It’s OK to Change Your Mind and Pursue a New Career
What do you do if you invest $200,000 into your education, complete two grueling residency programs, create a residency program from scratch to become one of the youngest residency program directors in the country, present at national conferences, and oversee all of the education for one of the largest physical therapy practices in the country only to realize you want nothing to do with your career?
That was the question my wife, Lindsay Walston, faced less than a year ago.
She busted her ass and fought her way to the top. She achieved more in seven years than most clinicians achieve in a career. She wasn’t burnt out; she just didn’t want to be in physical therapy.
She had a great boss, flexibility, meaningful work, and a sense of accomplishment. It didn’t matter.
So she made a switch.
She is now a REALTOR®.
Here is her story in her words from a recent LinkedIn post:
Want to know the truth? When I made the transition to real estate, most people thought I was completely insane. They didn’t say it out loud, but they might as well have. I mean, who goes out and spends $200,000 on a doctoral degree just to transition to a profession that only technically requires a high school diploma and a licensure exam?
No, I didn’t hit rock bottom and burn out, quite the opposite. I accomplished everything I ever dreamed of in the field of physical therapy. I was able to build and direct my own residency program, present at national conferences, publish papers, win awards and (generally) structure my day as I saw fit. I checked every single box that I thought I needed to be happy in my work life and I still wasn’t. If that wasn’t a sign something needed to change nothing is. So, I walked away to a career I’ve secretly wanted since I was a weird 10-year-old designing house floorplans (seriously). And I haven’t regretted it for a single second.
What I came here to say is that just because you’ve invested a ton of time, money, or resources into something doesn’t mean you can’t pivot and do something else. It’s ok to change your mind and go after something new. And also, who the hell cares what other people think.
The post made an impact.
In four days, that post has reached 15,000 people. Physical therapists and athletic trainers are reaching out to her seeking advice. Some are burnout, others are questioning their career choice.
That’s the problem with choosing a career when we are 18 years old.
The more time, money, and effort we sink into education and training, the harder it is to make a switch. The sunk-cost fallacy vice-grip grabs hold early. By the time we start to realize we want something different, it's challenging to make the change.
Lindsay felt the pull of sunk cost. She struggled with the knowledge she would be starting from scratch.
Yesterday she told me her worst days as a real estate agent are better than the best days she had as a physical therapist.
Often we are told to grind and trust the process. Keep putting in the time and effort until it pays off. Lindsay put in the time and effort and reached the pay-off point. She wasn’t happy.
That’s was her sign to move on. What about you?
How can you replicate Lindsay’s story?
What skills have you gained during your schooling and career? What relationships have you built? These assets do not vanish if you change careers.
The skills Lindsay gained as a manager and leader are being put to good use. She has hit the ground running because of her work ethics, organizational prowess, problem-solving capabilities, and communication skills. Switching careers does not mean you don’t take any valuable skills or life experiences with you.
When I told Lindsay I was writing this story, she asked me to share a few tips that helped her make the switch and start strong
#1 — Harness your network.
Lindsay is still connected to the physical therapy world. Most of her clients have been physical therapists.
She developed a network on social media through physical therapy that she is able to bring with her to real estate. Changing careers does not reset your followers count.
#2 — Leverage your free time.
As a physical therapist, Lindsay was typically doing one of three things when on her computer: writing treatment notes, shopping, or looking at houses.
Lindsay loved perusing all the home apps to see what was available on the market. She looked at dream homes, fixers, and future possibilities for our family.
When she watched HGTV shows, she acted as if she was preparing for an examination. She critiqued the hosts and determined what she would do differently. I half expected her to break out a notepad.
What about you? What gets you excited? What do you spend your free time doing?
Oftentimes we think of our joys strictly as hobbies: writing, cooking, designing social media content, etc. What if that was your full-time job?
The resources are available. A lot of the content is free or costs a minimal amount (e.g. a Medium subscription).
What often holds people back is the opinion they have to start from scratch.
This isn’t the case.
#3 — Use related experience.
Lindsay and I have purchased three homes despite our debt. We slow flipped our first house and learned a lot.
Lindsay has taken that experience to connect with buyers. She knows how to help people with student debt navigate financial challenges. She can draw on personal experience to empathize and provide targeted feedback. By combining her personal experiences, previous career, and real estate training, she has been able to fast-track the start of her new career.
You can do the same thing.
The experiences you gain in life are transferable to any career you pursue.
Perhaps your job taught you how to have difficult conversations, manage money, organize an office, copyedit, write, speak in large groups, or build relationships.
Yes, the technical skills may be “start from scratch” experiences. They are added through training and develop over time. But you layer them onto the other skills and experiences you bring to the table.
Don’t discount what you know.
I’m not saying it will be easy, but playing the long game may be the best strategy.
Lindsay “gave up” the career she built for seven years and it was one of the best decisions of her life.
If you are struggling in your job, perhaps trusting the process is the best step for you. Perhaps Lindsay’s story is the inspiration you need to pursue the career you have always wanted but are afraid to begin.