Learning to Navigate the Career Changer Chorus: You’re Doing What Now?!?
by Tammy Donovan
Changing careers has taught me a lot and one of the more interesting lessons was learning how to make sense of other peoples’ reactions.
People react in a variety of ways when I tell them that I’m a lawyer working to become a counsellor. Some people praise me for having the courage to leave a career that didn’t fit. More commonly, people ask me a lot of questions, straining to understand why I would leave a “good job” or what exactly it is that counsellors do. Others scoff at the notion that people can change and shudder at the thought of listening to peoples’ problems for a living. Many people tell me that making less money and staring over is unacceptable or impossible, while others zero in on obstacles and encourage me to play it safe and find a different role within the legal profession.
Listening to peoples’ reactions was tough at first. Looking back, I understand now that the toughest reactions were those that contained questions that I was already struggling to answer. Could I muster enough courage? Was I throwing away a good job? Is wanting to help people naive? Could I make a living doing something different? I felt like I was surrounded by people who confirmed my worst fears were true.
As I started to resolve some of these unanswered questions for myself, listening to peoples’ reactions got easier. I realized that the reactions weren’t about me so much as they were about what people value. The people who praise my courage typically want to make big changes in their own lives. The people who can’t fathom making less or starting over usually value comfort or prestige. The people who encourage me to stay in law are often ones who value security or seek fulfilment outside of work.
As it got easier to listen to peoples’ reactions, I also noticed that they also provided me with a deeper understanding of my values and motivations for changing careers. I wish I could be the type of person who settles, but I’m not. I need work to be fulfilling. I don’t care much for prestige, expensive restaurants or designer suits.
As an intern, I’m very excited about opportunities to help career changers and others navigate the chorus of people in their lives and better understand their values.