A little over a year ago, I left publishing to explore project management in digital ad sales. I had been toying with the idea of changing careers for years. I was ready for something new, and also hesitant to walk away from what I had already accomplished. Inertia and fear keep a lot of us in jobs that aren’t right for us. We put so much emphasis on our careers and it becomes part of how we see ourselves in the world. We are afraid to disrupt that mental image and we are, of course, afraid to fail.
I had been successful in publishing, and was invested both personally and professionally. I was promoted regularly and had been made a Director. I had a team, which allowed me to help other people with their goals (something I truly loved). I worked on high-profile projects and had cool perks like travel and a corporate card. I also had dear friends that I got to see everyday! At the same time, I wasn’t finding satisfaction. I thought a lot about what was missing, and it came down to the fact that I had become an “answers” person within my group. I wanted to be the person asking questions again.
Deciding what to do next was both overwhelming and easy. There were countless choices, and only so many places that would hire someone from an outside industry. I decided to roll the dice and started applying to any job that looked remotely interesting. I was particular with things like salary, location, and company profile. I was totally flippant with other aspects like industry and job title. I thought…don’t over think!
So, in November 2016 I took a project management job at a software development company. About a year after that I accepted another new project management job at a larger entertainment company. It’s been a whirlwind of change! And this after 11 years of being in my cozy publishing world where I knew the landscape, players, and rules. Suddenly, a clever quip involving an obscure Franz Kafka reference would not get me out of a jam! There was so much to learn. It was humbling and empowering, and here are my four top takeaways.
#1: It’s Very Hard
Your initial reaction to me saying “it’s hard to change careers” might be a roll of the eyes, or even an audible “duh”. Don’t misunderstand! I anticipated that this would be a challenge professionally. I was prepared for acronyms I didn’t understand and asking embarrassing questions in meetings. What I was NOT prepared for was the emotional strain the situation created.
A little background: I am not a shy person. I am a confident, loud, outspoken person. These steadfast traits were shaken to the core when I started in a new industry. I was regularly nervous for the first time in years, afraid to speak up sometimes, and hyper aware of everyone and their (probably imagined) reactions to everything I did and said.
Why all the feelings? My self-confidence was thrown! I was no longer a big-cheese at a company where I knew how to contribute meaningfully. Instead, I was a pion in a game I didn’t yet know how to play. I kept reminding myself that I had done this on purpose and my broad goals were being achieved. (After all… I was learning! Growing! Meeting all kinds of new people!) And yet, I could not fight the simple fact that it was all utterly exhausting. To get through it, I had to learn to be kind to myself and embrace the discomfort. I had to learn to let things go, and just keep trying.
#2: It Requires Patience
If you know me (and reading this blog, you probably do) then you know I have no patience. I move quickly (hence, clumsy), speak quickly (hence, talkative), and I get excited about things and forget to be still. Much to my chagrin, the only thing that made my career change more fulfilling was TIME. I conceptually understood that I would not make life-long friends and be promoted on day one. Still, when you are living in limbo-land the last thing you want to hear is “it takes time” and “wait and see”. The truth is though, all this advice is grounded in reality. If you decide to uproot the career you have nurtured, it’s going to take time for it to thrive elsewhere.
This process also required a lot of patience with myself, and that did not come naturally. I generally expect excellence from my career 100% of the time. I forgive other people of pretty much everything, and myself almost nothing. I really had to let go of this over the last 14 months to avoid going completely insane! I’m still learning to embrace the chaos and the unknown, and the simple fact that I will totally screw up sometimes because I am in a state of transition. I remind myself (constantly) that mistakes are proof that I am trying.
#3: It’s Rewarding
So what happened that first year? I asked a lot of questions, Googled terms I didn’t know, and just kept going back in to work. Eventually I started doing things that contributed to the group. The first time someone told me that my work had helped move a project along I felt invincible! It was worth the unpleasant learning moments. It was also fun to see what skills I already possessed that were valuable in unexpected ways in a new environment.
It also got EASIER. When I started my current job I was definitely nervous, but not nearly as nervous as the year before. It’s because I knew I could do it and I was building on skills and acquired information. The momentum of my new career had been building, and I could feel it.
#4: It’s Only for Now
We are rarely trapped in a job or industry that no longer serves our emotional or financial needs. This is especially true in New York where there are so many interesting companies and ideas. You can succeed in multiple industries. You can fail at something and then apply what you learned to find a stronger fit. You can be like me and love something for 11 years, and wake up one day ready to write a new chapter. It will be messy, it will be nothing like what you expected, and it will be yours.
For now, I am quite happy to stay where I am. A major change remains in that instead of assuming this is what I will always do, I have a way more open mind. In five years maybe I’ll finally go back to school for microbiology and then work in a lab. Maybe I’ll finally get to all those books I want to publish. Maybe I’ll do something that doesn’t even exist yet. The freedom of choice allows us to change our lives if we just have the courage to do so.
The truth is, nothing is forever… including your career, your successes, and your failures. You’re smart and you know what you want. Embrace the fear and excitement of possibility. I promise you that you have the resolve to change your life.
“For a self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living.” ~ Virginia Woolf