Cubicles in large healthcare corporations and reputable hospitals were where I called home from the ages of 22 to 28. My Masters in Health Systems Management prepped me well for the corporate world; I had unlimited access to the high-powered consulting firms, big-name academic medical centers, and trendy healthcare startups that drank too much of their own Kool-Aid.
But after strategically walking along the straightedge tightrope I built for myself, I was bothered by my urge to jump ship and start a career change. What started as a minute feeling soon metamorphized into an overpowering craving for…..freedom? Was that it? Mainly independence and control over my own life.
I did in fact quit my job, I gave notice exactly two weeks before the work-from-home orders started in Chicago. It was SUCH good timing that it could have only been attributed to the stars aligning or something fantastical like that. As I was seeking a greater purpose, I nobly announced I was applying to schools to become a dietitian to better serve the patient. I loved the way it sounded, hanging up the suits to join the frontline healthcare workers, boots on the ground and all.
My detailed plan of action involved enrolling in post-baccalaureate science classes, freelance writing, and working toward a fitness instructor certification. Well… joke was on me.
As I plotted out the exact fitness studios I was going to approach, they shut their doors. All right, well, at least I had my way with words, and an anatomy class to keep me occupied. As my class transitioned online, I was mailed animal body parts for the dissection portion of the class. Yes, you read that right, I opened the package to a REAL cow eyeball staring back at me, a sheep brain, and other organs I couldn’t sift through without gagging. If in a dietetics appointment I had to cut someone open, something was going TERRIBLY wrong, so what was the point of all of this for me?
I absolutely broke down and lost my mind at this point. I quit my job, and my strategy for success was falling apart one plan at a time. As I sat on the ground of my parent’s garage crying, holding a box of body parts—a sentence I never thought I would have to write—I hit a low point and an epiphany at the same time. Was my potential career in dietetics the “permission” I needed to give myself to leave my job? Was I too afraid to leave without a heroic sounding story for my next phase in life?
After a few (or many) more tears, I had to force myself to benefit from this pause in society. Maybe COVID19 crushing my idea of productivity was forcing me to re-examine my life choices and explore what I truly wanted to do and be. Although I was ready to get on a fast-moving train and speed ahead, the world was telling me not so fast. Through this tumultuous time, I have a recommended approach for others who are going through a similar life transition that may help them emerge successfully and still in one piece.
1) Read books that inspire reflection on your values
Although I began this career change process before the pandemic, it is never too late to do some introspection. The book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans encourages readers to reflect on what is most important to them personally and work-wise. This is not just internal reflection in isolation, there are actual activities and “assignments”, if you will, to facilitate tangible results.
My favorite part of the book is an activity that has the reader distinguish personal life values versus work values; I found that my work and personal life values in many instances clashed. The fog covering my continuous internal dissension was lifted once I had the right tools to truly examine the root cause. After deliberate self-examination, I was able to accurately articulate why and how my career was no longer satisfying me; a critical piece needed to help make the hunt for a better fit job more productive.
2) Meet with a career coach over Zoom, Facetime, Skype, etc.
The right career coach can be an essential guide to help “work the problem” that is your career change. They hold their clients accountable for performing the challenging introspective work. Their credentials make them masterful at getting people to open up, and they phrase strategies in ways that are simple and very attainable. There’s something special about having a third party spend so much thoughtful time on you and your future success, even if you are paying them to do just that!
Career coaches can be especially valuable for people that are stuck on where to start the soul-searching process. They create realistic and manageable approaches for better understanding oneself. As a second layer, because career coaches keep a consistent pulse on the job market, they help people learn the newer jobs that are out there in the world. Jobs have likely changed since your last scout online, how can you tell what is truly right for your career change if you don’t even know what’s out there?
3) Build that network, even virtually
Long ago were the days where I avoided phone calls at all costs. My generation was once notorious for staring at the phone while it rings and then texting the person immediately after “what do you want”? People practicing social distancing WANT to engage, and yes that even means over the phone. Just think about it, if we’re resorting to Facetime dates to stay connected, it’s pretty safe to say people are open to networking with you!
Reach out to people through LinkedIn who have jobs you are interested in. Start asking your friends if they know people at certain jobs or in specific career paths. Target people at all generations and job levels within the career you’re seeking out so that you can understand what it’s like to both climb the ladder and reach the top.
4) Talk to friends – but not to seek approval
Friends are amazing and have been quite the lifeline during this whole pandemic. While none of my friends are actually dietitians, almost all of my friends have been able to connect me to someone in the field or a related one. And while good friends will want what is best for you, sometimes this also means an influx of unwarranted opinions.
I get it, the best of friends always challenge each other. Take any opposing opinion as a good thing as it will force you to defend your choice, inadvertently to yourself too.
At the same time though, do not seek approval from your friends; this is your life, a nice pat on the back can only get you so far. Not everyone is going to understand your choices and that is OKAY. The tough part about a career change for people pleasers like myself is that we are consciously disrupting harmony in our lives, and that is incredibly uncomfortable.
This is your journey; by initiating any of these steps, you have officially taken the initiative to put yourself in the driver’s seat of your life, and that is pretty damn respectable.