How to Successfully Navigate a Career Transition

I am often asked by my career coaching clients how to best navigate a successful career transition. In other words, how can you pursue your dream job while remaining practical and fulfilling your everyday needs and responsibilities? My job as a certified career counselor is to assure you that, like many others I’ve already assisted, I can put your fears aside as you journey down the path to greater career satisfaction.

Realize it’s a process.

When it’s time to make a change, people understandably get antsy and sometimes anxious. Change is scary for us. The fear of the unknown can leave us stuck in fear or anxiety. Know that this is okay, and that the discomfort you’re experiencing is actually a good sign, because it means you are making a change and starting to step outside your comfort zone towards a more fulfilling career path.

Amidst the anxiety, there is typically also a sense of excitement. You’re ready to make the change so let’s get to it! Embrace that motivation, tap into it to keep you moving forward, AND realize that this is a process that can take some time. Be willing to be patient with it, and with yourself. The more patient you are, the more opportunities and ideas can flow to you and the more open you will be to them. So when that impatience about wanting to move forward more quickly rears its ugly head… use it as a motivator, not a force that will push you into a decision more quickly than you are comfortable with just because you want it to be over.

Develop a transition plan.

Of course you’d create a transition plan to help you move through other changes in your life… right? Makes practical sense. Yet sometimes we get so excited and caught up in the moment that we tell ourselves we’re going to outline a step-by-step process and then quickly forget about it as we’re so busy reacting to whatever is happening around us.

Before you can move past the point of vague possibilities and enter the throes of a serious career change, you MUST develop a plan so you are covered in the financial, mental, and emotional aspects of your life and your future. The basics of your career transition plan should look something like this:

1. Financial. Taking care of your bills, yourself and your family, and any other obligations. Making cutbacks where necessary; starting a savings plan that’s devoted entirely to your new professional endeavor. These are just a few of the many ways to keep your finances in order while you restructure your life.

2. Mental. Coming up with ways you can keep those negative voices at bay. Developing a plan for learning the skills you may need in your new career. Rewarding yourself for milestones achieved along the way. This is a time for encouragement, confidence, and a can-do attitude, and it helps to “feed your hungry mind” what it needs to help you grow, spiritually, intellectually, and professionally.

3. Emotional. Identify ways to overcome the fears you may have. You’ll need a cheerleader to help you continue on and move past the potential obstacles in your way. Find or ask for emotional support from friends, family, or a career coach who can help steady your course as you make the transition in your career and life.

Set goals.

When the time comes to set goals… make sure they are specific, tangible, measurable and include a time frame. Your goals should be realistic, and also a stretch so you’re pushing yourself beyond what you’d normally do in order to move forward.

Take care of yourself.

Again, transition can be stressful, no matter what kind it is. Make sure you take care of yourself, especially during this time. Physical exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep and maintaining balance in your life are all things to consider and pay attention to when you’re navigating an adjustment in your life. Make sure you also schedule time to have fun. Often we leave out that part of the equation… and enjoying ourselves along the journey is the best part of all.

Remain or become financially stable.

Before I work with someone on changing career paths, I talk to them about their financial situation. It’s hard to dream and plan for the future when you’re heavily focused on or worried about paying the bills. While it’s important to dream about your career possibilities, you need to be practical as well. What are your options for becoming financially stable? Perhaps you can stay in your current position and work on the next career step after hours, or find a part-time job that pays the bills and allows you greater freedom to pursue your passion. Another option is to begin to set aside savings that will allow you to cover six to twelve months of living expenses. Remember, this process can take time. It took me about three years from leaving my full-time position to creating a full-time coaching practice. I encourage you to start now!

Dream first.

While financial stability is the foundation of your future, you also need to do some dreaming here. Therefore, once you have a plan to meet your basic financial needs, it’s time to take off your Practical Hat, put on your Dreaming Glasses – and dream big.

When I work with career clients, I ask them to dream first and worry about the specific logistics of how they’re going to make the change later on. What I find is that people tend to focus so much on the practical side of “how will I make this work” that they squash any creative idea or thought that may have merit – or may lead them to something they’d love to do. While practicality is important, it can also be limiting so notice when you’re getting too caught up in the practical side and not doing enough brainstorming or dreaming. Ideas are expansive and can be “trimmed and shaped” later to fit into your personal scheme as needed. So… before you set a new career plan in motion, you’ve got to start with the dream and then brainstorm ways to make it a reality. So what is your dream?

Share your dream or plans with those who’ll be supportive.

If there are people in your life who tend to be negative, point out why you shouldn’t do something or can’t, or something along these lines-wait a little while to tell them your dream. Sometimes holding back until you’re really solid in your dream is the best way to go. Share it with people who are going to be positive and supportive… who’ll inspire and encourage you.

All the best for a rewarding and fulfilling career doing what you love!

Copyright 2006 Hallie Crawford. All rights reserved.