Knowing how to change your career without burning bridges is an invaluable skill these days. You might have been through a few iterations of your working life already. Or perhaps you're experiencing for the first time the feeling that what's next for you might look very different to what came before.
Whatever the circumstances, here's what you need to know about how to change career gracefully using the power of gradual transitions.
Finding your life's work is a journey
At BeFulfilled, our retreat all about finding fulfillment, we talk about your life's work. The work that you're here to do in the world, which is something I believe exists for every one of us.
And then, as a separate thing, there's how you currently make money.
Now, for some people, your life's work is what makes you money. These days I am fortunate to be in the blissful state where my life's work also feeds my family. It's a really lovely place to be – and there are many, many stages that have got me to here.
What I want you to recognize is that finding fulfilment, and choosing a career path, is a process. You can feel as though you know exactly what your life's work is, but it's potentially a two or three-year journey, or six to eight month journey, or decade-long journey even, to get the two lining up.
You might have a few "transition" steps where it moves a little bit closer, and then maybe just a little bit closer.
And then finally you get to full alignment, where your life's work is what makes you money, and even then that can change and flow and shift. It's a process – and enjoying and embracing that process is part of our growth.
Creating a map that works for you
I want to give you an example of what this "transition" process looks like in practice. Because if you want to change your career without burning bridges it can be really easy to point at where you want to go and say "I can't do that. I don't have the first clue about it".
The key thing to realise is: That doesn't have to stop you from setting out on the journey.
A process of change
Now, you may or may not be aware that the "Dr" in my title isn't an academic qualification – I actually trained as a medical doctor before quitting medicine to go to drama school.
Yes, that's right – I completed my doctor's training, only to realize once I was working in a hospital that it wasn't, in fact, the way I wanted to spend my life.
I could see down the trajectory of my life and I could see a moderately happy doctor, moderately successful with two moderately well-behaved children... and moderately bored to tears. Do you know what I mean?
Whereas there was an area I was completely passionate about, and that was calling me. I'd done drama the whole way through school. I'd always loved it. It really was my passion.
And in that wake-up moment, when I was reassessing everything I was doing, I thought: I want to give this professional acting thing a shot. I don't want to live with regrets. So I auditioned for drama school. And that was where I first got introduced to a subject called life coaching.
As it turned out, being a life coach wasn't The Thing I wanted to do either. It was a stage on the journey. But through following that thread, and then seeing where it took me, and onwards through many other transitions and experiments and lessons on the way, I've ended up where I am now: doing my life's work as my career, and sharing it with women like you.
When I was at medical school if you'd have asked me if I could lead a team, or run a business, or be an entrepreneur I'd have been pretty floored.
Back then, I really didn't have any of the skills I needed. But that didn't matter, because when I trusted my intuition and took each step as it came, I was able to gradually transition to a point where I did know what to do – or at least enough to take the leap and do it.
Transition steps in action
Let's take a different example. Say you've got this great idea for a software business, that's going to transform the lives of mothers all around the world.
But you've never run a business before.
You've never built software before, you've never done any of that sort of stuff.
So what it might look like is a journey where the first step is for you to start perhaps working as a PA, because at the moment you've got great skill sets in organization.
The next stages can flow from there:
1. Working as a PA for an inspiring digital company CEO, you get into the industry, bring all of the skills that you have, create trust with someone in the industry, and learn the ropes.
2. You build your network and trust by contributing freely to other people in that industry, as they're doing stuff while you're still in that role where you're learning.
3.Next, you educate yourself in marketing because to start a business you know you need to understand marketing.
4. The final step might be starting the software business.
Now that might be a six-month journey, it might be a six-year journey. The key is, you're:
- Taking it slowly – but not waiting to be "ready" before you move into action
- Building connections, and cultivating them into a support network as you change
- Using your existing skills and strengths to cultivate the new path as you go.
How to change your career without burning bridges
Napoleon Hill, in his great book Think and Grow Rich, says "burn your bridges".
I say: don't.
For women especially, we often find that our masculine energy and the "superwoman" mode many of us operate in will respond positively to that attitude.
Burn the bridge, and masculine energy goes, "Okay! There's no going back. We must go forward. Let's hunker down and push through and get stuff done".
It can often be a driver forward, so if you want to operate like that, then yes – burn your bridges, take giant leaps, and leave your previous "self" behind.
Personally, and for many of the women I know, operating like that is too stressful.
I like to have a back-up plan. Women often have a nest we need to look after. Our babies, our friends, our home, our fur babies... Whatever it looks like, we've got a base that we need to look after, and we want to know that's safe before we start leaving what's familiar behind.
That's why I like gradual transitions. They make it possible for you to set a course and move there gracefully and gradually, and in a way that feels good.
What transition are you making?
If you're planning a career change, whether you have an end goal or are just hearing a "call" to do something different, your next action might not be giving it all up to go all-in on your new passion. Perhaps it's getting some education about what interests you, or making a "sideways" career move to a similar role to your current one in an organization in the industry you want to move to.
If you've made a move like that or are planning one I'd love to know your experience. Leave a comment below and share what small steps you're taking towards a big dream.
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