It is undeniable that the world of work is changing. Gone is the “lifer;” the employee who stays with the same company for thirty or more years. The stigma around job-hopping is dwindling. Still, while it may become the norm to change, grow, discover, and relaunch, changing careers is hard! It is emotional. It creates a platform for reactions, questions, defensives, and truths. Much like most other major decisions in your life, how you may feel about a career change fluctuates as you adjust to the new opportunity. If you are embarking on or considering a change to your career, it is necessary to prepare yourself for these fluctuations. How you respond to these possible stages of response is critical to the realization of the career transition.
Stage 1: Exhilaration
This is the feeling you get when you have finally made a decision. You have been pondering this job offer… wondering if you should take it and it has been weighing on you. But you have finally made a decision and you are happy and excited. Maybe a little nervous to tell your boss, but exhilarated that your skills are wanted and needed somewhere and that you have empowered yourself to choose. The feeling of exhilaration in that moment gives you confidence in your decision and makes you want to share it with everyone (again, except for maybe your boss).
Stage 2: Guilt/Doubt
Exhilaration may not hang out very long if you are leaving your current role on a positive note with stable work relationships. Be ready as guilt may swoop in the minute you start to share the news. After telling your boss, next comes the work colleagues. Often, this is followed with reminiscing, compliments on your impact at your company, and questions seeking answers to why you are leaving. Then, you start to doubt your decision. You could start to feel guilty that you are leaving – leaving more work for your colleagues during the transition, leaving people and missions you believe in, leaving a job you are good at and one in which you feel comfortable. This building of guilt and doubt is hard and it is necessary to reflect and remember why you made the decision to leave in the first place.
Stage 3: Reassurance
When you start to question your decision and assume the guilt of the void you are leaving, it may feel like the process is starting all over again. But, trust me, it is not. In most cases, you are not going to back out and stay put, but you do need to reaffirm internally why you made the decision. Reflect and discover how best to share this with others. And guess what? It really does not matter what they think. You have made this decision for you and no amount of justifying to others is going to (1) make this process easy and seamless and (2) allow them to understand all of the factors that went into your decision. Being reflective allows you to reassure and regain some of the excitement from stage one.
Stage 4: Melancholy
After reflecting and re-energizing, the transition planning will distract you for a short time. And then, the time to say goodbye arrives. The reminiscing and the stories return and new to the equation is the feeling of lost identity. If you have been in your current arena for many years, it is likely that you have grown and developed yourself into a respectable professional in your company (and possibly your industry). Changing that company and/or industry can be unsettling. It may feel like that hard work is being lost. Between this feeling and the goodbyes, melancholy prevails. At this moment, you lose sight of the upcoming exciting opportunity and may submerge yourself in this gloom of one chapter’s end. But alas, this too shall pass! Shortly after the goodbyes comes some relief. You are nearly forced to refocus with the start of the new chapter ahead.
Stage 5: (Anxious) Curiosity
Transitioning out of your last job is now complete and your new chapter is about to begin. You are undoubtedly anxious, but there is a level of curiosity and wonder as you imagine what is coming next. You likely are planning your outfit for your first day and grasping to the things you can control about a brand new environment. The first few weeks will be filled with interest, curiosity, and investigation as you learn about your new role and work culture. Embrace this time and your desire to tackle the unknown. This feeling is often refreshing to you and your new team.
Stage 6: Fear/Frustration
A few months into a new job, the newness undoubtedly starts to wear off and you are becoming more settled in your role. While the transition may feel complete, emotionally, it is more likely still weighing on you on your harder days. If you made a big industry change, there is still plenty to learn. You may still be trying to figure out what impact you can make and what your new identity will be as you continue to grow.
At times, you may fear that you made the wrong choice in changing careers. You may feel frustrated by not knowing what to do, who to contact, and how far to push. These feelings can be overwhelming, even if you are (for the most part) enjoying your new experience. Allow yourself the time and space to explore these feelings and find someone who will help with that exploration. Develop a plan to address the fears and frustration and understand that this phase could be very short or last longer than you want (P.S. also, it is very normal!).
Stage 7: Bliss/Flow
After time for exploration comes the necessity of relaunching or finding the stage of bliss. This is when you come to terms with what your future holds and put 100% effort into that reality. In some cases, this could be deciding to depart from the job if you find the fears and frustrations aren’t something you can overcome. However, in most cases, this is when you discover how to move into the “flow” (i.e. the stage of abilities and challenges coalescing) in your new role and reaffirm the confidence in our decision that you felt back in stage one.
Getting to this stage may take months or even a longer period of time. The importance lies in ensuring you are honest with yourself and exude enough self-awareness to get you to this point. It will likely require hard internal discussions. It will likely require hard conversations with your mentors and champions at your new organization. Once you find yourself in flow, commit each day to keep this bliss. This is how you will build your identity at work, how you will feel confident in your next decision (whatever that may be), and how you finally feel like you have successfully changed careers.
Thus, as you embark on changing careers or imagine what it could be like, understand that this process is extremely personal and much like any other important decision in your life. While it is more common to make these moves than previous generations, it takes focus, self-awareness, and emotional stamina. As you travel these stages, it is critical to understand that each stage is simply that…a stage. Some stages may be short in your story and others long, but by giving yourself the grace to understand the stages of this emotional ride, you will likely be on the path to a new, awesome career!