When Are Career Transitions Necessary?

09/13/2021

Career transitions, despite their growing frequency, present us with a range of emotions, practicalities to sort through, and decisions to be made. 

Many clients who contact me want a listening ear as they talk through the subject and feasibility of a career transition. They seek perspective on whether the feelings they currently have toward their work indicate that a change in job or profession may indeed be necessary.

Some career transitions we deliberately choose to embark on. We may seek out new professional experiences, we may look forward to change, learning new skills, and having opportunities to express our capacities in different environments. We can also feel apprehensive about change, and the choices, adjustments and decisions that will be required.

Some transitions, such as job loss, are imposed on us and can therefore be destabilizing because of the abrupt change they bring to our lives. These transitions can entail both a loss of professional identity and financial instability; they can shake our confidence in our skills and abilities.

I want to share 4 examples of when a career transition may be necessary. These examples draw on the many conversations I have with clients and their personal experiences.

Lack of structure and support

Until we are actively engaged in a job or career, until we have some direct experience, we rarely reflect on how much structure and/or support we may need or want around us.

Structure and support can mean many different things depending on the individual and the nature of the work.

Some of us are quite comfortable with minimal structure, we flourish designing and organizing how and when we do things. We enjoy having different responsibilities and are confident navigating frequent changes including the pace of work day to day.

Some of us require, and flourish equally well, within more structured environments. We want regular work hours, we want clarity and consistency in our role(s) and responsibilities. Because of structure we feel engaged and confident in our abilities and our contributions.

I have often listened to clients who feel lost in their work environments because of inadequate structure and support. For these individuals, the lack of structure and support casts their talents and skills adrift and over time they begin to feel less engaged, less confident and less committed to their jobs.

Unintentional versus intentional career choices

I have listened to clients who describe their initial career choice as “unintentional”. Their choice of study or training seemed like the most practical at the time, friends were entering the same University or College program, they heard or were advised that a specific job or professional field was financially stable or a “good career option”, a particular professional role was perceived as having social status.

Years later with more experience(s), perspective, and changes to their skill set, that unintentional choice doesn’t quite look or feel the same.

I have written about the movement of our lives in relation to the movement of our work. Often the two do not move in tandem. We change, our perspectives change, we develop new interests, we may want more flexibility in our work and careers in order to balance the movement and expansion of our lives. Our skills and expertise can sometimes expand beyond the scope of our jobs.

Suddenly we no longer relate to our work and we begin to feel unfulfilled. Suddenly we want to make a career choice that is more intentional and takes our present realities, livelihoods, capacities and values into consideration.

Challenging work environments

We know that work environments are not created equal. Some are more challenging than others.

Shift work, for example, can have unpredictable hours that over time negatively impact our health and our lives away from work. Some work can be highly stressful, all the time. Other types of work may be physically demanding, or the demands of the job may be inconsistent or well beyond the training provided to us. Work in which we are not sufficiently trained or work where we receive minimal support can present any number of challenges for us from lack of confidence in our abilities, to our disengagement, to experiences of unmanageable stress and possibly burnout.

It is impossible to calculate at what point a challenging work environment is simply too much for us. A career transition may be necessary when the physical challenges and/or the stress of a job impede our skills, disrupt our capacity to do the job and negatively impact the personal satisfaction we get from our work.

The shifting meaning and value of our work

The meaning of work shifts at different stages of our lives and this can sometimes influence our willingness and decision to seek out new jobs and careers.

At one stage of our lives work can mean personal and financial stability, at another it can be a satisfying marker of expertise and personal success. At another stage we may want work that is balanced with other areas of our lives to which we want to devote time and attention. And at some stages we may want work that aligns with our values and as such we may want to seek out work that feels purposeful and is centered on contribution. At any point in our lives, work may mean any combination of these.

For reflection:

Do these 4 examples resonate with you and your experiences of work? How would you describe your current relationship with work? How has your relationship with work and/or attitude towards work changed over time?

Are you considering a career transition? Contact me at brittmari@brittmarisykes.ca to book a consultation call.