When is the best time to make a career pivot?
A career pivot can be defined as a change of direction in your career rather than a complete career switch. Every one will have a different experience of what that means to them, what will be involved exactly and when that career pivot takes place. Nevertheless there are common threads that see to run between all the experiences that indicate some patterns in a planned career pivot. A need to make an unplanned pivot also occur in response to more dramatic usually external prompts (lay-offs, serious health or caretaking issues.) But a common comment for planned career pivots seems to be:
“You just know when you know”
Some people say that a career pivot is usually about a gradual creeping awareness that something isn’t right. This impacts a person’s sense of well-being and their engagement in their jobs and even relationships that motivates them to do some soul searching and look for something different. A sense of despondency can eventually impact almost every element of daily life.
Others say there is an epiphany. A profound ah-ah moment where it is abundantly clear that change is on the horizon and even the type of pivot that is going to be made and when. It can be deep and profound.
We spoke to two women who had two different experiences of a planned career pivot.
Career Pivot 1 – Gradual evolution
Gaby had been working for the same company for 15 years in PR consulting and branding. She had been stressed and unhappy for possibly the last four, struggling to keep the organisation afloat in challenging market conditions. Nearing burnout, which had impacted her marriage and her health, she knew she had to take control of her life before it swallowed her up.
Working with a career coach and a wellness practitioner she invested time and money focusing on herself. She re-positioned and identified her medium term goals creating a plan to achieve them. This involved separating from her current role. Her wellness specialist ran blood work and found critical vitamin deficiencies. Simply dietary changes made a strong contribution to increased energy levels and her ability to handle stress. She lost 10 of the 20 pounds she had gained during that period and immediately felt more comfortable in her clothes and happier with her appearance. Taking time out to see friends, exercise and relax she started to reclaim her self-belief.
What she learned was that she loved her chosen career and it was her role that needed changing. It was the environment. She is now taking a short, focused career gap, working with some of her new and re-connected contacts to brand and market their small businesses. She especially enjoyed helping her wellness practitioner scale her business. She intends to freelance until the end of 2017 and will make a decision about a return to corporate life in September.
Career Pivot 2 – Eureka moment
Jenna on the other hand was super happy in her work as Financial Analyst in a Wall Street Investment Bank. Majoring in Mathematics, with a double Masters in Business and Law, she was told she was on a fast track for promotion. She had a mentor and a sponsor in the shape of her boss who advocated for her. But the sudden death of her father as a result of medical negligence, caused her to reassess her position and all her priorities. She decided almost overnight to re-apply to law school with the intention of eventually pursuing a career in medical negligence litigation.
“I just knew. I saw what my dad had been through and what difference it made to my family with even my basic legal knowledge. I met other families through online forums who were lost and struggling trying to sort out charlatan ambulance chasers from professionals with integrity. I knew I could make a difference. It took me about 1 week to make a decision. My boyfriend was supportive and my boss offered me freelance project work while I was studying. I know I might even have to take some medical courses. It’s not going to be easy and could take years, but I know I have to do it.”
Some would say that Jenna was making a career switch, but essentially she was building on an existing academic base and pointing in a different direction.
What did Jenna and Gaby have in common that you can follow:
- Create a financial plan both women had 6-9 months savings in the bank to fall back on. Both took measures to secure a minimum level of revenue during the pivot period. Coping with a career pivot in unplanned and disruptive circumstances is even more challenging. We will look at that separately.
- Seek support – both women had support at various levels. Gaby lacked support within her company and was in a difficult place in her relationship. She felt she had no one to turn to. To fill the gap she engaged professional coaches for practical help with her health and well-being, and a career coach to find her inner compass. Jenna was supported by her boyfriend and her boss.
- Be flexible and optimistic – both women were open to change and possibilities but above all were willing to learn. They were both building on existing transferable skills and were using them in different ways. They had insight into what was important to them and understood that their values and vision were changing in Jenna’s perhaps permanently and for Gaby it may be long term. It may not be.
In today’s fast pace and ever-changing world, the days when we stay in organisations or jobs is going to change. There is no such thing as a career for life. Our roles evolve, we may change and organisations come and go or are impacted by difficult market conditions and trends. Being open and willing to make or consider a career pivot is something we may all have to consider.