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Changing careers is not easy. If it was, all the people out there who don’t enjoy their jobs would just make a move. My own career pivots have always seemed to involve sleepless nights, identity crises, and most of all, tough decisions.
In working with many clients who have changed careers over the years, I’ve noticed the same big decisions tend to come up when you’re on the cusp of making a big change. The following three decisions are some of the most critical you’ll have to make if you want to open up a new path in your professional life.
Deciding To Cut Your Losses And Walk Away
I spent the majority of my first 24 years of life with my sights set on becoming a physician. I invested a tremendous amount of effort, time, and money into climbing the steep hill to get into medical school. That meant pouring years into math and science starting from junior high all the way through to college, not to mention the year I spent after college applying to schools.
A 10+ year investment toward achieving any goal is one most people don’t take lightly. So as you can imagine, after I got admitted into the Georgetown School of Medicine, I felt committed to this path.
Unfortunately, the moment I started the program, I found myself dreading each day. It quickly became clear to me that becoming a doctor would involve a much more singularly focused and intense path than I originally envisioned.
As unhappy as I was, the idea of quitting was tough to stomach, especially because I equated quitting to failure. However, I eventually realized this path would be in direct conflict with my emerging desire for entrepreneurship, creativity, and work-life balance in my career.
So after just two weeks, I withdrew from the program, leaving behind everything I originally thought I wanted to become in my life so I could honor these values. Sometimes, cutting your losses is more important than finishing what you started.
Deciding What Matters Most To You
After leaving medical school, I eventually found my way into a career in marketing. I got involved in corporate branding, got my MBA, then landed a brand management role at Clorox, a reputable consumer goods company in the Bay Area, where I’d always dreamed of living.
In some ways, landing that role at Clorox was a way of redeeming myself after feeling like such a failure after leaving medical school. I was proud of landing my first big corporate job. I loved living in San Francisco. I respected my colleagues. I had great managers. And I was developing a solid understanding of marketing.
One of the ideas they drill into your head in the corporate world is the importance of getting promoted, which gives you credibility and more professional opportunities. I felt like I was quickly on my way to achieving that. I had built up a strong reputation in the company, I had completed some key projects, and my managers had told me I was right on track for promotion.
My only issue was a personal one. My then girlfriend (now wife) lived in the UK. We had met in an airport when I was doing my MBA and she was doing her Ph.D. We had been in an intercontinental, long-distance relationship for four years and counting, and something had to change.
We decided I would be the one to move because the UK allowed US citizens to live and work there without sponsorship at the time. While it might seem rather straightforward to do whatever it takes to be closer to someone you love, the decision wasn’t an easy one. I was only a couple months away from getting a critical job promotion. On top of that, moving to the UK would mean leaving all my friends and family behind.
In the end, I resigned from my role and moved to the UK. Sometimes, you have to decide what matters the most to you, what action will allow you to live without regret, and what you’re willing to let go of to make room for that. In this case, I decided the prospect of being with my life companion trumped everything else.
Deciding When You’ve Had Enough
Even though I thought I might take a hit professionally by moving to the UK, I ended up managing to pick up where I left off, quickly shifting toward working as a marketer in the luxury desserts sector in London.
For years, I had really enjoyed marketing. I found consumer behavior in the marketplace fascinating. I loved the balance of general management, quantitative analytics, and creativity. In many ways, marketing was a perfect fit for me.
By the time I landed on the global team at Häagen-Dazs, I had reached the 10-year mark in my marketing career. The work began to feel less meaningful, more stagnant, and increasingly political. Most of all, the idea of trying to convince consumers to eat more desserts started to eat away at me. I got to a point where I just didn’t feel as proud of what I did for a living.
Still, being a marketer on a global brand gave me a certain amount of prestige, recognition, stability, and professional credibility. Also, the corporate world has a way of always dangling the next carrot in the distance: the next promotion, end-of-year bonus, company perk, or high-visibility project around the corner.
At some point, you have to decide how long you will tolerate doing work you no longer find fulfilling.For me, I knew there would always be more I could do in marketing, but I wanted to feel genuinely excited by my work again. Therefore, I decided to leave my corporate marketing job behind to start my own business.
These Decisions Are Rarely Straightforward
Although I tell my career change story in a matter-of-fact way now, none of these career change decisions were crystal clear for me. The dots eventually connected, but making decisions that shake your professional identity is never easy.
However, if you can hone in on what really matters the most to you during those specific moments in your life and career when you’re making these decisions, and if you can bring yourself to act in a way that honors that priority, I’m confident you’ll make the right call.
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