How to Change Careers and Avoid Emotional Decision Making Mistakes

What makes a career change so difficult?

For most of us, probably the single biggest challenge in knowing how to change careers is addressing the emotions that are provoked when considering this kind of change.

Emotions can result from both external and internal triggers. External triggers that could stimulate a possible career change include:

  • Family needs that require a change in where you live or a change in income
  • A job loss
  • Approaching retirement
  • A company or industry downturn
  • Problems with a boss or coworker
  • A change in health status
  • A change in work content or expectations (work overload)
  • A company direction change that conflicts with your personal core values

Internal triggers that might motivate a career change include:

  • A change in your personal core values that now conflicts with the company ethics (e.g., you used to be OK with your company's business practices, but have had a recent change of heart)
  • Routine or boring work that lacks challenge, meaning, or purpose
  • Lack of opportunity for personal or professional growth
  • A desire to increase income beyond current career expectations
  • A desire to create better alignment with personal core values and/or beliefs

These triggers can lead to fear due to lack of knowledge; knowledge of oneself, knowledge of the environment, and knowledge of how to change careers effectively.

Breaking it down using a decision making process

An effective decision making process provides a framework for finding or creating the knowledge needed to make any change, especially one as important as a career change. How to change careers is not an isolated decision. It is part of a set of related decisions that connect in a way that creates the knowledge needed to choose a way forward.

Let's use the list of internal and external triggers above to expose some of the decisions that can be used to help in choosing a career.

Knowledge of oneself could include answers to the following questions:

  • Do I have a vision for my life?
  • What gives live meaning?
  • What are my strengths and talents? What are my weaknesses?
  • What fits with my personality?
  • What relationships do I value?

Rephrasing these questions as choices would provide the following focusing decisions:

  • Choose my life vision
  • Choose my personal core values and beliefs
  • Choose my talents/strengths
  • Choose activities and environment that fit my personality
  • Choose my relationship priorities

Knowledge of the environment might address the following questions:

  • What income do I need to meet the needs of my family?
  • What careers are available that I could consider?
  • What skills are needed to succeed in a career?
  • Where would I need to live pursue a career?

Using a decision view would suggest these decision success factors for your next career (for each you would consider both your need and desire):

  • Income
  • Fits my skills / Aligns with my strengths
  • Training preparation, time and cost
  • Required travel / Daily commute time

Knowledge of how to change careers effectively is addressed by using a reliable process for identifying and making each of the related decisions that will influence or guide your choice of careers.

Addressing the emotions as you focus on how to change careers

As you start down the path leading to a career change, you will continue to experience emotions that will bring up new questions and concerns. When using a decision-focused approach, each new question becomes an added decision to be made or provides a potential success factor as you progress toward your new career choice.

If you capture the questions and identify the corresponding decisions to be made or career change success factors, you can now use your emotions as a tool to motivate making the choices needed to progress toward a new career. Instead of being overwhelmed and afraid, this high value life choice is broken into smaller choices where emotions can provide the needed motivation to do some of the work.

Emotions now become a positive motivation for change instead of generating the overwhelming fear that leads to indecision. Here are some additional emotional pitfalls that are minimized when following this approach to how to change careers:

  • Choosing quickly without knowing why, and then creating rational explanations to justify a poor emotional decision
  • Creating mistakes due to distortions and bias in judgments, sometimes leading to unexpected and reckless action
  • Making errors that take place because we are subject to systemic inaccuracy about how we will feel in the future
  • Having tunnel vision with too few alternatives due to the desire to rush to judgment
  • Experiencing analysis paralysis with too many options that exceed our ability to keep track of them

It is possible to learn how to change careers effectively and with confidence