Have you ever noticed that moment when you’re thinking of making some kind of change in your life—you cross a “point of no return” in your brain? As soon as you’ve made up your mind that you can’t go back or can’t undo that big decision, there’s a new kind of pressure to step out into an unknown space and actually make the change. It can be a scary feeling that holds many people back in their career journey.

This was true long before “pivot” became a big buzzword, and it’s something many are still struggling with now. In a Career Conversations webinar, we spoke with award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, and coach Kea Meyers Duggan about this topic. Kea is an expert on overcoming fear to make a career pivot, and she has worked with hundreds of driven professionals around the world to help them manage their fears and move toward the work they love by breaking down their vision into realistic steps.

Most people don’t wake up one day and start to apply for a job in a completely different industry, role, or functionality. First, they begin to notice things that are making them unhappy, and then they likely imagine how things might be different. And then wonder what first steps to take to move toward their goals. And often ask themselves, “How do I make sure I do this right and end up somewhere I’m really happy instead of dealing with the same problems? What do I do if it doesn’t work out?” 

If you’ve been asking yourself any of these questions, you’re in a place of growth and can leverage Kea’s advice to help determine your next moves for a successful career pivot.

Two Types Of Career Pivots

A career pivot isn’t always a complete shift into a different job function and industry. The first thing you’ll need to figure out is what kind of pivot you’re craving. It may be a lateral move or what’s called a “lane change pivot,” which means a slight shift to a similar position where a lot of your skills will be transferable. For example, you might move from a marketing role at a company to something similar at a consulting firm. A slight pivot like this will require a bit of networking and preparation but no extensive research or rethinking your professional identity.

The other type of pivot is what Kea calls a “highway pivot,” where there might be some transferable skills, but you’re doing a 180-degree turn to a different job function or industry. It’s more like going from being a teacher to being an accountant. In this case, you’ll have a lot more to think about: How will you present yourself on a resume? Which skills are transferable, and how can you highlight them? How do you start to get the necessary experience?

Why People End Up In The Same Situation They Left 

Remember that scary “point of no return?” That feeling of urgency to get out of your current situation is often what causes people to recreate the situation they were trying to leave. We’re constantly pushing forward and very rarely spend enough time with painful feelings to get a good understanding of what drove them. When you identify what’s causing stress, creating overwhelm, what tasks you don’t enjoy, and why, you can begin to reverse engineer what the opposite of that environment would be. In addition to the red flags, you want to look out for green flags. 

For those who aren’t so quick to make a change, fear can paralyze them from exploring their options. They may wonder, “Am I too old to do this? Am I too far down the path? What happens if I start over for fear of losing status? What will other people think, and will it really make me happy?” Thinking about all the steps it will take, and the support you will need to get from Point A to Point B can shut everything down quickly. So instead, focus on getting a clear picture of what you do and don’t want and make small changes in your current situation while you work on finding the position you’ll really love. Your new vision can help propel you forward as you search for the right fit.

Lay the Groundwork for Your Career Pivot

1. Get clear on what’s happening now.

Before exploring what’s next, don’t overlook the value of naming what’s happening right now. Consider asking yourself:

  • What is it that you want to leave? 
  • What kind of exploration and experimentation do you still need to do before you feel confident about the next step? 
  • What gets you excited when other people ask for your help?
  • What brings you joy at work?

Focus on what brings you joy to help keep your energy up and save yourself from making a decision that will leave you in a similar situation down the road.

2. Identify your needs and desires for your pivot.

As you start to define your ideal situation, you’ll need to consider your zone of brilliance: the combination of things that you’re really good at and things that you really enjoy doing. Ask yourself, “what do I like to help people with, and what do I love to talk about?” Many professionals don’t have this figured out, and you can ask some of your close friends or mentors for their opinion, but your new target for your next career move is something you’ll need to determine for yourself. It isn’t necessarily about the role but how you want to feel and what fulfills you. What kinds of people do you want to work with, and what environment do you want to work in every day? 

3. Talk to others and make connections.

Once you’ve completed the first two steps, you probably have some ideas to bounce off other people or questions about potential directions you might take. Start those you trust as they will inevitably know someone, and as the saying goes, “it’s all in who you know.” It’s okay if you’re still fine-tuning the details of what you want. If all you have is I’m really looking for a role that allows me to do this, and I can work with these types of people, you’re off to a great start. Eventually, connecting with a career coach or mentor who can help you narrow down your ideas will be essential. But articulating your thoughts and talking about possibilities is a vital part of this process.

Build Relationships While You’re Exploring

Kea mentioned success after success of people who changed careers to find happiness later in life, who got a great introduction just by mentioning that she was curious about becoming a voiceover artist on a networking call, and even a story or two of her own. Before Kea became a coach, she was able to identify a few things that she really enjoyed in her previous role. She saw a friend who was making a pivot into coaching, and even though she wasn’t sure if it was the right move, she invited that friend to coffee to talk about it. As Kea shared what she was looking for in a new position, her friend reassured her that coaching fit the bill perfectly.

One of the challenges you may still face with a highway pivot is a long list of required skills and familiarity with specific software that many employers desire. Kea’s advice is to bypass the 20th-century way of applying, filling out applications without building a relationship first, and attempt to build a relationship with someone who’s on the inside, who knows you, who knows your ability to ramp things up quickly and can help you sell your transferable skills. Whenever possible, find someone who has a bit of seniority or credibility to vouch for you.

Finally, don’t forget that learning by doing is still learning. It takes a lot of time to really get to know yourself, and it’s okay if you’re not there yet. Failure is an opportunity to learn; the only time you really fail is when you don’t get up and try again. 

Need more inspiration? Watch the Replay for more insights and take a look at our upcoming events!