A woman holds a binder and looks satisfied at work representing how to make a career transition

How to Make a Career Transition at Any Age

Making a career transition can be a daunting task, especially if you’ve spent years building your expertise in a particular field only to discover you don’t like your work. 

How can you know what career would actually feel more satisfying? If you know what kind of work you’d like to be doing, where should you even begin making your career transition?

It’s very common for people in their 30s, 40s, or 50s to arrive in career coaching or career counseling with questions like these. When it comes to choosing careers, most of us don’t get a lot of help. We usually enter our chosen fields right after college, before we’ve had enough life experience to know what we’re passionate about, what our values are, and what kind of career would fit into the big-picture goals we have for our lives. Then we wander from job to job, learning through trial and error what feels good for us and what doesn’t.

It’s no wonder, then, that so many people change careers, often a few times. As we experience ourselves in different work environments, we learn more about what we’re good at, what we enjoy, and what kind of work feels genuinely meaningful. It’s only natural that we’d want to use our greater wisdom and self-knowledge to find work that we love

If you are ready to make a career transition, this article will give you some pointers on where to begin. I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. It’s a conversation between myself and my colleague Susan H., M.A., LPCC, a career counselor, coach, and professional development expert on our team at Growing Self. Her point of view on career change is refreshing and insightful — I hope you’ll tune in! 

What Is Your ‘Why’ for Changing Careers?

This is the first question you should ask yourself if you’re thinking about making a big career change. Often, people who come to career counseling aren’t totally clear about their “why” until they do some intentional reflection. They just know that they hate their job and they longing to do something different. 

If that sounds like you, ask yourself these questions: What exactly are you unhappy with at your job? What are you wanting to be different? Is it about the work itself, or all the structure surrounding the work?

If you want to get away from a toxic work environment, an unreasonable workload, difficult coworkers, a bad boss, low pay, or other job-specific issues, these are great reasons to leave a job — but they don’t necessarily mean you need to leave your career. If you’re truly unhappy in your current position, that experience is likely tainting how you feel about your profession in general. You may be thinking, “I hate how it feels to be a dentist / trombonist / international spy,” but there are likely some opportunities for you to remain in your field and find a new workplace that is more empowering and in line with your vision for your life. 

If, on the other hand, you’ve realized that your career isn’t aligned with your values, your passions, your interests, or your other life goals, like where you want to live, your visions for financial success, or the kind of work-life balance you’re looking for, that’s a sign that it may indeed be time for a career change. 

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Career Transitions: Embracing Uncertainty 

The scariest part of starting a new career is not knowing if you’re making the right choice, especially if you have a family who’s relying on your income, or if you’re thinking about starting a new degree (and possibly taking on tens of thousands of dollars in student debt). 

All of the unknowns can make you feel paralyzed. There are ways to test drive a new career, but at some point you will have to make a leap of faith and begin investing time, energy, and possibly money into your new career path… without knowing for certain whether or not it will be any more rewarding than your current career. 

You can and should gather all the information available to you before making a big commitment, like going back to school, or taking a job that comes with a significant pay cut. Spending some time with a career coach can also help you develop a clear vision for your desired career and the best path to creating it. All of this will help you feel more confident in your choice, but it won’t give you a crystal ball that reveals your career future. 

Eventually, you will have to make a decision, despite not being 100% certain what the outcome will be. The key to getting unstuck and beginning to move forward is trusting yourself to figure it out as you go and continue making adjustments until you’ve built a career you love.

Creating a Skills-Based Resume for Career Changes

People often want to know if there’s a way to start a new career, without starting over at the bottom of the career ladder. The answer is, sometimes. 

There are some careers that have established pathways that aren’t going to bend. You’re not going to transition from working as an accountant to working as a neurosurgeon without applying to medical school and working your way up from there. But for many careers, there are overlapping skill sets that can serve as entry points for people coming from different fields. Writing a skills-based resume that emphasizes what you know how to do, instead of the job titles you’ve held, will help you show how your past experiences are relevant to the new career you want to pursue. 

For example, someone who works in marketing might have skills like analyzing data, producing short videos, and conducting research. If they were interested in becoming a UX researcher, they could rewrite their resume to emphasize their research and data analysis skills. If they wanted to transition to a career in media, they could emphasize their video production skills and put together a highlight reel of their best shorts. They could work with an interview coach to reframe their career story and demonstrate how their past experiences have prepared them for their next chapter

Not having a “traditional” background for a job can feel like a barrier to entry, but it can actually be an asset. Many employers appreciate candidates who bring diverse skill sets and fresh ideas from adjacent fields.

Finding ways to do work on a part-time or freelance basis before jumping into a new career is also an option. This will not only give you relevant experience that can help you on your job search, it will also help you learn more about the career you’re interested in so you can make informed decisions. 

Effective Support for Career Transitions

Starting a new career is exciting, but it’s also very common to feel stress and anxiety about this enormous life change. Many people at a career crossroads feel some regret about past choices, and sometimes even depression and hopelessness about the future. 

There are career development professionals who have experience helping people like you manage the anxiety of change, navigate transitions with skill, and build careers they love. If you’d like to meet with a career counselor or coach on our team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For more advice on changing careers with confidence, check out our “Career Clarity” collection of articles and podcasts. 

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How to Make a Career Transition at Any Age

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Music in this episode is by Kelley Stoltz with their song “My Wildest Dream.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://kelley.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Hi, this is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. It’s time to make a big career change. Pursuing a new career path can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming, especially if it’s a big pivot. How can you make a major transition with both clarity and confidence and get where you want to go? Where should you even begin? That’s what we’re talking about on today’s show.

Fans of Kelley Stoltz will be pleased to know that he has a new album out right now we’re listening to the song, My Wildest Dream from the new album, The Stylist. And it looks like Mr. Kelley is on tour as we speak. You can catch up with him somewhere on the West Coast of the United States and learn more about him and what he’s up to on his Bandcamp page kelley.bandcamp.com. Kelley with two E’s, K-E-L-L-E-Y.bandcamp.com.

I thought that this song was so fun, and really a perfect, energetic setup for our topic today. Because today, we are talking about making your wildest dreams come true in a very real and practical way. So on today’s episode of the podcast, we are talking about how to make a major career change. Because you know, changing careers is incredibly common, right? We can certainly change jobs. But the process of doing this can be a little bit mysterious, particularly if you’re thinking about making a substantial career change, like maybe something completely different.

You are currently a school teacher and you want to be a commercial airline pilot, how does one get from here to there? And how do you even make that decision with clarity, with confidence? So you know, we all have these cultural scripts around the way careers evolve, right? We go to school, you do an internship, you get a starter pack job, that then kind of progresses into something more substantial until you reach that ultimate career goal, and you get to do the work you wanted to do all along. But that is actually not true for a lot of people.

We can maybe start moving in one direction, and then realize, “Oh, this career that I’ve thought I was gonna like is actually not the right one for me at all. And now that I’m a little older and wiser, I think I want to do something radically different and maybe even a little later in life.” So this can be a anxiety provoking kind of existential crisis.

If you’re dealing with this in your life right now, you will be relieved to know that on today’s show, we are talking with an expert career counselor about how to begin this process of discovery, how to chart your path forward, particularly if you have to navigate around, under, through, over some pretty epic obstacles to get to where you think you want to go. So Susan, thank you so much for joining me on the show today. This is such a pleasure.

Susan: Thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it.

Dr. Lisa: I’m so glad that you could join me today because you are a career counselor, as well as a therapist. And I know that you have a lot of insight into this growth process. You’ve helped many people along the way. But I was wondering if we could start by just talking a little bit about, you know, in your experience, what is it like for somebody, you know, maybe some of your past clients who are coming to you, with, you know, what we were just talking about,? They maybe have been doing one thing, but are realizing that they have a desire to do something that’s very different than what they originally set out to do? Like, this has to be a big deal?

The Feelings Behind Making A Big Career Change

Susan: Absolutely. I think a lot of clients come to me feeling some sort of like regret and disappointment about the past career changes or career choices that they’ve made. And I think I tend to try to normalize it for them in the beginning. You know, like you said, it is really a lot more common now for us to change careers several times throughout our lives. So, you know, some people come in and think, you know, “I’m the only one who hasn’t figured this out like everybody else around me knows what they’re doing. And, you know, it’s just me.” 

I tried to like normalize it for them that you know, you’re in a place that a lot of other people are in and it can be really scary to try to make a huge career change. But we can do the work and gain the knowledge that you need to be confident when you do go in to make that change. And so I think that’s a really important aspect of kind of the beginning of talking to my clients, this kind of normalizing it for them and letting them know that, you know, I’m here to help them through the path and guide them along. Because most people come in are like, “I’m lost, or I’m stuck”, and they have just no idea of what’s next for them.

Dr. Lisa: Well, and you know, that’s honestly why I wanted to talk with you, because like, you know, the career counselors on our team, so you’re there, our practice Growing Self. And I think that this is, so really not just cool, but like unique about you and others on our team. Because a lot of career counselors or, you know, career coaches, they are not also professional therapists, which you are.

You’re a therapist that specializes in career counseling, and this is you’re talking about what this experience is really like, for people, I’m sitting here feeling grateful for that fact. Because what I’m hearing is that there can actually be a fair amount of, like, emotional pain for people who are coming in. I mean, you were talking about regrets, feeling stuck, feeling dark emotions, and I’m glad that you’re normalizing that, but I’m also imagining that it might be helpful to spend some time there, like helping people almost feel strong enough to start thinking about changes, because I think we all know, when we’re not feeling great emotionally, it can be difficult to have the confidence or the drive even to like, get out there and go make big amazing changes. Has that been true for you? Like just people need to be in that space for a while?

Susan: I think so. Yeah, I think, you know, I always try to remind clients that, you know, in the US, at least, our system isn’t really set up that great for career exploration. Like, maybe you do an assessment in high school, like, unless you like know about the career center, you’re probably not doing a whole lot of career exploration in college. And so the idea that, like at 18, you’re supposed to pick a major, or pick a job that you’re gonna stay in for the rest of your life is to me, kind of ridiculous, like, it’s just not very, it’s not an easy thing to do when you’re that young. And I remind people that.

You’re going to grow and change and learn things about yourself. And it’s okay to make different choices based on kind of those new findings about yourself. And I just tried to remind people like, in the moment, you make the best decision that you can with all the information you have. And a year from now, you’re going to have new information, and then you’re gonna again, make the best decision that you can. And that’s just kind of how our life in our career works now is like, you’re going to change a lot. But, you know, there’s some, like you said, some shame, some regret.

I think just accepting the fact that, okay, maybe I made a decision, I’ve realized it hasn’t worked out for me. But I learned a lot about myself. By making that decision, things that I probably wouldn’t have known had I not gone for this job. I feel like, you know, whatever job you have, every experience you have, you can take something away from that, to then make a better decision or a better choice for the next step of your life.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that’s so reassuring and validating and gosh, empowering. I’m glad to hear you say this. I could see somebody later, a little later in life, you know, 30, 35, 40, who went to college 10,15 or more years ago, and feeling a lot of regret almost like for the last opportunity, you know. Because in some ways, there’s more flexibility, sometimes when you’re young or people kind of wishing that they’d started sooner on a career path. But I mean, you speak so insightfully about the truth that a lot of times I think people legitimately don’t know themselves well enough to know what they would be happy with or satisfied with when they are later in life, because they were so young when they got on that one track. So it’s almost like you you have to do that in order to figure it out.

Susan: Absolutely. I think your 20s are such a big time to be able to like learn more about yourself and figure out you know, what is next for you. And I, you know, I see clients who are in their early 20s all the way to their 50s that are kind of looking to make this change. I even know somebody who is in her 70s who made a career change because it was something she wanted to do. And so I think it’s never too late. And, you know, for some people, maybe it does take longer than for them to kind of reflect on themselves and who they are. But I think the fact that you’re kind of brave enough to try to do that even later on in life is pretty commendable.

I think I look at a lot of my older clients and think that they’re really brave to come back and be like, “No, I want to focus on myself now,” like, you know. We go through these different role transitions when we hit, you know, that middle age of like, maybe now we have families or other roles or responsibilities that we didn’t have in our 20s. And so it’s always great to see people come back, you know. A lot of people come back when their kids are kind of, in an age where they can kind of take care of themselves. And now they’re ready to focus on themselves and making themselves happy and being in a career that feels like a good fit for them and feels more authentic to who they are.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. And I hear that. And that process itself, I mean, can be quite a journey, because I don’t know if this is how you’ve worked with people. But it would seem to me like it could really be helpful and important and even vital for people to spend some time reflecting on what it is about what they have been doing that they don’t like, you know.

I think that we sort of culturally tend to pull away from dark things or, you know, things that are hard. But I would imagine there can be a lot of value in getting really clear around what is it about what you have been doing that makes you feel like this is not the right fit for you? Have you found that to be helpful? Or am I?

Self-Reflecting And Clarifying The Problem

Susan: No, one of the first steps I take with clients is, you know, clarifying the problem like is the problem, the role you’re in? Is the problem the environment you’re in? ou know, there’s a difference between being in a toxic workplace and needing to move workplaces versus being in a role that doesn’t feel like a good fit, and needing to make a complete change. So I always want people to really clarify, first of all, what is the problem here? What is the reasoning behind wanting to change?

That way, we can make sure that those next steps were helping you meet your goals. And another early intervention I do is a lot of self-reflection. I want people to tell me, you know, what are the things they enjoy both at work and not at work? What are some of their natural abilities? What are their favorite roles and responsibilities? What are the roles and responsibilities that kind of drain them? You know, what is important to them in their career? What does success mean for them?

Doing that kind of self-reflection and asking yourself those questions, I think, can all help with the part where you’re kind of clarifying what the issue is and getting a really solid foundation of figuring out. Okay, what, what is the problem? And how do I move forward from here?

Dr. Lisa: Well, that’s interesting. And I’m wondering if we could talk a little bit more deeply because you just said something that I thought was really interesting that, you know. You can spend a lot of time talking with somebody to get clarity around what the true nature of the problem is, like. I mean, you said, like, are you in a toxic workplace? You know, and I think that that’s so salient because you might be having escaped fantasies, you are an accountant, and now you’re thinking about being a circus clown, and, but really, back into, you know.

Is there something about the environment or specific situation that you’re in right now that is making this job, this profession seem a lot harder and feel a lot harder than it might if you were actually maybe making a lateral move? Maybe you’re still in the same career generally but in just an environment that feels better for you rather than, you know, jumping out of the pool altogether? So like, can I ask, what would be some signs or some things that you would be listening for that would be indications that it is really an environmental thing? Like an easy example, like a toxic workspace? You know, what does it look like for people?

Susan: I think it can look like a lot of different things. It can be, you know, issues with supervisors or issues with coworkers, you know. Could be just kind of thinking about the company culture in general, are they really supportive? Like, you know, when you need to take time off, are they, you know, giving you a hard time? Are they going to be supportive? And be like, “No, I know you have a life.” And I think work-life balance has become like such a key term lately that I hear so much from clients. And so I think you can start to understand, you know, just by listening to what clients say about their jobs, you know.

People typically will tell me like, you know, “it’s not the role, I actually really enjoy what I do, it’s just, you know, I just dread getting up in the morning and driving into work, like, I just don’t want to be there Sunday nights, I just have like, such a hard time, you know, preparing myself for the week.” And so, kind of asking those questions and seeing is it like, is it the role itself, is it like, the actual tasks, what you do day to day? Or is it the people that you’re around the supervision you have? You know, the chances even for like promotion or feeling like you’re paid fairly those, those things all really matter, in a job for people.

I think defining that can be really important for people. And I think once you start to hear about, you know, some aspects of what goes on in their work environment, it’s kind of gets easier to see if it’s a toxic place, or if it’s just, you know, not a good fit for someone.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that’s a good point too, that goodness of fit is really important, and that we don’t maybe need to label something as a toxic workplace in order to be able to say, “This is probably not right for me.” But that part of that exploration process I’m hearing would really help somebody get a lot more clarity and confidence about what that problem really is. And also, in doing so illuminating a path forward. You know, because maybe you don’t have to go back to school to be a, I don’t know, astronaut, maybe, maybe get a different job. And we’re all out. Right. Okay.

Then what would be some things that you might be hearing about if it was the other thing? You know, somebody is saying, “No, I think I don’t want to do anything even remotely like this anymore. I am ready for a big change.” Where does that come from? What does it sound like when people are really wanting something substantially different? Where does that even come from?

Susan: I think there’s a sense of like, disengagement that you start to hear. So when people lose the energy and their interest towards their work, I think that’s when it kind of becomes a little bit more clear that maybe it’s, you know, the role itself. If you’re not wanting to, you know, be promoted, or be challenged, or show up, or do you know, learning experience outside the typical hours, you know, maybe that’s a sign that this isn’t something that you care enough about to want to put in that effort.

I think so many people come to me talking about, like, you know, “I want to find a purpose, I want to find some meaning. And I just don’t feel that in my current position.” So we talk about like, okay, well, what does that actually mean to, you know, what is meaningful to you? You know, what feels like something that’s purposeful to you? And so, I definitely think, you know, reviewing somebody’s like, interest and their energy when they go to work is really important.

Dr. Lisa: Now, that’s a great point that if, and so the way to kind of tell the difference is that they’re, like, fundamentally checked out. Like, they, you know, are maybe getting interesting assignments, they’re empowered, they’re being asked to, you know, maybe do creative things, or that somebody else who did have more passion for that particular role might really enjoy, but it feels like, it’s just like this, “I don’t care. I don’t want to this is not meaningful for me.”

That’s a signal that we need to do a deeper dive in order to reconnect with what that means. Well, okay. How much of the time do you say you have somebody kind of wandering into your office, and they are, you know, maybe they’ve been in one career for a while, and they’re like, “I think I might want to do this instead,” versus how many times people are like, “I literally don’t know what the next thing is. I just know I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Susan: I think the majority are “I have no idea.” Like, “I just know I don’t like this job. I know I don’t like this industry or this role.” And, you know, they have no idea when I asked them, you know, what would be your dream job, you know, or what are some of your ideas that you have right now? And they’re just like, “I have no idea.” And some people, you know, maybe they’re like, Well, you know, the environment is important to me, so maybe something in that, and they’ll kind of throw a couple of things out there. But so many people are just like, “I have no idea and I don’t know where to start to even figure it out.”

Dr. Lisa: Cue bursting into tears.

Susan: Yes.

Dr. Lisa: Seriously, like feeling in some way, because our career path, or you know, what we do for a living, it can consume so much time and energy and to be like, really unhappy, unfulfilled, in a current position, but like, literally not knowing what else to do. I mean, that’s, like, trapped, you know? Well, maybe not hopeless, because that’s why they’re there talking to you. But you know, that kind of just, “I don’t even know where I’m going.” Overwhelming, maybe is the right word for it.

Hope Before The Big Leap

Susan: And scary, just scary knowing that, like, “Am I going to be stuck in this place? Because I don’t know even how to go about figuring out how to get another job in a totally different field that, you know, these are my skill sets, how is that even going to be transferable to another job?”

Most people think, you know, they see teachers who are like, you know, “That’s all I know how to do, how am I going to go into an office or a corporate job and have the skill set?” And so we’ve talked a lot about that, like their skills. But I think I do have a little bit of a unique perspective because I kind of the same path as a lot of my clients. I started, yeah, I started in an industry, I kind of just fell into a job, I never really knew what I wanted to do. 

I ended up working in corporate for several years before I saw a career counselor, and I figured out like, I want to go back to school, and I want to be a career counselor. So I think that helps me kind of empathize with my clients because I know what it’s like to feel that sense of overwhelm or fear or just feeling completely lost or stuck in a place where you’re like, “I don’t know how I get out of this.” And so I definitely can utilize my own experiences, too, when I talk to clients.

Because I think it’s helpful for them to see somebody who has kind of a success story of like, you know, I went from hating what I do to loving what I do. And so a lot of people come to me, you’re like,” Is this even possible?” And I’m like, “Yes, it is possible.” Like, I want you to have that sort of hope. Because I think hope is such an important factor in this, especially when you feel like you’ve lost competence, or you’re just fearful of like, what’s the next step for me? Having that hope is really important.

Dr. Lisa: It really is what an inspiring story. You know, to think too like, the fear must be real because I mean, I would, then we don’t have to talk about your personal experience if you don’t want to. But like, I think if you’ve had a bad experience with something, be it a job, a career, or relationship, right? I think that there can be a really understandable and legitimate fear involved around “How do I know that even if I make this big change, and I go through all the trouble and time and energy and money of going back to school or something like that,” like, you know, how do I know that it is going to be better?

It’s such a leap of faith sometimes because you don’t really know what something is going to be like until you start doing it. I remember feeling that way. I had, I didn’t know what I was going to do either, you know, right, right after college, and so like, messed around for a few years before I decided to go back to school to become a counselor. And I remember that very clearly like this. “I sure hope I like this,” you know, once you get started because it’s not certain.

Susan: Absolutely, that is a big talking point with clients. They come in and they’re like, “I’d be willing to go back to school, but I need to know for sure that it’s something I want to do,” or, you know, “I have these ideas, but how do I actually know if I’m going to like it, or if it’s going to be a good fit for me.” And, you know, we can do you know, as much research as we can and we can do I always, you know, recommend people do some like informational interviewing and talk to people in the field. If you can job shadow, that’s great. But at a certain point, it is kind of a leap of faith.

You have to kind of be brave and take that leap because you know, it is hard to know unless you’re actually in that position if it’s going to be the best fit but we can do as much kind of background research and looking into it as we can to try to help us feel a little bit more confident when we do go to take that leap because it is a big leap, especially if you’re going back to school or especially if you’re going to a job where you have to go entry level and so you’re now making less money than you were and that’s really scary to people.

It is something that we talk about a lot, like, how do I gain some competence to be able to make that leap? And be okay with the fact that, you know, there is a chance that it couldn’t work out. But, you know, there’s a chance that it could be really great as well.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, and thank you for bringing up I mean, the very real, I don’t know if sacrifice is the right word or investment? You know, to think about, like, the expense of going back to school, or. You’re so right. I mean, if you are in a mid-level job that you’ve been doing for 10 years, and you’re now starting over and really at the bottom of the ladder in some ways, that’s, that’s very real.

To think about, you know, to need to be at least, fairly sure that it’s going to be worth it. But I also hear you say that, you know, at the end of the day, that is also not a reasonable expectation that we, any of us can know for sure what something is really going to be like until we start doing it. But I also heard you say that there’s some ways that you can get the boat a little bit closer to the dock, so to speak, through this, this exploration process, research process. 

You know, operative word here is process, like, I’m sure that it takes some time. So, you know, an unfair expectation for somebody to expect that they should feel confident to jump into another thing without having given themselves the opportunity to really go through all of that. But so I would imagine it takes weeks, if not months to really wade into everything. But are there just one or two even strategies that you would advise somebody to do? Who’s really eager to start getting some clarity around “Would this be right for me?” I mean, are there things that our listeners could do at home? Or is it really-

Preparing Yourself For Your Career Change

Susan: I mean, I think there are definitely things you can do at home. I think it’s helpful to have a counselor to kind of help you put together, you know, what certain assessments or activities mean, and that’s what I tend to do with my clients is use activities or different assessments. Because I think it’s important to understand like, “What are my values? What are my interests? What are my skills? What are my strengths? What is my personality type?”

We do a lot of exploration around understanding those things. And I call it kind of gaining clarity of like who you are, and kind of developing that self-concept. And so there are paid assessments that you can do, of course, you know, Myers Briggs Personality, Strong Interest, Inventory, and things like that. But there’s also free exercises that are available online that can kind of give you some of the same information.

I think a lot of people will have the expectation of when they take an assessment, they’re expecting an answer. And unfortunately, that’s not the most realistic. And so I think of assessment as more of a starting point to help yourself, kind of learn about who you are. And so, for example, like with interests, I use a website called O*Net and there’s an interest profiler. 

It literally takes people five minutes to complete the assessment. And then I showed them how to go about looking for the information that’s related to their interests in their careers and to kind of start doing some exploration because a lot of people come in and like, “I don’t even know what’s out there. There’s so much. How do I know? And this is one of those assessments that can kind of start to give you some language around, like, what are other career paths out there? 

There’s other assessments I do that are, you know, are paid assessments, I have a skills assessment I do, because I think it’s really important to know, you know, understand, like, what are the skills that I’m good at and what are the skills I like to use versus what are the skills I’m good but one of the skills I don’t like to use. Because the latter are burnout skills, and so if you’re good at something but don’t like using it, you’re going to end up hitting that burnout, and it’s not going to be a great situation for you.

Getting clarity on like, what are the skills I like using and what are the ones that are really important to me? And that’s kind of the sweet spot of like, “Okay, that’s what I should be focusing on for a career.” So there’s a lot of that self-exploration, but there’s also kind of exploring the ideal work environment thinking about like, what do you want out of it? Is it remote or hybrid or in-person? Is it working on a team or being more independent?

Thinking too, about that ideal work environment for yourself is another important step that I think we can do on our own. And we can kind of just think about the experiences we’ve had to figure out like, okay, like to this experience, or I didn’t like this experience, or because I didn’t like this experience I think I would like this experience. Even though I may If you haven’t done it yet, I think it would be a better fit for me.

I think doing those assessments and activities with my clients, it’s more about helping them find those themes and connections to take with them moving forward to kind of have some data and evidence behind why they’re choosing the new path that they’re choosing. Because I think that is all really helpful when it comes to just gaining clarity about what’s next for me and what I want the next steps to be.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, well, and to be able to sort of almost compile some factual evidence, right, that is a kind of a basis really for making the change. Based on these things that you’re discovering about yourself and having the opportunity think no, this is true about me. And in this situation, I would be able to do more of this. Therefore, I can feel more confident that this is the right thing to do.

I have to share, I think I might have even mentioned this in another podcast not too long ago. But I recently had the opportunity to take the Gallup StrengthsFinder for the first time. It was such a cool experience, and really eye-opening, because I actually learned some things about myself that I didn’t consciously know. But then when I was reading the report, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, these people are spying on me.”

Like, you know, one of them, the big strength of mine, apparently, is learning. And it actually made me reflect on like, doing these podcasts and why I love it so much is because it gives me the opportunity to have conversations with people like you who have sort of a different background and skill set, you know, and learning things. I think being able to like share information, it is just so genuinely enjoyable for me. And it just made me feel very grateful that I managed to somehow find a situation where I get to do that, like learn things, and share information.

It made me feel really happy. But I was very impressed by just the assessment. And so I just wanted to give a shout-out. It’s not cheap. It was like 60 bucks or something like that. But it was, it was well, it was very valuable to me. So anyway, and I am not representative. I know probably commercial right now, I promise I’m not a- I’m a fan.

A Bulit-To-Last Approach To Choosing A Career

Susan: There’s one that gives you like your top five, I think which is a cheaper option. Maybe it’s like $20 to do the Clifton Strengths. So I like that one because I do think it’s cool. I like you, I love taking those assessments and learning more about myself. And it gives you a lot of insight and things you didn’t know before. One of my top five was learning too and I was like, “Okay, I need to find a job or career where I’m going to be able to continue to learn and grow and have those, you know, challenges.”

That’s kind of what led me to knowing like, okay, this is probably a good fit for me to be in some sort of counseling role. Because there’s always going to be something new to learn. There’s always going to be theories to read up on or, you know, experts to listen to. And so, I do love the strengths exercise and having like, a top five or addition with like a top 10. And it kind of gives you some good information about like, what are my strengths, and it kind of helps you go about, like making some of those decisions of you know, okay, what would be a good fit, career for me based on some of those strengths I have. 

It’s really about kind of putting all those things together, putting the values together with the strengths, with the interests, with your personality, with your skills, all of those things together can help us piece together a puzzle, really to kind of figure out, you know, some other paths that might be a better fit, and help you live a more authentic life really.

Dr. Lisa: Well, that’s such a great reminder, too. I love your puzzle of metaphor, because it has to be the whole thing, right? You can’t really make an informed decision on one of those facets. There’s a holistic component, you know, your personality, your strengths, but also that like, what do I want my life to be like, what, what else do I want to be doing besides working? You know, and what kind of career path would support that? So I’m glad that you brought that up, too.

Susan: Yeah, I think I’m in the process. People get frustrated because we do these activities or assessments kind of one at a time and go through them. But I, you know, I remind clients just trust the process, like let’s go through it all, and then we can reevaluate because maybe in a session, it doesn’t feel like going through your values is that helpful. But I think at the end of the day, that’s a big piece of the puzzle that we need to know about to feel like we’re in the right place.

I think a lot of people care so much more about like the company’s values and company culture than they may have in the past. And so I love doing values work, because I think it’s so helpful. But I have some clients who are like, “I don’t really know what I was getting out of this,” and some clients who absolutely love it. So it’s definitely about kind of trusting the process and letting us get that holistic view of all these things to help you kind of figure it out.

Dr. Lisa: That’s wonderful. Well, thank you. And thank you for saying that. Because I think yeah, you know, you’re right, I could also see people getting impatient with the process, I’ve talked to you three times, I still don’t know if a circus clown or a mailman and so we need to find this out right now. But you’re really advising a much wiser I think, and like built-to-last approach, which is taking the time to do this now will help truly avoid being in a similar situation three, five, ten years down the line. I mean, you know, not saying that we don’t continue growing and evolving. And you might decide that there’s something else for you. But to really slow down.

Susan: That is something that a lot of clients come to me and they’re like, “I don’t want to just make a change for the sake of making a change. Like, I want to make a meaningful change, I want to make sure I’m doing the work to understand like, what that next step is for me.” And I think it can be easier to just up and change jobs thinking like, Oh, this is going to make it better. But if you can actually do the work and have some meaning behind what you’re doing, for next steps, it can make a big difference. And I think a lot of people are willing to put in the time during this process. So they’re not wasting time by just jumping into another career that might not be the best fit for them either.

Dr. LisaI’m sitting here right now thinking about I wish about philosophy when it comes to relationships seriously, because I think that people can be certainly more deliberate for you know, just switching from one job to another. But sometimes, sorry, and I don’t want to derail the conversation. But I do often see that as people think, well, you know, it’s this person that I’m with, and so they move from one relationship into another and really don’t give themselves the time or space to do the exploration work around what is really going on? What could I potentially be doing differently here? 

It’s unfortunate, you know, to not have the chance to really create a different experience the next time around, so I’m glad that you’re talking about it with regards to career. But I want to check in about something else, though, because, um, you know, as we’re discussing, when we’re making a big career change, it can be quite a process in terms of just getting clear about what that is, getting confident working through stuff. But then I would imagine that it could be its own separate challenge to actually, I guess, actualize a new career path, you know.

Changing Careers Versus Making A Lateral Move

If now you’re in a position where you are maybe trying to get a new job that you don’t have a lot of work experience, you know, to demonstrate your value to a prospective employer, or, as you mentioned before, I mean, there could be transferable skills. But like, have you experienced the actual process of changing careers to be more challenging to people when it’s a big change, as opposed to maybe a more lateral move? Or am I just making stuff up right now? Because I might be. I do that.

Susan: No, I think that’s very true. I think there’s a difference between, you know, changing careers by going back to school or changing into a career that’s like completely opposite. Like, you know, going from rodeo clown to corporate America is probably going to be a struggle. And so we definitely talk about, you know, how to re-evaluate your skills, so they can be those transferable skills.

A lot of people, you know, think they only know how to do certain tasks at work, but it’s more about like, okay, but do you have the communication skills? Do you have the teamwork skills? Do you have, you know, the written comprehension, all the different type of skills? You can update your resume to kind of show off those skills versus like putting down like, the actual task that you do at work, if that makes sense. Like, instead of being like, “Okay, I daily open up Excel and do this” versus like, “I review data,” you know, just whatever it is, like just talking more about the skill set itself versus like the actual like task that you do.

I find people who decide they want to go back to school is, it’s a little bit, I don’t want to see easier for process. There’s a little bit more of like, you know what the next steps are like. Now it’s time to look at schools and find a program and apply to the program. Whereas, like, if you’re going from a career to a totally different career, that might be a little more difficult. And it might take some, you know, finessing of the resume and your interview skills and networking and trying to connect with people to break into an industry that maybe has nothing to do with the current one you’re in.

I do think it’s, it can be a difficult process to kind of make that change. And it’s just about getting clear on what your goals are, and figuring out like, some strategies how to go about doing that.

Dr. Lisa: But it’s very empowering. I mean, there are strategies like even reframing through language, like how you describe certain skills, right? That a fantastic tip because I would imagine that people have, oftentimes a lot more than they may think that they do, right? But then the networking piece is so important, you know, to connect with somebody who can advocate for you, and maybe make it easier.

I feel like asking you another question, though. And I don’t know if this is a fair question because I know you are a career specialist. And I tend to be you know, more of a relational person. But what is coming up for me if I kind of put myself empathetically in this life experience, and especially, you know, maybe for somebody who’s a little bit older, 35, 40, you know, that they have a life established. Maybe they have a partner, maybe they have a family.

The Relationship Aspect

I wonder the degree to which they might get pushback from a spouse or, and also, for a younger person to I mean, I would, I would think, maybe even family, you know, if they’ve started going down one track that their parents were very pleased about, like, “Oh, our son, the dentist,” right, and, you know, going in a different direction. That might be hard to manage in terms of like, the systemic, relational kind of factors because it’s not more about just, you know, choosing a different career path, getting a different job. But it’s like a, maybe a little bit of an uphill battle, if, you know, your partner is scared, maybe about what this might mean financially or different kinds of things.

Can you speak to that experience at all? Or does that come up with your clients?

Susan: I kind of see both sides of the coin. Like I see some clients come in, and they have really supportive partners who are just like, you know, “I want you to figure out, I want you to be happy, you know, I want you to spend time,” we don’t, you know. Some people don’t have to worry about the money aspect quite as much, so it’s a little bit easier for them. But then I have people who come in, they’re like, you know, “I’m the sole breadwinner of my family, I’m a single mom, and now I have to change jobs, I can’t just go back to school, and, and take on a lot more debt, or go to a job where I’m gonna make significantly less money.”

I talk to people whose partners are like, you know, they bring up that financial aspect of like, “It’s going to be really difficult for you to make that change.” And so, I definitely think it’s something that it’s important to be considerate of when we’re talking about a career change. Because, you know, there has to be some reality aspect of changing careers, because it’s maybe not realistic to expect somebody who is making really good money to then take a pay cut where they’re only making half of what they earned. And they still have the same family obligations and the same financial situation that they have.

I’m always impressed with the people who have spouses who are just so supportive of them. And I think it’s important that if your spouse isn’t as supportive, you know, having those hard conversations I think is important and understanding like, okay, “I can take a pay cut, but I can only take this much of a pay cut.” So maybe when we are exploring jobs, we need to look at the ones that you know, are making a certain amount of money or above you know.

It’s not necessarily going back and asking somebody to take minimum wage jobs, you know, bits, the pay, and the salary is still really important because that provides people with a lot of stability and security. And without that, that’s a very scary situation to be in. So I do have clients that that ends up being a big topic of conversation, and it’s something that really comes up in their values of, you know, some people were like, “I hate to say it, but the pay really matters to me like that’s, that’s a big deal for me,” and some people come in and say you “You know, I’m okay with the pay being less, as long as I’m doing something I love or I’m happy.”

I think getting clarity on like, those values too can be really important to figure out. How open are we to picking anything versus how we can pick something that still makes sense for you financially without having to go back to school or take on a bunch of debt to make those changes? Financial situations are always, you know, hard and scary for people. So I think having those conversations with clients is just really important to understand, like, what are their needs? Like, we need to figure out what their needs are not just their wants, you know.

Those things are both important. But, you know, there’s certain things that you need out of life, and making sure we can hit that is important as well.

Dr. Lisa: I’m really glad that you highlighted something that is really important, which needs to be said that, certainly, different people can have different orientations to end relationships with money as its own thing. You know, that there can be some variability in how important that is for some people in relation to other things. But you bring up such a great point, too, that is, you know, there’s a lot of like privilege attached to being in a situation financially or having some kind of safety net, that, you know.

Making a big career change is also attached to a certain level of socio-economic privilege. And if you don’t have that, that can be a very real consideration. And that I think, I also heard you say, you need a strategy. Like, let’s pay attention to that, and actually not put you in a situation that is going to mess you up or make your life harder, right, like, find a middle path.

Susan: I think it’s easy for us to say, “Find your passion, find something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” But that’s not always realistic for people. And I think keeping that in mind is so important because it is something that yeah, you have to be in a pretty privileged place for it not to matter as much or not to be as big of a concern.

Yeah, just keeping that in mind, I think as a career counselor is something that is always kind of in the back of my mind that I’m always checking in with clients too. Because even being able to come to see a career counselor, there’s some amount of not privileged, but you know, it’s six financials. Yeah, yeah, it’s not a cheap.

Dr. Lisa: Compared to a college degree, it’s nothing.

Susan: Sure. Absolutely, yeah. But there’s still some aspect of a financial commitment to do that. And so I always try to keep that in mind when I talk to clients about, you know, how many sessions it’s going to take, or how long this process is, you know. We need to keep checking in on your goals and making sure we’re doing things that are meaningful for you. Because it’s not about you having the most amount of sessions to figure it out because that might not be financially feasible for you.

It’s about kind of using our sessions in a smart way and making sure that when we come together, we are talking about, you know, the themes and the connections we’re seeing, and not so much about just spending time doing assessments in session. So I don’t know, that kind of got off-track, off-topic.

Dr. Lisa: But really, you know, really, that you have, you are looking out for your client’s best interest and making sure that it is productive. It is, you know, moving them in a direction. And just out of curiosity, and this is a genuine, just question. Is there a kind of average range of how long this process will take? Like I’m sure it’s certainly varied by individual right, and what’s going on and kind of where they’re starting from, but, I mean, is there a sort of average?

Susan: It is really hard to say. It really does depend on the client and what their goals are and what their needs are. I tend to tell people to expect maybe six to 12 sessions on average. But it really, there’s no like, exact science or number down the sessions will need so I’m always slightly hesitant to tell people no middle fair.

Dr. Lisa: But fair.

Susan: I also think that’s a fair question. Like, I would want to know if I was coming into this process, like, how long is this going to take me. And so I also tell people about it depends on how often we meet if we’re meeting weekly, we’re going to be done faster. You’re needing to meet every other week, every few weeks, it is going to be a longer process and to kind of keep that in mind as well. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that’s helpful.

Susan: I think it’s important to know the client’s timeline too. Some clients come in and they’re like, “No, no, I expect to make a change a year from now or two years from now.” And some clients are like, “Oh, I want a decision in the next two months before that ends.” So understanding what their timeline is, and making sure we talk about how realistic that is, or what we can do to try to meet that timeline the best way we can.

Looking At Both Sides Of The Relationship

Dr. Lisa: No, that makes sense. I mean, and especially if somebody is in the current situation where they’re, like really unhappy, I could see how that would add a sense of urgency to it, you know. I have so many more questions that I could ask, and I want to be sensitive to your time. And also, though, if it’s okay, we’ll just toss in a couple of little sprinkles of relationship advice into this, if, you know, as you said, what a gift it is if you’re thinking about making a big career change, and you have a really supportive partner supportive family, like, that’s just such an amazing thing.

If you are in that situation, and your partner or your family is less receptive or supportive than you’d hoped, one just relationship tip that’s really like a communication tip that I’ll share is that it can be really, really helpful, both for them and for you, to have these courageous conversations with the knowledge that when people don’t like these ideas, it is almost always, at least in my experience, because they are feeling afraid or threatened. Either afraid for themselves and what this means for them, and you know, your family, or maybe they are afraid for you on some level. 

I just wanted to say that because I think that sometimes, you know, it can be easy to get into fights about stuff like this, like whether or not something is a good idea, like it turns into, you know, whose opinion is superior. But I think if you can kind of sink down deeper than that and really start talking about some of the more vulnerable feelings that could be underneath these reactions and not trying to change anybody, just really taking the time to listen to what somebody is saying and trying to understand them. And then also trying to help them feel understood by you.

It can go a long way in creating movement in the situation where it doesn’t feel like a power struggle. And it helps you ultimately, I think, get the understanding and hopefully support that you’re wanting. But it really kind of requires going on to somebody else’s side of the table for a little while. So I just wanted to share that with our listeners as a marriage counselor perspective, in case anybody’s preparing with that because you know that I could see that being a real thing. And that strategy might be helpful. So I just wanted to offer it.

Susan: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think the fear of the unknown comes up a lot. Having that communication is so important.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Or even this, “Wait a minute, who are you? I married a person and here you are by over 10 years later, this is different, what changed?” And so it can actually be, you know, all kinds of relationship stuff can come up with these, which is exciting, but quite an exciting time for people. I would think that that would be so much fun for you getting to, I don’t know being just kind of a guide a support person for somebody as they’re going through this. Because, like, exciting I mean to to really be in this space where they’re going to be making a not a pivot a, you know, hard right into a totally different direction. That has to feel so great for you.

Susan: It’s probably my favorite topic to talk about when people come in wanting to do career exploration, I get to hear their story, you know, where they’ve been, what their wants are for the future. And I get to really learn more about the client as they learn about themselves too. So it is definitely one of my favorite topics when clients come in. And like I said, I think because I can understand, you know, the situation and I’ve been through something similar, it helps me really kind of empathize and show them maybe the compassion that they need. And so I love this part of my job for sure.

Dr. Lisa: Well, that’s what’s so awesome. Maybe that’s a lovely place to end, you know that path well. But to be having this experience in your career where you’re just you’re having a good time you’re grateful it feels meaningful, like you’re enjoying it and to think 5, 10 years ago, whatever it was, like, you know, to be inhabiting a future that you know, maybe seemed like a distant dream at one time. Just what an inspiration that must be for your clients. And just a real, you know, highlighting the fact that it is absolutely possible and that people just like Susan are living it and you can too. How about that?

Susan:  Absolutely. Yes, for sure.

Dr. Lisa: A lot of fun conversations. You know, thanks so much for spending this time with me today and sharing your wisdom with our listeners.

Susan: Yeah, it was fun for me too. Thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Lisa: Susan is such an inspiration and has so much great advice. And if you would like more career advice, if you are on the cusp of a big change and are looking for some clarity and direction, we do have so many more resources for you. Certainly, you can talk to Susan, if you’d like, you can set up your free consultation with her through our website growingself.com. But we also have just so many free things available for you.

If you go to our website, go to the blog and podcast section. And from there, enter the Success Content Collection where you’ll find articles on career clarity, career development. We have a Spotify playlist all put together for you with different career-related episodes, and also just articles written by other people on our team. Susan, also many of the other career counselors and coaches that I’ve worked with over the years have offered just so many great articles with advice.

Everything from what to do if you hate your job, to test-driving a new career before committing to it, but also how to deal with you know, job loss and other difficult experiences that support your professional growth. So they are all there for you. I hope you take advantage of them. And thanks for joining us today. I’ll be back in touch with you next week and in the meantime, please enjoy more Kelley Stoltz. Again, the song is My Wildest Dream from his new album The Stylist. Learn more about Kelley and catch up with him on his Bandcamp page. Kelley, kelley.bandcamp.com. All right you guys take care.


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