You’re ready to make a shift. You’re fed up with feeling miserable at work. And you’re struggling to know where to start. Natasha explains the art of beginning – and how, despite the risks and uncertainty, you can take practical, positive steps towards a more fulfilling career.
Plato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”
No pressure, right?
It’s one thing to know you want to make a career change – it’s quite another to actually set the wheels in motion.
This is a life-changing decision you’re making. The steps you take will quite literally determine the course of your future; your ability to survive; your reputation; how you feel when you wake up in the morning; how you spend your days.
So where on earth do you begin with something like that?
What do you do first?
If you’re supposed to start as you mean to go on, how do you start?
Questions like these can keep you trapped – teetering on the edge of action, chasing your tail in your mind, watching the weeks, months, and years fly by while you nervously dance backward and forward.
So if that’s you – you with your toes at the edge of the water, you with the lists of pros and cons, and the fearful lump in the pit of your belly, and the doubts ablaze in your brain – this is for you.
This is how you begin.
1. Begin with the endings
“There’s a trick to the ‘graceful exit.’ It begins with the vision to recognise when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over – and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out.” – Ellen Goodman
New beginnings are sexy. They’re exciting and inspiring (or at least they’re supposed to be), and charged with the ‘forwards’ energy of motivation, drive and effort. Their seductive sense of promise is enchanting, and it’s easy to get sucked into their narratives in an all-consuming way.
But there’s a side to beginnings that often gets ignored: the endings they represent.
And the endings inherent in the beginnings we choose demand some acknowledgement and release.
In their uncomfortable tugs and clamours for attention (our fears, our sorrows, our uncertainties), they’re requesting a conscious letting-go. And even when what we’re releasing no longer serves us to the point of hatred (like a career we’re beyond done-with, a job we despise), they may also require a period of grief.
At some point, you said ‘yes’ to your current career. Whether it was joyfully or with a certain reluctance, it was you who brought it into your life. And with that ‘yes’, it became a part of your daily routine. It swirled into your headspace, took up your time, your energy. Its identity became a part of yours; you said its name almost as much as you said your own.
Careers are relationships; our choices about them define us like our lovers do.
And even bad marriages hurt when they fall apart.
Allow yourself to acknowledge the ending inherent in your new beginning.
- What are you actually letting go of, when you let go of this career?
- What parts of you will you be losing?
- What have you loved about what you’ve done in this work? What do you need to acknowledge and what can you be grateful for?
- What tiny, insignificant familiarities will you miss?
It’s perfectly possible to be miserable at work and still feel a sadness about moving on. It’s far more common than you might think.
So give yourself permission and space to grieve the life, the identity, and the future you’re leaving behind.
2. Clear the decks
“The first step toward greatness is to be honest.” – Proverb
Dr. James W. Pennebaker is a professor of Psychology at the University of Texas.
In 1994, Pennebaker and his team ran a study. They collected a group of people who had been out of work for eight months, and split them into three groups. The first group was asked to write about their unemployment and how they felt about it. The second group was invited to write, but given no subject matter. The third group was given no writing instructions at all.
The participants that wrote about their experience of being out of work were significantly more likely than the other groups to find new jobs after the study.
Pennebaker believed that by writing, they were able to download and declutter the chaos of their minds, and organise their thoughts in a way that allowed them to move forward in a meaningful way.
Career change can be a perfect storm of thoughts and emotions; exhilaration and terror; moments of clarity amidst months of fog; big questions; hundreds of ideas; other people’s opinions…
It’s hard to create amidst such almighty clutter.
So, what do you need to get out and clean up?
- What fears keep floating around?
- Which beliefs are holding you back?
- What dreams need to be given voice to?
- What secrets need to be told?
- What do you need to forgive yourself for?
It’s time to tell the truth.
You may not be a writer – a journal may not be your ‘way’.
But whatever your ‘way’ might be, seek out a safe space that works for you to process and organise.
You might find it through exercise, through meditation, talking to a trusted friend.
You might download your thoughts on a voice recorder each evening before you go to bed.
Get the hard stuff out – the things you don’t want to admit, the feelings you wish you didn’t feel, the ugly and the angry – and the hopeful and the dreamy, too.
The human mind is always a noisy place, but by finding a routine or a space to say what needs to be said, we can make it less so.
And in those moments of quiet, the way forward will become clearer.
“The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt but in spite of doubt.” – Rollo May
There are few things quite as scary as the unknown.
- What will happen?
- Will I get it right?
- Where will I end up?
- Will it hurt?
- What if I don’t make it?
How do you protect yourself against the unseen and the unexpected?
In the face of inevitable uncertainties, you vacillate, dancing one step forward, two steps back.
You dip a toe in and then retreat. You analyse and scrutinise, hoping that by making enough lists and imagining enough possible scenarios, you can safeguard against risk.
And somehow in all of your predictions and preparations, you also safeguard against action and progress.
You begin and then you end again, almost as quickly. Your beginning becomes twenty beginnings, decisions, and endings in rapid succession.
The most powerful beginnings are launched with a commitment.
To commit is to bind yourself wholeheartedly to an outcome (the ‘what’), without necessarily knowing the steps to get there (the ‘how’).
It’s to choose where you’re headed and accept no other destination, whether it’s scary or not, whether you understand it or not.
You choose, and in choosing, you choose not to turn back.
An unequivocal, whatever-it-takes statement: “Life, we’re going THAT way.”
This is what makes a beginning.