Why Career Transition isn’t for the Faint of Heart: Take Stock Before You Act

You grow up the day you have the first real laugh at yourself.

~Ethel Barrymore


Staying motivated in any career can become daunting. Between organizational politics, excessive demands, and a growing awareness that the tipping-point is near, a sense of disillusion, fatigue and even burnout can set in. This is far more common than is good.


Professionals at the top of their career game are often independent-minded, hardworking, and dependable people who have persevered through many challenges to get where they are. The idea of continuing the same path can be overwhelming, even deadening, but the prospect of making a change, while enticing, can feel even more so.


Figuring out whether and how to make a shift mid-career is no less challenging than when starting out. The risks and uncertainties are simply different. Friends and family are likely to question the logic and wisdom of making a midlife career shift citing loss of income, status, security as risks that may not be worth the reward.


So how do you know when enough is enough and it’s time for a change?

How can you be sure that a change will make a positive difference?

What steps should you take before leaping in?


These are tough questions. The answers come down to where we are on our own personal growth curve. Not growth in terms of responsibility, income, or status, but rather growth as a human being. Early in our careers we tend to be focused on achieving the external rewards of success. If we have been lucky, our path has sustained our passion, curiosity, and willingness to lean in. For many of us though, this is not the reality. Our personal and inner lives have suffered, and we have become disconnected from our true selves.


Finding new meaning and purpose is about living the as yet unlived aspects of our true potential. Depending on our frame of mind, this may require little more than giving ourselves permission to pursue what we know we want to do. In other cases, this may be more about unearthing hidden or long-neglected interests and talents. Either way, prudence tells us that it is a good idea to assess both feasibility and risks before making the leap. The following three steps are important considerations on that unfoldment journey:


1)    Figure out if you are burned out or bored

Career success often really means that we have narrowed the range of our activities to demonstrate exceptional performance of a particular kind. Whether our work is about focusing on metrics, milestones and markets, or solving people problems, being endlessly emotionally available, or handling high volume demands on our time…we tend to end up in a rut. Initially this focus is life-giving as we become more proficient and see results. Eventually though, this focus can rob us of variety, potential for growth, and simply burn out our passion as we lean in to the inevitable difficulties of the direction. Understanding which is happening helps us know where relief may come from. 


Specifically, if you have arrived at a state of burn-out, you may need to step-away to regain your perspective and connect with your true self before you move forward before embarking on a new adventure. Recuperative soul-searching retreats that create a wide-open space to hear your true self can begin this journey into new life.


2)    Factor in your growth impulse

Understanding whether new learning, behavioural development, or personal growth is what we need to bring new wind into our sails takes some soul-searching. If our desire for new information and ideas is high, the change we need may be more about freeing up time and making learning a priority, than shifting our career. If, on the other hand, the thought of overcoming inhibitions and building proficiency in under-developed areas feels liberating and empowering, seeking a lateral move that provides new scope may be in order.


Most challenging of all though, and most important to our happiness, is interpreting the inner knowing that we were meant to be and do more into some real-world ways. Elevating our game may be more about stretching our capacity for handling paradoxes than it is about honing a particular behavioural competency.


Intentionally choosing to work with the push-pull of paradoxes (rather than roles that exercise our desire to default to one end or the other of polarities) will grow your capacity for perspective-taking and free your spirit in ways that practicing specific new behaviours won’t. It will help you dig deep to find your own unique answers to the mysteries of life.


3)    Move beyond credentials and accomplishments

Learning about the job market and what is available is relatively easy. Understanding whether we have what it will take to guarantee success is less so. We need to figure-out how far our experience and reputation will take us, how to make the finances work, and when and where to invest in education. But that is not all. We need to gaze into a crystal ball and size up the risk that a dream turned into a reality won’t make us happy.


This is where a high-quality predictive career analytic can really help you. Designed to help people understand how likely they are to find satisfaction and success in different career directions, these tools minimize confusion, anxiety and the very real risks of making a wrong move. They can help you quickly separate wheat from chaff, so you can move from idealism to realism in your transition planning.


When you have been on the success train for a lot of years, you can forget that your own evolution is important. Mid-stage career transition can be a pivot point that starts you on a new external adventure or it can be the beginning of a richer inner life. The choice is an important one. The choice is yours.



Germaine Watts is a thought leader, author, speaker and co-founder of Ensentious – a consultancy and workshop/retreat provider dedicated to helping individuals, teams, and organizations thrive. As a mindfulness coach, SuccessFinder expert, and facilitator with the Centre for Courage and Renewal, she seeks to foster connection between soul and role in ways that support of personal, organizational, and societal transformation.