I have several different selves rattling around inside. No, I’m not suggesting multiple personality disorder. I’m alluding to the varied interests and aptitudes that have led to different careers over time.
My nurturing, playful self became an elementary school teacher. She was followed by the brainy, kick-ass self who became a lawyer. Then the creative, reclusive self came forward to write my legal thriller Terminal Ambition. Now the compassionate, wise self is stepping up as a coach to guide clients through growth and change.
Just as Harry Potter discovered that he had a “good self” and a “bad self,” each of us has many selves. An accountant may be hiding a self who longs for connection with others and a helping role as a therapist as well as another self who longs to be an academic and another self who longs to be a chef.
Career decisions made in our twenties may no longer fit in our forties and fifties. In the twenty-first century, we no longer lead linear lives, staying with the company where we started until we receive a gold watch.
Social scientists today analyze life paths as cycles of renewal. Throughout a person’s life, his or her sense of purpose shifts because of aging, social forces and self-development. When we sense our working identities are inconsistent with our core purpose, we start to consider a career change. Over a lifetime, we may launch ourselves into a new occupation two, three or four times.
The Starting Point for a Career Change
The conventional wisdom recommends a linear process based on the notion that each of us has only one true self who is fully formed by adulthood. Starting with that premise, a would-be career “changeling” should begin with lots of introspection and standardized assessments to identify the “right fit.”
This approach is rooted in the past. The self who is discovered in this way is often the “ought” self, the self who listens to the voices of family and teachers laying out career expectations.
Experiment to Choose
Experimentation often proves to be a more effective method to identify a new career. Try on some of the selves that appeal before leaving your current profession. Test your reaction to the work and those who do it by:
2. Taking on a side project or temporary assignment at your existing job
3. Taking a course or enrolling in training
4. Conducting informational interviews
5. Shadowing someone in that profession
6. Trying the profession during a sabbatical
8. Networking with people in that profession
Making the Decision
The best compass is your own gut. What do you feel? Are you more satisfied? More comfortable in your “working skin?” It may seem irrational to treat emotional reactions as information but neuroscientists have demonstrated that emotions are critical to enlightened decision making.
Transitions can be frightening but they are where real growth occurs. This short video beautifully illustrates what happens when, like trapeze artists, we are willing to let go.
What are you willing to let go of? What do you long to embrace? Leave a comment, let me know.
This essay was reprinted in The Girl’s Guide to Law School and Above the Law.