There are numerous books and other resources on more or less conventional career development strategies. Some of these are particularly helpful if your intention is to pivot from one career into another. However, it seems to me that there are certain approaches to career change and development that might be considered in some way unconventional but that have also proved helpful to many people seeking to make a change. These unconventional approaches are probably most valuable to those contemplating – or those who have no option but to confront – a mid career change. I think that the more radical the ‘pivot’ you have in mind the more radical your approach might well need to be! And why not?
1: Act your way into a new way of thinking and being. You cannot wholly discover yourself by introspection because you need experimentation and feedback from those you trust and who know you well.
2: Stop trying to find your one true self. You are, after all, seeking to pivot so focus your attention on which of your many possible selves you want to test and learn more about.
3: Allow yourself a transition period in which it is okay to oscillate between holding on and letting go. Better to live in the contradictions and explore options than to come to a premature or stultifying resolution.
4: Resist the temptation to start by making a big decision that will change everything in one fell swoop. Use a strategy of small wins, in which incremental gains lead you to more profound changes in the basic assumptions that define your work and life. Accept and toy with the idea that a crooked path to change might be more revealing and rewarding than a straight one.
5: Identify projects that can help you get a feel for a new line of work or style of working. Try to do these as extracurricular activities or parallel paths to begin with so that you can experiment seriously without making a commitment. After this, deliberately opt to use a new style of working to stretch yourself and seek out some feedback from those who excel in this new (to you) way of getting things done. Exploring the opportunities that consultancies, self employment and limited term contracts offer could be valuable here. And keep a journal to force you to notice and record changes, challenges and your reactions and responses as you go.
6: Don’t just focus on the work. Find people who are what you want to be and who can provide support for the transition or pivot you want. But don’t expect to find them in your same old social circles. Push into new ones.
7: Don’t wait for a cataclysmic moment when, all of a sudden, everything you need to know is revealed. Use everyday occurrences to find meaning in the changes you are going through. Practice telling and retelling your story. Over time, it will clarify. Your journaling will become your friend in this.
8: Step back. But not for too long. Use one or more retreats as a strategic part of your personal approach to your own change.
9: Change happens in bursts and starts. There are times when you are open to big change and times when you are not. Seize opportunities.
Acknowledgement: These encouragements are heavily adapted from: Ibarra, H. (2004) ‘Working Identity’ Harvard Business School Press: Boston, Massachusetts USA and have been invaluable in my coaching.