Top 10 Big Ideas To Pivot Your Career

Do you ever feel tired, overworked, burned out or unfulfilled? Are you staring wistfully out the window wishing you could do something about it, if only you could find the courage? Or has life suddenly hit you with a “cosmic 2x4” that is forcing you to take stock of where you are now and where you want to go?

Just about all of us have had the rug-pulled-out-from-under-us feeling at one time or another, and whether it’s triggered by health, wealth, relationships or career (or a tsunami of all of the above), the process for moving through that period of intense transition can feel lonely, confusing, and at times debilitating.

Although it can be intensely uncomfortable to realize you’re bumping up against a career or life ceiling, it is actually a golden opportunity — a pivotal and critical time in life — to harness the call to adventure within you and honor your human drive for creativity, growth and meaning.

Once only relegated to the mid-life crisis, we’ve since coined “quarter-life crisis” as a rite of passage at the ripe old age of 25. However, given the pace of change in our society, this “crisis” state — transition rich with searching and the space in-between major career moves — is only becoming more frequent. We are no longer staying at jobs for 30 years with the safety of a pension plan waiting for us at the end; the average employee tenure in America is now just 4–5 years.

Careers are not linear any more, but they are not random either. Think of your career like a smart phone not a ladder: your education and your upbringing is your out-of-the-box model, and it’s up to you to download the apps that will help you feel fulfilled and build an energizing body of work. Just as with your phone, it’s important to recharge, clear clutter, and upgrade your entire Operating System when you outgrow the original.

That’s the subject of today’s 10 Big Ideas: how to pivot your career by building on what’s already working, as you shift to an exciting new direction.

1. Acknowledge That You’re at a Pivot Point

The first step is admitting you have a problem — err — wonderfully exciting (albeit potentially nauseating) opportunity. The prospect of change can be terrifying! You feel safe in your comfort zone cocoon, but only for so long. Then you start to get that restless itchy feeling…a whisper in your gut that says there’s more out there, and it’s time to take some big bold steps to move in a new direction.

Before you ever worry about HOW you will make this change, acknowledge the part of yourself that knows it’s time.

2. Get Your Fundamentals In Place

Change necessarily involves growth, and this doesn’t happen without growing pains. What makes a new opportunity exciting is that it challenges our previously held beliefs about who we are and what we’re capable of.

During this heightened time of searching, planning and risk-taking, the best possible way to set yourself up for success is by taking care of your fundamentals first: make sure you’re getting adequate sleep, eating well and exercising. As Brian Johnson likes to say, not exercising is like taking a depressant! So why deprive yourself of your most important mood and energy stores when you’ll need them most? Even if you start with a ten minute walk each day, start small, and start somewhere.

  • Ask: What self-care practices will sustain me during this time? What is the smallest change I can make that will make the biggest improvement on my overall mood and well-being?
  • Template short-cut: set-up this 5-minute for 5-days tracker — whether it’s exercise, meditation or another healthy habit, just choose one and build from there. Studies show that we can build habits or a new skill in as little as five minutes a day for five days, aided significantly by tracking our progress. So why not give it a shot?

3. Assess Your Current Situation

Think like a basketball player. For our purposes, a career (or life) pivot means keeping one foot grounded while you use the other foot to shift your view and scan the horizon for new opportunities. To successfully pivot your career, you’ll need to first double-down in what is already working: your talents, strengths, interests, marketable skills and previous work history.

  • Ask: Take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns with the following headings: What’s working? What isn’t? What do you want more of? Track this over the course of the next week or two as you observe your current state of affairs.
  • Bonus: What existing marketable skills could you parlay into a different job, industry, or even your own side-hustle or full-time solopreneurship?
  • Template short-cut: Professional Development Strategy — this template has three strategy areas: Your Vision (brainstorm about desired impact, what you want to do & have), The What (skills, knowledge, education, experience), and The How (quarterly benchmarks & resources).

4. Paint the full vision picture: where do you want to end up?

One of the biggest mistakes people make when contemplating a big move is getting bogged down by the Tyranny of the Hows, before ever identifying a compelling vision for where they actually want to end up. You’ll know this experience well if you’ve ever told a friend or family member about a new, exiting, or risky idea. “But how will you earn money? How will you make it work?!” they ask skeptically, even with the best of intentions. Diving into the Hows too soon will just muck up your tracks.

Your first job is to determine what success actually looks and feels like. This can often be scary because sometimes we are afraid to dream too big. Sometimes it may feel easier to play it safe, but that’s not doing yourself any favors. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do next, start by outlining the broad strokes: how do you want to feel? Engaged, energized, in the zone? What types of activities or environments most bring this out for you? Your compelling vision is what’s going to carry you forward when you hit the inevitable bumps and dips of making a major change.

  • Try it: Do a freehand journal exercise. Imagine it’s one year from now, and you are living your ideal average day. So instead of just sunning on a beach in Tahiti, write in the first-person present-tense about what an average day looks like for you, if anything were possible. Be as detailed as you can, and describe not just what you’re doing, but how you feel, and any feedback or interactions you have with others that affirms this.
  • Template short-cut: Ideal Day Mad Lib where you can fill in the blanks to describe your ideal average day.

5. Plan a six-month pivot strategy

Now that you know WHAT you’re working toward, it’s time to identify the biggest milestones to help you get there. It’s time to get down to brass tacks and plan a six-month pivot plan-of-action. Start by working backwards: where do you want to end up? Perhaps it’s in a new job, or even running your own business. What major step has to happen just before that? And just before that? Identify the 3–5 major milestones or actions that will move your forward, then identify a short list of 2–3 items that will move each milestone forward.

6. Scan your options, narrow down what’s next

With one foot planted in your strengths and existing assets, it’s now time to put the pivot foot to work. Pivoting should not be confused with making a 180 — say, quitting your job as an accountant to become a full-time yoga teacher — though that’s certainly possible too. For those who want to take a more measured, stepwise approach, pivoting is about doubling-down on what’s working as the leverage you’ll use to move in a new direction.

Now that you know what works, what do you want to add more of? Consider that we generally have three operating zones: comfort, stretch and panic. What next opportunity would be the perfect stretch zone play, without sending you into a fit of panic? Not everyone is meant to quit their job tomorrow and work from a beach in Thailand. Get clear on what type of “app” or next opportunity you’d like to add you to your smart-phone repertoire.

  • Template short-cut: Plan Your Next Career Move. This template will help you start to lift the fog on your career — it breaks down various categories within a job or career (location, company size, type of work, etc), and provides space for you to brainstorm a list of must-haves, nice-to-haves, and can’t stands for each area. Think of it like an “ideal mate” exercise, but for a job — arguably an even bigger commitment given how much time we spend at work!

7. Start skill-building through a side hustle

Not all apps have to be full-time jobs. Some of the apps you download for your career may be classes that feel energizing (cooking, dancing, language), starting a side-hustle from a hobby you enjoy, or even taking a few online courses in areas you want to grow your skills. The key to a major career change is to pivot before you leap: how can you build a bridge from where you are now to where you want to go? You may not yet have all the skills or previous experiences in place to position you for your next level gig. No problem! Identify how you can start building them on the side even before you take the big leap.

8. Mobilize your network: let them know you’re looking

Serendipity is a wonderful thing, but it can’t properly work it’s magic if you don’t first plant a few seeds. Now that you know where you’re heading, it’s time to put yourself out there and mobilize your network — the people who care most about you, want to help you succeed, and who will likely have a friend (or a friend-of-a-friend) they can put you in touch with. The critical thing here is to get crystal clear on your “ask” — your biggest strengths, what you are looking for, and how they can be most helpful.

  • Template short-cut: Career Change: Network Email Mad Lib — This template outlines exactly how to reach out to your network once you’re clear on what you want to do next, and what you bring to the table. Simply fill-in the blanks, personalize, and voilà! You’re ready to send to your inner circle so they can help keep feelers out for you.

9. Plant conversation seeds like it’s your job

Once you’ve sent the broad network canvassing email, it’s time to start setting-up one-on-one conversations with people you admire, people doing work that interests you, and peers who might also be able to provide sound advice and guidance (and hopefully vice versa). Take the pressure off of yourself to find ONE mentor, and instead look to set-up one-off mentorship relationships.

Just be sure to send a thank you note afterward, and remember: the very best way you can thank a mentor is to actually follow their advice! Think of this part like a treasure hunt: the seeds you plant through these conversations will guide you closer and closer toward where you want to go like a compass, working wonders for your confidence and ability to spot where your next opportunity might come from.

10. Listen for your gut go-ahead, then leap!

There will come a point where too much analysis will just lead to paralysis. When the whisper in your gut starts getting louder (or smacking you over the head like a 2-by-4), it’s time to make the leap. If you’re still not sure try the Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon’s) method: The Regret Minimization Framework. What would you regret more: trying even without a guarantee of success, or not trying at all? If you know it’s the latter, it’s time to leap my friend.

  • Ask: Picture yourself a year from now, successfully on the other side. What is the hero’s journey you would describe to a friend? What were you afraid of and how did you overcome those fears? What would you do if you knew you could not fail? What is failure in the scenario, and would it still be worth it?
  • Template short-cut: Decision-Making Tool if you’re grappling with logistical concerns or those pesky inner critic voices.

Trust that all the work you’ve done up until this point will lead you to something great, and remember that no decisions are ever really final. They simply provide more data along our winding road to a meaningful life. You are creative, resourceful and resilient, and can bounce back from setbacks with more spring in your step than you might think. No matter what, change is the only constant we have, and even though it can be excruciatingly uncomfortable, these are often the most enlivening experiences of our lives. Aim to take just one small brave step each day, and your courage will surely follow.