6 Questions To Ask If You’re Considering A Career Change
By Joan Michelson
Julie Lenzer, Chief Innovation Officer of the University of Maryland – who is also the former head of the Economic Development Administration under President Obama and a successful serial entrepreneur – just completed her Masters in Machine Learning. She was following the advice she gave on my Electric Ladies podcast to “always keep pushing ahead towards something bigger” and demonstrating that she’s focused on “self-improvement, always looking to be my best self.”
I’ve heard of people getting their Bachelor or even PhD degrees in their 80’s, and a top executive at a major global automaker who is an upcoming guest on my show leveraged the pandemic time to complete her lifelong goal to earn her Ph.D. after 20+ years at her company.
If hearing about the millions of people who quit their jobs during or because of the pandemic-economic crisis, dubbed “The Great Resignation,” is making you wonder if you should too, remember that, if you want more fulfillment out of your career in the new year, quitting altogether is not the only option.
Here are six questions to ask yourself first:
1. Where do you want to be in three years? Five years? Ten years?
This is always a good question to ask at the beginning of the year, so you can focus your energies on getting there. As Lenzer said, “dream big.” For example, do you want to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Or a successful tech entrepreneur? Or teach in a university? Wherever you want to be will give you a kind of internal GPS to get there; renowned executive coach and coauthor of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series calls it your “goal positioning system.”
Think about this anew, because your previous dream may not be relevant anymore. As Twila Moon, Ph.D., climate and glacier scientist said on my Electric Ladies podcast recently, “Recognizing that you’re in a continually evolving space of influence and the dreams that you had, that position you were applying for three years ago, take the time now to consider…(that) you might’ve already grown out of that dream and already be able to take on bigger responsibilities or bigger roles.”
2. What’s a big breakthrough goal that would propel you there?
Don’t think about how you’ll get there and set aside any of the obstacles; just “dream big.” Your breakthrough goal might be writing a book, or earning a particular certification, or learning a completely new skill. A former SXSW leader I know from when I spoke there decided her breakthrough goal was to learn coding and has since become a software developer, for example.
3. What parts of yourself do you want to use now?
If you’re thinking about a career pivot, usually there’s some part of you that isn’t being activated enough in your current job or work portfolio. So, identifying which parts of you that you want to be “used” or activated more will give you insight into your next move.
4. How can you give those parts of you a voice now?
If you want to spend more time using your skills in a way that helps address climate change, for example, you may either find that your current work is doing that if you reframe how you look at it, or that you can tweak it a little to do so. Actress Gloria Reuben wanted to be more active in her environmental work, for example, so she took on a larger role as president of Waterkeeper Alliance without giving up her acting and producing career.
5. What path did your role models take?
We can learn a lot by deconstructing how our role models got where they are. General Motors CEO Mary Barra has been at GM her entire 30+ year career and worked in various roles across the company, for example. Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi worked at a few companies throughout her career, leveraging relationships she built and what she learned from one to advance to another company or role. Spanx founder/CEO Sara Blakely built her billion-dollar empire by asking for help from people who had the skills and facilities she needed to leverage her meager resources in order to make her women’s lingerie idea a reality.
6. What’s driving your decision to pivot? Are other people’s choices driving yours?
If your current role feels too easy or not stimulating anymore, think about what you want to be doing, what’s missing in your work life. Research shows we change careers several times over our lifespans, as we master topics or skills and evolve our values and interests. Our priorities change too. It’s also important to be sure your decision is driven by your goals, interests, priorities and values – and not by undue influence from other people whose experience or values may differ from your own.
The key in considering a career change is to focus on who you want to be and how you want to spend your time in the near and long term.
Then, you can evaluate if you can meet those goals by tweaking your current role, or maybe adding a side gig to test the waters, or even to go back to school as Lenzer and others have done. You may not need to quit altogether.
You don’t want to be impulsive and regret your decision later, so doing a deep-dive into your motivation for changing your work life will help you map out your next move towards greater fulfillment.