Reasons for Career Change are Varied and Individual

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By Wendy McWilliams
Intern, GGU Office of Career Planning


mcwilliams-project-manager-womenAs I approach my final semester of graduate school, the first major step in a total career change, it is fairly common for me to hear comments like, “Soon you’ll be making back all of that money you spent on college!” or something else implying that my motivation to pursue a Counseling master’s degree in my 40s was to increase my earnings potential. Ironically, my future vocation as a career counselor promises about half the salary of my former role as a software project manager (based on national averages.) I clearly have motivations other than money!

As a budding career counselor, the idea of what determines happiness and success in our professional lives is a favorite topic of discussion and reflection. In my case, being a stay-at-home mom put me back in touch with my core beliefs and aspirations while giving me the perspective to reflect on what wasn’t working for me as a project manager. While my decision was based mostly on strengths and values realignment, below are some additional reasons for changing careers. If any of these strike a chord, it may be time for some career reevaluation.

You want to work with your strengths (or at least not with your weaknesses!)

In my previous career, many of my natural strengths were utilized. I’m a planner who’s good at keeping the end goal in view. I’m skilled at building consensus, and I learned how to get up to speed quickly and be adept at changing direction. But, one of my core strengths, empathy, was left sitting on the shelf. I tended to be the one who knew if a layoff was coming or if somebody was about to quit or even if they’d had a bad weekend. While an interesting perspective, that quality did not help me do my job better. I am also methodical by nature preferring to take my time before committing to a direction. Yet, working in tech companies required me to constantly operate in a fast-paced manner. While we all can learn to work and even thrive in environments which are not optimal for us, not exercising your best traits, or being forced to lean on your weaker ones, can feel like using your left hand all the time when you are actually right-handed.

You want to work at a job or company that reflects your values.

According to the Barrett Values Centre, “values are the energetic drivers of our aspirations and intentions.” Values are our compass. If you spend the majority of your waking hours working in conflict with your values, it can feel as if you’re being pulled in different directions. For instance, you may be a staunch advocate of recycling and reuse but your job as a corporate event planner results in massive amounts of material waste. You try to take home all of the water bottles, pads of paper and drop off the leftover lanyards to your local reuse center, but it simply is too much.

While it can be frightening to consider making a change, this is the only life you have.

You are looking for a better salary or more advancement opportunities.

In some careers, there is only so far you can grow or advance before you have tapped out. Being bored at work can make the days go by like a snail crossing a gravel road every day (slow and painful). Or, possibly you need/want to increase your earnings potential. While big salaries are tempting, be wary of making compromises in other important areas, such as strengths or values, which may create job dissatisfaction later. A good fit is always important.

Your personal life circumstances change.

You’ve been laid off. You’re newly divorced and can move anywhere you want. Your kids have graduated from college and you no longer have to pay tuition. Your student loan is finally paid off. You survived a major accident or illness and your outlook on life has changed radically. Life is dynamic, ever-changing, but has your career kept up with your life? Maybe life has just handed you the opportunity you need to make a major change. Think about it…

You’re burned out.

You have been a television producer for a major news network for 25 years. You are at the top of your game. Your salary is great, your assignments are great, but the thought of working in the same job for another 15 years makes you want to pull the blankets over your head and hide. For many people, there is a point where we need something different no matter how good or successful we are at our current job. Sometimes it can be a readjustment of your current circumstances like a new location or a new company. And sometimes a major overhaul is needed.

Being a stay-at-home mom put me back in touch with my core beliefs and aspirations while giving me the perspective to reflect on what wasn’t working for me as a project manager.

You’ve changed your mind.

So, you’ve been an accountant for five years and it has been fine. You’re doing well, but you’ve never forgotten that job offer from your college roommate when she started her own company. Now her start-up has received a second round of funding and is going strong. You know the offer is still out there. Maybe you could try something else. You can always go back to accounting. Or your volunteer job leading backpacking trips is starting to become more real. Could you do it for a living? Maybe. Go find out. There is never any harm in exploring possibilities, and you can always decide to stay where you are. Remember. If you’re questioning your career now, you probably will do so in the future. Many of us think we are “stuck” without any chance of changing. While it can be frightening to consider making a change, this is the only life you have. Take control of it and help yourself out. You might be surprised what you come up with.

Having the benefit of a professional career advisor can help the process feel less overwhelming. GGU offers free career advising for students and alumni, so take advantage and make an appointment on GGUCareers.

Wendy McWilliams is completing her Master’s in Counseling with a Career focus at Saint Mary’s College of California. She worked as a software project manager for 15 years for a variety of Bay Area companies, was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, and is looking forward to embarking on a new adventure as a Career Counselor. Email Wendy >> 

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