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How long does it take to change career?

Changing career or going through some other sort of career transition takes time.  Think about it: even adjusting to a new job takes a while – in my experience, about a year because you have to complete a full financial/business/academic cycle before you can get a complete overview of how things work.

But career change and transition take time for a couple of other reasons:

  • there’s an internal shift that has to take place
  • there are practical steps that need to be taken ‘out there’ 

Coming to terms with what’s happening inside

The internal shift involves recognising that change is necessary, or that it has happened even if one wasn’t expecting it to happen (e.g. redundancy).

The recognition aspect can take as little as a few months, for example, if you’ve taken on a new job and realise almost immediately that it’s simply not right for you.

Or it can take a few years (sometimes even longer!), perhaps because although the day job isn’t brilliant, it pays the bills, it’s convenient to get to, and you can put it behind you when you get home. Or there may be social pressures from a life partner or parents or even managers who encourage you to stick with it.

The trigger point

But usually there is something that finally triggers a rethink: a health issue, relationship issues, money issues, etc..

For example, early on in my career it was money: I couldn’t earn a stable living from being a paper conservator so I knew a change was necessary. It probably took about a year of combining short-term conservation contracts with admin temping before I finally had enough of unstable finances and decided to speak to a career counsellor and work out which direction to head in.

Later on, the trigger was health-related: a trapped nerve which prevented me from getting out of bed one day. That was what got me thinking: ‘Something’s not right if work is having this sort effect on my body. I have to address this.’

The more I reflected on the current situation, the more I realised change was needed. And the final trigger was a bereavement that provided me with a lump sum that, for the first time, gave me the chance to take a break from full-time work. I applied for 12 month career break and used that period to consider ‘What next?’, and more specifically to explore the feasibility of becoming self-employed.

Career transition v career change

The point here is that once someone’s recognised that change is needed , the change itself takes time. In fact, it’s more helpful to describe it as a transition – a process of moving from A to B along a path that may have quite a number of twists and turns along the way.

If not this, then what?

At the start of the journey, there’s work on oneself that needs to be done which investigates the question: “If I’m no longer this, then who/what am I? And who/what do I want to be?” This is often where a career coach can help.

The role of a career coach

A qualified career coach will have been trained in the use of a range of tools and exercises that can help clients to develop the self-knowledge that is needed to work out which direction to head in.

The coach’s first task may be to help a client work out who they really are, what they have to offer, what they want to offer, and – importantly – the story behind why they want to offer it. It’s rather like dismantling a puzzle, looking at the various pieces, and then putting them back together again in a new configuration that looks and feels more pleasing.

Again, this isn’t work that can be rushed. When I work 1:1 with clients, I normally recommend meeting fortnightly so that the ideas and insights we’re discussing have time to percolate through and settle. It’s not uncommon therefore to meet regularly for 2-3 months in the first instance, and then build on that in a more ad hoc basis over the ensuing months as the person starts exploring and testing ideas in the world ‘out there’.

Exploring the Big Wide World

The external work involves researching ideas, testing things out, talking to people, getting practical experience, etc.

Basically, you can’t really know whether an idea is going to work until you’ve had first-hand experience in some form or another (work experience, work shadowing, talking to people doing that work, trying out a mini project to see what it’s like, etc.).

And this experience takes time to set up and to… well, experience!

There’s no quick fix but it can be fun!

To answer the original question therefore, career change takes time, often longer than people realise. But once they recognise that there’s no quick fix, the process itself can be one of the most creative periods of their life.

If you’ve been thinking that a change might be needed, please feel free to arrange an initial chat. Sometimes all that’s needed in the first instance is a bit of info to get started.



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