Toggle menu

Why big decisions like career change decisions are difficult and what to do about it.

Thursday 10th November 2016

Making a change of career is a particularly difficult choice, particularly in mid-life or later.

There are so many things to weigh up when making these decisions.

Will I be happy? How will I cope with having less money - or more success? What will everyone else think? How will it affect those who are closest to me? What sacrifices might I have to make? Would there be a loss of status or power, real or perceived? How would I cope? Will it be worth the effort, money, time?

And that's assuming you know which way to move, which many people who come for help to a career counsellor, don't.

The problem gets worse when you consider that no-one can give you all the answers (even a career counsellor), and that you'll never get the answers until it's too late. So it's natural to fear that you'll make the wrong decision and that life will become worse than it is now.

However, that fear keeps us STUCK in careers and jobs which don't suit us and it makes us miserable.


The yo-yo of motivation

The essential issue lies in two facts from human psychology.

We're actually built as humans to be dissatisfied with the status quo. We always want more - whatever that more is. True satisfaction with life as it is and equanimity are so rare to find that the people possessing them are often held to be saint-like.

The good thing is that our dissatisfied restlessness has propelled our species to become the dominant species in the world. Without it, we wouldn't stir from home, invent, grow, try or prosper.

Yet, we're also on average twice as afraid of losing what we already have than of gaining new things - because we're also built for good evolutionary survival reasons to be risk averse.

In mid-life, many of us also experience a conflict between our needs for security (food, water, housing, heat, security, love, identity, a safe role in society, money, proving ourselves in a steady job) and our mature need for individuation (growing, being ourselves, living our values through our work, being authentic, not tolerating bullshit) and our simultaneous need for more balance in life.


Two basic drives in conflict

So what's in conflict? Our basic need for security, which provides reasons to move away from what threatens us, and our basic need for risk, which provides reasons to move towards new situations, fresh challenges and towards our greater fulfilment.

At heart, this represents a dynamic, ever moving balance between a need for security and staying put, and our need for risk and movement, without which we cannot grow.

The balance shifts according to our satisfaction. If we're happy, we stay put, generally. If we're unhappy, we want to move on. The balance is therefore mainly based on emotions, not logic.


So what makes a decision difficult?

Simple decisions are easy because one solution is clearly better than another.

Difficult decisions are difficult because one option may be better than the other in some ways, but not in others, so neither decision is better than the other overall.

Big decisions are not always difficult. But when difficult choices also have a potentially momentous impact on our lives, then we fear, often correctly, that the decision will become subject to the law of unintended consequences.

And this is why we end up agonising over a change of job or a change of career because we get obsessed with the potential risk and the unknowns involved.


The truth about making big decisions

Yet we're taught that all decisions should be rational. The trouble is, that advice is only half the truth.

Psychology teaches us two more surprising lessons about the process of making decisions.

The rational mind can't cope with too many variables at once. A complex problem, like a career decision is, therefore, hard to make when weighing things up purely rationally.

Simple decisions, like what to have for tea or how many oranges to buy for a family of four, are good decisions to make rationally.

When it comes to complex decisions, psychology has proven that we make the best decisions when we employ our intuition, which includes gut feel. 

Intuition is the sum result of our unconscious mind's processing. It would seem that decisions on whether to change career, who to marry, whether to have children, what spirituality to follow, are best made intuitively. Or should they be?


The problem with using intuition alone

Many times I've seen people leap intuitively into a new career, without much research, on the basis of a hunch, only to come badly unstuck.  The only trouble with using intuition is that it, in turn, works best when it's well informed by experience.

The only trouble with using intuition is that it works best when it's well informed by knowledge derived from direct experience.

Experience requires real world research. Internet research alone, being rational, doesn't cut it. Only real world experience informs decisions intuitively.

Internet research alone, being rational, doesn't cut it. Only real world experience informs decisions intuitively.

That's why an expert, almost by definition, also has experience.

That's one of the reasons that medicine, while informed by science (knowledge) remains an art (pattern recognition and intuition) and why people with plenty of experience (consultants) are paid much more than junior doctors.

The best decisions are made when an informed intuitive feel for the problem is backed up by extensive experience and knowledge of what works in this kind of situation and why.


So what if there is no 'best' option?

The essence of a difficult problem is that there is no best option, only opportunity costs and trade-offs. We get more of one thing we want, but less of another. But yet we often beat ourselves up with career decisions, which are almost all difficult problems, because we can't work out which option is 'best'.

But yet we often beat ourselves up with career decisions, which are almost all difficult problems, because we can't work out which option is 'best'.

We think we're stupid when the reality is it's not us at fault. There is no 'right answer. if there were, it wouldn't be a difficult problem.

You see, we mostly think of decisions being better, worse or equal to each other, when the fact is that many difficult decisions are no worse than each other.

They have the same overall value, although very different values may still be involved in each choice.

When you see difficult choices in this way, then you realise that the reason we decide on one option over the other is that, in that decision, we're making a statement more about who we think we are - about our true values, the things which are important to us - than about the options themselves.

So what we end up choosing depends on our values. More about values, and deciding what they are, in another blog post.


The conclusion about decisions?

Use both mind and heart, rather than mind or heart alone. 

Big career decisions need to be based on intimate knowledge of the field you're making a decision about, the values you're operating under,  plus your own consistent gut feel.

If it feels right, it's consistent with what you know of your values and it makes sense, go for it.


But what if you haven't worked in the field yet?

  1. Don't make the choice alone. Because it's hard to get perspective when you're thinking about yourself. An impartial thinking partner, skilled in the complexities of career change, can help work wonders. Look for one you trust and like, one with a similar outlook on life, who can act as a critical friend to you.
  2. Don't make the choice quickly. Quick decisions in a life and death situation are vital. When it's not life and death, take your time. Assess your real feelings about the decision. Know what values are important to you. Ensure the decision you make sits well with your heart, guides you in a direction your soul sits easily with and makes sense, too.
  3. Get informed about your options and the reality of what it is you're thinking of doing, by doing it. Because if you don't get real-life experience of what you're thinking of doing, you won't know.  Shadow people, offer to work for free, volunteer, take on part time work, but see what the day-to-day reality is like.


Should I change my career or my job?

Friday 7th October 2016


Midlife clients have asked me when I’m meeting them for their initial Career Discovery session whether it’s their job or company they should be changing or their whole career.

It’s a big question - not least because there can be a real financial opportunity cost to taking up any new career, particularly when you’re just starting out.

So it pays to have had a good think about whether it’s your job you need to change, or whether it’s your entire career.

Job change

Here are some examples of when you might need to change your job or company:

Career change

However, if you’re suffering from the following, it’s time to consider changing career.

I think you get my drift here – if you have residual interest in what you do and find the work basically worthwhile and fulfilling, stay in your line of work.

If you feel no hope for the future in what you’re doing and you’ve lost interest entirely and/or would rather slit your throat than carry on doing it, it’s probably time to consider a career change.

Jobs for the future - what's still going to be in demand?

Friday 30th September 2016

jobs-for-the-futureWhen thinking about career change, people seeking my help often ask what kinds of jobs are likely to remain in demand for the next 20 -- 30 years.

One way to gain an insight into current employment trends and job security is to do what’s known as a STEEP analysis.

A STEEP analysis is the perfect tool for analysing job market trends and making intelligent, informed career choices when planning your successful future - ensuring you don´t pursue a career that disappears without warning or leads to a dead end!

S ociology

T echnology

E conomy

E nvironment

P olitical

So from this analysis, here are some careers likely to be in demand for the foreseeable future:





Education & Universities



But this is a very incomplete list and job availability is only half the story – while these jobs will be available, would any of them make you happy? Would they lead to you feeling fulfilled?

It’s lucky that many of the jobs that will remain will involve working with people, making high level decisions and being creative, because these are generally common elements of satisfying work.

Some of the happiest people in work today, according to the City and Guilds Happiness Index, are childcare workers, as perhaps surprisingly, are hairdressers, whereas some of the least happy workers are HR managers (perhaps because they infrequently get much recognition for their work and have the unenviable job of not only recruiting but disciplining, rejecting and sacking people).

So if I can help you work out what career will still be open to you which will make you happy, don’t hesitate to get in touch.


Why networking makes all the difference when career change becomes the new 'norm'

Tuesday 20th September 2016

networking-career-changeIt doesn’t matter whether you’ve been on your current career path for 30 months or 30 years, changing direction may become your best next move, and plenty of people will be making that move with you.

The world of work has changed very greatly over the past decade, particularly since the financial collapse of 2008. While jobs for life still exist in some professions, it's becoming more and more likely that most people will go through at least one major career change in their lifetime.

This is not the first time that events have sparked a wave of career change. During the Great Recession of the 1920s, many people lost their jobs and were forced to consider new career choices as they struggled with unemployment.

But it’s not only unemployment that’s responsible. Many people over 35 have simply grown out of their early ambitions and, faced with a frantic job in a downsized environment which demands your life, want more balance and fulfilment in life.

What I hear very often is that people fell initially into their line of work, and 10 to 15 years later, find they no longer know why they’re still there. They now don’t want to regret wasting so much of their time doing something they maybe never actively chose in the first place chose and which is no longer fulfilling.

Whatever your reason might be for making a career change, the very first thing you should do while still in the thinking-about-it phase is to get a team around you. This can be family and friends, if they’ll give unbiased support, or a professional career counsellor to act as a thinking partner to help you work out your direction, bounce your ideas off and help you plan your transition.

Career change isn't necessarily a quick journey, even when well managed and planned, and even when using lean career change techniques to minimise risk, it can be fraught with financial worries and emotional challenges. “Don't go it alone” is therefore the first principle to follow.

The network of people around you are also likely to become the key to your next career. If you’re a midcareer changer,, the likelihood is that conventional job search, where you apply through the usual routes using a CV and cover letter won't work for you.

What is much more likely to work is tapping into the so-called ‘hidden jobs market’, where the majority of jobs are now found. The hidden jobs market is unadvertised and relies on personal recommendation. This is where mid-career changers can flourish, because if people already like you personally, they are much more likely to overlook your advancing age or lack of specialist experience when considering you for a job.

If you can have genuine conversations with people who might be able to help you towards that new career, or meet people who know people who might be able to help you into that dream role, then sharing your passion and enthusiasm with them authentically and offering to be of help to them is much more likely to have a meaningful impact than sending in your CV to an employer blind.

Cringe-free networking is very important in midcareer change. The best way to start off is to tap into your own circle of colleagues, friends and family, and then reach out further to their connections.

If you’re like me and the whole Americanised concept of networking fills you with dread, it might be time for a reboot of what networking really is about. It’s not actually about currying favour or going around asking for jobs. It is about making friends naturally with people you get on with and being of mutual use if you can. But that can only happen if you go out there and make it happen!

And don't forget also to plug into social media networks, such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

When you find an opportunity to speak with someone in your new industry of choice, be prepared to explain your current situation.

Even in a more formal interview, it helps to be honest about your lack of direct experience, but also to make clear what transferable knowledge and skills you have which could be helpful in that role — whether gained from previous jobs or outside of work — and the kind of new perspective you can bring given your different background.

Once you’ve identified your career change goal, be prepared to explain to anyone you meet why you’re enthusiastic and interested in the role.

You won’t be the only person ever to change career - career change, especially in the face of technological leaps, such as the next one arising from robotic automation, may well become the new norm, so don’t be shy about your wish to change career.

I find that one of the biggest hurdles to successfully changing careers alongside trying to leap blindly into a new career is fear of failure, of looking silly, of being rejected, of losing status — these are some of the single biggest dream-killer in the world of work. So don’t hide, instead be bold.

Tell your friends and family your (positive) reasons for wanting to change career and try to find out if they know of anyone already working in that, or any related field. If they do, ask for an introduction and begin to spread your network that way.

You never know who it will be who might give you that vital bit of industry knowledge or the personal introduction that leads to a job interview. Miracles happen around other people, so when you’re thinking of career change, as so many of us may well be in the future – first get networking.

Thinking of a career change?

Saturday 10th September 2016



Six steps to help you find a new career this year

Most people come to me because they feel stuck in a job or career they no longer enjoy. The commonest factor keeping them feeling stuck is not knowing what to do instead. If you are currently stuck in a job or career you don’t like, but struggling to work out what else you could be good at or enjoy, here are some steps to help get you started.

Step 1 – Your Motivators

To stay fulfilled in a job, you need to feel motivated on a daily basis. To understand what motivates us, we must first gain an understanding of our values. Our values are what drive us and provide our motivation – because they are the things that matter to us. If you’re not experiencing these on a regular basis within our current role, you’ll find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. A few examples of values could be:


This is just a small list of examples to help get those cogs turning. Think about your own personal values and write down a list of 10 – 20. Then out of that list pick a top 7. This is your list of key motivators. Make sure when you think about your career, you choose a role that will allow you to experience most, if not all, of these top values on a regular basis.

Step 2 – Your Skills

Go through your career history on your CV as well as your whole life and think about all of the skills you have picked up along the way. Look at technical, practical or manual skills, as well as interpersonal and behavioural skills (including leadership, sales, negotiation, conflict management, problem-solving, public-speaking etc.).

Think about your skills and abilities in thinking strategically, coming up with new ideas and creating change, and those around data, such as the analysis, presentation, evaluation or interpretation of data. Build a list of everything you’re good at you can think of from both your career and personal experiences.

Step 3 – Ability and Enjoyment

Looking at your skills list, assess which ones are you good at and enjoy. Give each one a mark out of 10 for ability and enjoyment. Ideally you want to choose a career that encompasses skills you are both good at and enjoy (e.g. a 7 and a 7 or above). As you’re doing this, ask yourself which ones would you like to do more of in your next role. If there are any that you really enjoy but not necessarily good at, make a note that these could be added to your personal development plan.

Step 4 – Achievements

By looking at what we have achieved, you can often get further insights into what you’re are good at, what you enjoy and your values. The key here is to think about the skills you used to achieve the accomplishment AND what was important to you about that achievement. To what extent is it something you want to continue achieving in the future? How much would achieving that consistently in your career drive you? If it would strongly, make a note of it.

Step 5 – Purpose

To stay in a career, it’s necessary especially as we get older to feel a sense of purpose. What would give you that? What career would make you feel you were doing the right thing? How do you want to be contributing to a team, an organisation, to a group of individuals or the world? What learning and development would you want to experience in order to feel your career had purpose?

Steps 1 to 5 are essentially to help you create a list of criteria for your next career. Chances are these will have given you some clarity on what you need to be doing and experiencing on a day-to-day basis in order to feel fulfilled in your career. With these new insights, you can start to brainstorm what kind of careers you would like to pursue. The final step?

Step 6 – Action

Ask yourself – what action can I take today to help me move closer to my new career? The best initial thing to do is to find out what it’s like to do a career you have in mind, day to day, in real life. Shadow someone already doing that kind of work, if you can. If it’s a great experience, focus in. If it’s not, pivot and try something different.

And if there’s a big gap between what you’re doing now and what you eventually find you want to do, think about how to move sideways from where you already are into an intermediate ‘stepping stone’ career – either by staying in your existing industry but changing role, or by moving into a new industry or sector but doing what you already do. Look at all of the resources available to you – people, education, the internet, publications, money, time etc – to find out more about what your new career choice entails and what steps you need to take to get there.

Plan – takes steps, don’t leap blindly! First off, you need to fatten up your emergency fund. I recommend saving a minimum of six months' worth of living expenses. If your new career comes with an expected pay cut or if you're planning to start your own business, I suggest you save even more — at least one to years year's worth of expenses.

If you want some guidance on changing careers, I can show you the necessary steps and work with you to build an effective career change plan.