Wake-up Call: Adopt a tourist’s approach to changing careers

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Wake-up Call: Adopt a tourist’s approach to changing careers

Instead of turning your career upside down, what if you learn one new skill?

 

Jon Acuff

There’s no perfect age to try a career change – and no imperfect one, either

There’s no perfect age to try a career change – and no imperfect one, either

 

What if you’re 10, 15, or 20 years down a career path and want to try something new? Not because you’re miserable, but just because you’re curious? Not because you’ve failed at your current job, but because you wonder if you could succeed at a new one?

I’ve spent the last 16 years trying to answer these questions. While I was working with big companies like Home Depot, Bose and Staples, I started to wonder why people at companies like those don’t seem to think they can change their careers midstream.

So to dig deeper into how we look at changing jobs, I created an online assessment at CareerSavingsAccount.com. People who took it consistently reported that they couldn’t make a mid-career change because:

– They’re too old.

– A career change would turn their whole life upside down.

– They don’t know the perfect thing to do next.

– They’re too far down their current career path to change.

– They won’t be good at the new career.

That first concern is easy to address. People in their 20s tell me they can’t chase a career dream because they don’t have enough experience yet. Then they get the experience, enter their 30s and 40s, and tell me they’re too old to chase a career dream. The truth is: there’s no perfect age to try a career change – and no imperfect one, either.

But what about concerns 2-5? The solution to all four is actually the same. If you want to move to a new career, you have to be a tourist first.

The problem is that, if we’ve had a little success in our careers or a little stability, we get comfortable. We might have the itch to try something new, but we want that new thing to deliver instantly the same exact amount of comfort we’re enjoying in the old thing.

And here’s the bad news: It won’t. Trying something new is always uncomfortable at first. It’s supposed to be.

We think we should be immediate experts and the minute we realise we’re not is the minute the discomfort shows up, we think we’ve made the wrong decision. What if instead of running back to our previous career in those moments, or not even trying in the first place, we acted like tourists?

– Tourists start small. Tourists don’t move to Paris forever, they visit. For a week or two. They don’t turn their whole lives upside down overnight. They start with one simple idea, “I’d like to see France” and then they build from there.

Instead of turning your career upside down, what if you just tried to learn one new skill?

– Tourists aren’t afraid to ask for help. When you travel abroad, you ask strangers for advice. You’re not embarrassed to reach out for help. What if the first step in your career change was simply asking someone for advice? Find someone doing something you’re curious about and ask for a book recommendation. Take a friend who is 10 years ahead of you on a path you want to travel out for coffee. Ask for help.

– Tourists don’t feel bad about being amateurs. The first time I went to Paris I stayed in the “Peace and Love” hostel. I put my backpack in the shared luggage space. My Walkman promptly got stolen with one of my favourite mix tapes in it. Know what I did the second time I travelled abroad? I paid for a locker. I wasn’t a great traveller at first because I had never done it. I was a tourist, not an expert. You won’t be an expert at your new career idea either. It will take time. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.

– Copyright Harvard Business Review 2015

Jon Acuff is the author of “Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work & Never Get Stuck.”

Previously published in The Irish Times.

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