I was exposed to many life events that offered me the opportunity to reflect on making a career change at 30 and consider how a career impacts my quality of life. And since we spend over 90,000 hours at work in our lives, it was time that I re-evaluated the career decisions that I was making.((GettysBurg: ⅓ of Your Life is Spent at Work))
At 30, you still have about 35 more working years left until retirement and a career change is inevitable in our fast paced changing world of work.
Common Triggers For a Career Change
1. Life Events
Whether you’re getting married (or some may get divorced), seeking home ownership, raising a family, caring for aging parents, developing your career, or building your nest egg — you’re bound to experience life events that will change your perspective.
The spark to change careers comes in different forms for everyone. For some, it’s a big fire; and for others, it’s a small lit birthday candle leading them to take the first step like recognizing that a career change is needed.
These life events will likely surface some questions for reflection:
- Why do I feel like I need a change?
- What is most important to me right now?
- How can I create a more flexible work schedule?
- What can I do to spend more time with my family?
- What if I could include my desires into my life and work? How could I go about doing that?
- What trends are having the most impact on my career? Which of my existing skills are more adaptable and which new skills do I need to add?
Fear of the unknown can be paralyzing and when you’re able to pass through the transition of a career change, the outcomes of making informed decisions can be quite exciting. Keep an open mind and renew your mindset.
2. You’re on Autopilot
Many of us take work for granted when it becomes comfortable and routine. This is a very common scenario for a majority of people in the workplace.((Marks & Spencer Corporate Media: Research Reveals 96% of the UK is Living Life on Autopilot))
You may be on autopilot from the moment you get out of bed to the end of your work day. You stroll through the sea of cubicles and finally arrive at your own. Maybe you can’t remember how you’re already idle at your computer, logging into your email, and checking your calendar.
Here are some cues that you’re on autopilot:
- You feel stuck and can’t quite put your finger on what needs to change.
- You make decisions without thinking. Your decisions are mindless and unintentional.
- You dread each day. Every morning feels empty because you have nothing to look forward to.
- You’re bored. When you’re completing a task, your mind wanders aimlessly about other things.
- Your routine is predictable and familiar. You know exactly what’s going to happen each day, month and quarter. Nothing will change.
- You say ‘yes’ more than you say ‘no’ because you don’t want to let others down, but regret the decision because you’ve said ‘yes’ to something you really don’t want to do.
Adults make about 35,000 decisions a day according to some research.((Robert Wesleyan College: 35,000 Decisions: The Great Choices of Strategic Leaders)) There are many times that we do things without thinking.
Being on autopilot does help us manage our compounding choices, however, if we rely too much on our default setting we will likely not make conscious decisions.
You want to be fully present and intentional when you’re making decisions about how you want to shape your work and live your life.
Good news, small actions can help you be more aware of the impact autopilot has on your life and this will be different for everyone.
First, noticing your own autopilot behaviors is essential as you will start to recognize and change your habits so that you can make mindful decisions.
3. You’ve Been Overlooked for a Promotion
You may be eyeing a career change at 30 if you’re frustrated because you’ve been passed over for a promotion. You are skilled, have close to 10 years of work experience, and achieved many career milestones. However, the problem is that you still don’t have that management job title and can’t understand why.
You dread going into work each day and your mind is flooded with negative emotions from your inner critic that you can’t seem to silence:
- You’re likely fuming, wanting to knock down your boss’s door to demand answers, walk out and hit the job postings.
- You resent the new employees who have come into the company and moved onto other roles with increasingly responsibility, and yet your job description has remained the same.
- You feel stuck and can’t seem to understand why she/he was promoted and not you. You’re constantly comparing yourself to others. You believe you have the same skills and you have been with the company longer than her/him.
Here are some tips to consider before you bury your head under the sand:
- Stay professional. You’ve spent a lot of effort building the trust of your colleagues. Don’t let your impulses spoil the reputation you’ve built. Take a deep breath, maintain your grace and congratulate the incumbent.
- Look inward. It’s easy to point your fingers at others when something doesn’t go your way. This is a great time to take stock of your strengths and vulnerabilities. Being honest and without self-judgement takes courage and patience. Create space for yourself to reflect and enhance yourself awareness.
- Seek observable feedback. Speak to your trusted advisors. Share with them your self-assessment and ask them to share with you their observations of your behaviours.
- Be curious and treat the experience as a learning opportunity. Ensure that you’re open to receiving the lessons learned from your experience. Consider things that you could have done to enhance your chances at a promotion or factors that may be outside of your control.
4. You’re Stressed and Overworked
As you transition from your 20s to your 30s, you will likely experience greater responsibilities or at least the feeling you should take on more responsibilities shaped by social norms. Some expectations may include getting married, having a full-time job, home ownership, starting a family, and climbing the corporate ladder.
Trying to constantly meet externally imposed expectations along with increasing work pressures can be a recipe for a career change at 30.
When your stress is not addressed, this can result in burnout and there are ways to be proactive. While breakdowns are catalysts for change you need to listen to your body and focus on what you have control over.
Take time for self-care and when you create some space for yourself, you may realize that embarking on small or big career changes at 30 is the right timing.
Questions to help you work through your stressors:
- What is the problem? What is causing your stress at work? Write it down. Get clear on the problem. You’ll likely need to ask yourself these questions at least 5 times to get to the heart of your problem.
- What will inaction cost you emotionally?
- What are you willing to tolerate and not tolerate? What is your limit?
- What social norms are you afraid to go against and why?
- Why am I doing what I’m doing? Truly understand the intentions behind your actions.
Career changes are unique and needs to be tailored specifically for you. Whether you want to make small incremental changes or turn your ship around 180 degrees, take your time to seek clarity first. This will help you lay a solid foundation to build a successful career change and avoid mindlessly scanning job boards.
How to Make a Successful Career Change
1. Know ‘Why’
Usually when you’re seeking a career change, there’s a lot of emotions present. It’s essential that you understand and know the true reason of your career change.
Here are some tips and questions to help you find the purpose behind your career change:((Stanford Business: The Secret to Finding Lasting Career Satisfaction))
What are the best moments in your career so far? What do you enjoy doing so much that you can lose track of time. What do people always say you’re great at? Write it down. List things that you love about your work and things that you hate.
Whose career do you admire? Your answers to this question will tell you a lot about your career desires. Think of three people whose career you admire. What is it about their work that fascinates you? What do you find interesting about their career?
If success was guaranteed and you had the skills, what would you be doing and why?
The more you write, the more you’ll notice themes and patterns. Some examples of themes include speaking, listening to others, designing, or creating.
If you can’t seem to find patterns, share what you’ve learned about yourself with an objective friend or mentor. This information will help you hone in on your strengths, the types of connection you enjoy and what impact you want to make with your work.
I would encourage you to try and complete this exercise without making any assumptions. It’s easy to jump ahead and have your thoughts interrupted by fear and insecurities. There are no right or wrong answers here. You are simply writing down what and how you feel.
2. Check Your Assumptions
You may have heard the saying “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. At 30, you’re probably feeling quite confident in your position in life. You’ve been molded by various cultures and the greatest influencers in your life – be it your families, friends or colleagues.
You may be an engineering professional and realize that you want to be a social worker. However, you think “… I could never do that. What will my parents think? My friends will think I’m crazy. I’ll be poor and can’t make a living doing that. I’ll have to go back to school to get my Master’s in Social Work. That will take too long”.
Notice how your inner dialogue has created assumptions about your desired career change, and yet you have not checked these assumptions. You will need to do a bit of research before you can say that everything you just told yourself is true.
- What type of volunteer work have you done?
- What do you find most attractive about being a social worker?
- What types of nonprofits do you support financially or through volunteering?
- What would happen if you spoke to your parents and friends that you’re considering a career change?
- How have other professionals made a career change to become a social worker?
- Do you need a graduate degree to get hired as a social worker?
Not only do you need to be mindful of your assumptions, you need to get very specific about what aspects of the new career actually excites you.
Do you want to be a social worker because the job will make you feel like you’re having an impact on someone’s life? Does working for the nonprofit sector appeal to you? Do you enjoy listen to others objectively and providing support? Do you like educating others?
Keep in mind that these career ingredients also exist in other careers. Speak to people that can provide you with answers. Others’ will likely provide you a different perspective than your own. So I urge you to keep all possibilities on the table before you discard them.
3. Be a Beginner and Experiment
As we age, we gain more experience and we lose our ability to learn like a true beginner.
Children learning a new skill usually have no previous knowledge or expectations about what they are about to learn. They have a sense of humility to their learning approach. Kids are usually ready and willing to learn.
Taking a humble approach to learning about your career change will help you keep an open mind.
Here are a few tips:
Take baby steps
Change rarely happens overnight. Be patient with your career change as you gather information about yourself and learn from others through informational interviews.
Remember to test your assumptions. Career changes can be challenging and there will be an element of trial and error.
It’s ok to fail because then you’ll know, learn and be able to move forward. You’re gaining more knowledge about yourself each time you try something new.
Stop analyzing and take action.
As adults, we have a tendency to analyze and assess risk based on our experience and knowledge. There comes a point when you need to stop analyzing and actually do it.
Email that social worker you’ve admired for an informational interview. The worst that can happen is that you don’t receive a response. Email someone else. There are plenty of professionals that will share their time and experience with you. Move beyond the paralysis of fear and take action.
The Bottom Line
Be intentional about your career decisions at 30 and notice how your career impacts the quality of your life. A successful career change requires you to build a stable foundation by truly looking inward to understand why you want a change – tiny or big.
Possibilities are limitless so ensure that you double check your assumptions, experiment and keep a beginners mindset. Remember to make career decisions that feel natural to you.
Spend 3 minutes today to write 3 reasons why you want a career change right now. Review your answers from the previous day and write down 3 other reasons. Repeat this exercise Signs You Need a Career Change and How to Change for Success
for the next 7 days. What patterns do you notice?