seemed out of reach. After leaving the consulting world behind, I landed my first consumer packaged goods role by investing a tremendous amount of time preparing for the interviews and learning about the company. I landed my first marketing role in the UK only after hustling to build my understanding of local culture, retailer dynamics, and consumer shopping behavior. But I had to apply in order to even have a chance at landing these roles.
While your professional qualifications do matter, and you certainly need a baseline level of knowledge, experience, and expertise to be considered for a role, people do hire imperfect candidates. Especially those who demonstrate passion, thirst, and enthusiasm. It only takes one person to open a door for you.
Conclusion: Your Mindset Matters
Across all the career change I’ve made, the beliefs I held created the boundaries around the actions I took. Beliefs can limit you. Beliefs can also empower you. So the beliefs you choose to cling to, to drop, or to embrace will have a direct impact on which opportunities you pursue.
Career changes involve unconventional choices and unconventional paths. Therefore, letting go of conventional beliefs is not only helpful but necessary if you want to take the brave steps necessary to pursue work that takes your career in a rewarding new direction.