You are a teacher who wants to be a lawyer. Or maybe you’re an airline pilot who wants to be a teacher. A stay at home parent planning a second or third career. Or maybe you are a for-profit executive, sure that it’s time to do what you have always wanted to do: bring your skills to a nonprofit organization and make the world a better place.
You might even have embarked on the higher education you need to realize your dream. Whatever the career you want, chances are good that you have some gaps to fill and you may need specialized education or training to make it happen.
Once you have a profession or job title fixed in your mind, started on the required or desired education to qualify yourself, and begun to acknowledge to yourself that your dream has become a goal, what do you do to ensure that the investment in time, money, and emotional commitment pays off?
Career-changing is more complex than changing jobs. Especially if you are successful in your first career, your identity–and maybe your social life, network of friends, lifestyle, and family–is entangled with the contours and features of the career you will have to depart in order to have the one you want. That means you have to begin to see yourself in a new light, and to help other people see you in that light.
People who haven’t quite got this mastered introduce themselves like this: “I’m a pilot and I’m working on a Master’s in Education.”
Or, “I’m a teacher but I’m going to law school part-time.”
Transition-wise, this is equivocal. If you are like these folks, you’re squarely in your former self. The current You is in transition, so at least find a patch of neutral ground:
“I’m working on becoming a teacher.” “I’m in law school; my dream is to practice law.”
All talk is self-talk; we think in images, words, and emotions, and stringing them together amounts to bring our thoughts to life. What you say about yourself becomes truth, whether you intend that or not.
Whether change is unbidden or the product of your decision to make your dream come true, you have to articulate (words), imagine (image), and feel (emotions) confidence and fulfillment about the changes you are making in your life.
I’ve written about (and talked at length about) William Bridges’ Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Bridges points out that there can’t be a new beginning without an end to something old. In between the two is The Neutral Zone. Even aggressive change-makers with heartfelt intentions and a rock-solid plan of action can burn a lot of tread taking a sharp curve too fast and too suddenly.
Your best bet is to build a truthful, sensible narrative for your journey through The Neutral Zone. Revisit it frequently to test your progress. Change it when you reach a benchmark or milestone. Acknowledge both path and eventual destination.
And speak the words, imagine the new beginning, and feel your confidence and pride often. Sometimes, the journey is so head-down, plow-through, get-to-the-next-milepost that we don’t ever talk about where we’re going and how important that day we land in the new world will be.
It’s a mistake to minimize conversation about your plan, progress, and new beginning. Your narrative is almost everything in making a success of your undertaking. Even if your circumstances prevent sharing much of your new career progress with your old career support system, find a few or many new friends and an inner celebration circle to help take you safely onward through The Neutral Zone.