Why you shouldn’t be afraid of a radical career change
Article by Christian Fuchs
Starting over and embarking on a completely new career path can seem risky, scary, and sometimes even foolish. But if approached wisely, a radical career change can be a way to professional success as well as personal happiness.
I was in my final years of school when I started in a restaurant kitchen. I didn’t have any job experience and it wasn’t really required. The hours were long, the pay small, and I rarely had time for friends and family. Yet, there was appreciation and recognition – not least because I cooked in a Michelin star restaurant. Eventually, I decided on a different career path.
This wasn't completely straightforward and set in stone forever, either. I used to work as a consultant within a global company. Then, in my early 30s, I became a founding partner at Nordic Minds – which was a huge step. Starting a company is no small feat.
Of course, this is a different kind of change than someone doing a job for 15 years and then switching to a completely different profession. Though it doesn’t mean that it was an easy decision; I had already basically settled and felt comfortable. Still, I decided to take a chance and traded corporate politics for freedom, possibilities, and entrepreneurship. And, to be honest, I also wanted a more exciting job life than my father.
So, I started my current position as a partner with an internship combined with a dual study program, which catapulted me out of my personal comfort zone. I doggedly kept at it for over five years, there were days with 18 hours of work and uni. From today's perspective, it has more than paid off in every way!
A career change can be scary
Here in Germany, the main reason why so many people are afraid to start over is cultural. In my experience, we Germans tend to be more on the traditional side and prefer a safer, more streamlined career path. This is slowly changing nowadays though.
It has to be said that it's easier to change your job and career from a position of privilege. Financial obligations and demands (such as loans or mortgages) and dependents (such as children or family members with care needs) can be a serious hindrance to a radical career change for some.
Ultimately, the possibilities as well as the courage for a career change depend on the individual – on their personality, life experiences, support, their social environment, and circumstances. According to a US study, for example, 'a later-life career change, despite its challenges, often results in positive emotional outlooks — for those who have the resources to support them.‘
Are you ready for a change?
Scary or not, a career change can be beneficial. Especially, if the heart burns for something else than the current job. Honestly – never do a job just to earn money.
Some questions that everyone who wants to start over should consider:
Do I really desire to do that every day?
Am I willing and able to make necessary sacrifices?
What would the worst-case scenario look like?
What can I achieve? Not only financially, but also regarding being happy and having a purpose. For example, by aiming for a healthy work-life balance.
In any case, it’s crucially important to be prepared.
Time for a new start
When your job no longer fulfills and instead constantly frustrates you, when there are no opportunities for advancement or development, when there is a lack of purpose, when the work doesn't feel right anymore and getting up every morning gets harder and harder – these are unmistakable signs that it’s about time for a change.
The first thing is research. We often tend to idealize the things we aspire to or dream of. So, what are the potentially less interesting and exciting sides to the planned new career?
Second: is there a market for the new skillset or service? Thorough preparation is essential. And, of course, don’t copy. Make your new career completely your own.
Third: is it really for you? Honesty and reflection are key. Which skills are needed in what role, in what situation? What are you good at personally – what, for example, do honest friends say? If you are not a very self-driven, proactive person or generally rather cautious, there’s zero shame in it – we all need different environments and conditions to thrive – but it can make a radical career change slightly more difficult.
For instance: when changing from a leadership role in a larger organization to a one-person show as an entrepreneur, you need to seriously examine whether you can take responsibility and execute things yourself – or whether you have always delegated and had people who brought about success.
Fourth: look for transferable skills. What can you take from your current job and bring to your next career – communication, organization, interpersonal skills, meeting customer needs, creating demand in the market, providing good leadership, and taking ownership? Companies all over Europe tend to be increasingly looking for precisely these things.
Lastly, don’t overestimate yourself. A radical career change is often challenging and requires stamina as well as endurance. Familiarizing yourself with a new industry, learning new skills, going (back) to university, starting your own business – all these things are no walk in the park. But they can be handled with persistence.
Keep the passion
Yes, a career change can indeed be scary, hard, and challenging. The good news is that it can also be well worth it and alter your life significantly.
Such a big step can become a successful new path by keeping a positive attitude without being unrealistic, going the extra mile and working hard, not being afraid to fail and learn, listening to people and their feedback while staying true to your vision – in short: by being persistent and keeping the passion!
Christian is the COO of Nordic Minds and a partner-level Executive Search consultant with over 13 years of professional experience. You can contact him via mail here .