Pivoting in your career is often something positive. Still, it can come with unexpected negative feelings.
The pandemic led many people to quit their jobs. Media call this The Great Resignation, which peaked in April 2021. The people leaving more often than in 2020 are in 25-30 and 45+ age groups. It's not only the US, but I live in Europe, and many of my friends have or are planning to quit their jobs, thinking about what's next for them.
I myself reconsidered my priorities and decided to pursue a different career path at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
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A career isn't just what you do day-to-day. Your work is associated with particular social status, a salary, a location, traveling, benefits, a community, and so on. Any of these can be a reason for pivoting. You might enjoy your day-to-day, but then the community isn't what you have imagined, or the pay is low.
You could just change your job and stay in the same career. Try to work for a different company? Sometimes, that's not enough. Pivoting means changing your job in a way that leads to a different career path, and that's mostly for the better. You might increase your earning potential or have better benefits, higher status, etc.
However, you can decide to pivot out of necessity or change priorities in life. You could enjoy your day-to-day and still choose to change careers like me. Without going into too much detail, I decided to leave academia and research for the world of business. I had many reasons, but not many were related to my current day-to-day work.
Pivoting leads to a much more significant change than just changing companies. Even though it's positive overall, it might be a bittersweet experience if you don't manage your expectations appropriately.
Let's explore that weird feeling and see what it is and how to deal with it.
This might seem a bit overdramatic, but there is a reason you find the headline interesting enough that you clicked on it. Our careers are an essential piece of our adult identities. Scientists call this professional or occupational identity; a portion of your identity related to your economic activity. The question of "what do you do?" is often one of the first questions people ask when they meet you. When you don't really know how to answer, you might have a career identity crisis.
As someone with an interdisciplinary background, I often struggle with that question. It worsens when I'm pivoting careers once again.
Before we move on, we need to understand a few more concepts - identity crisis and psychosocial development.
The concept of identity crisis comes from developmental psychology. It's something teenagers, and adolescents go through, and it's a crucial step in becoming fully functional adults in society. After you resolve your big identity crisis in adolescence, you move to adulthood. According to this theory, your next challenge is to learn how to build quality relationships.
It may sound silly, but hear me out.
I have recently listened to How To Not Die Alone, written by Logan Ury. It made me think about how the decision-making process is similar when it comes to relationships and careers. First of all, you spend a lot of time with your partner and at your job. Additionally, your choices of a partner or a career are tools of self-expression, ways of showing who you are.
The book provides relationship advice, but the main focus is dating. The author lays out three types of unsuccessful daters - romanticizers, maximizers and hesitators. All three groups have extreme expectations from either the relationships, their partners or themselves. I think that these excessive expectations apply to people who are unhappy with their career choices and paths.
Choosing a career is like dating; when you finally make your choice, you should give it a real shot.
Let's look at all three types of daters in the context of the career identity crisis.
In the case of your love life, it was Disney who ruined you. In the case of your career, it was the big companies and social media. There are so many people who became popular online because they worked at a big tech, big four, and big three of consulting or in the big money finance firms. In carefully crafted content, the focus is on the benefits, and the harsh reality of a faster pace and long hours remains hidden.
Maximizers are people that want to research their options to death. They are also more prone to regret when they finally make a choice. If this is you, you might also suffer from FOMO - What if there is an even better job/career that I have now?
The main issue is that you expect too much from your career - the best pay, meaningful, high social status, etc. You can be on a perfect career path, but it may not happen right away. You need to commit to something, work on your skills and get to where you want to be. All of that takes time and work.
Hesitators know what career they want to pivot into but keep postponing job applications. "I will just finish one more course, and then I will apply." They have high expectations of themselves. However, by not applying, they miss out on the experience of looking for a job and interviewing. They rather stay in a career they despise, forever waiting to become ready.
If you want to know more about your own tendencies, take this relationship quiz. I bet the result will be similar to your attitudes towards work.
Getting that first job is similar to pivoting. Both situations bring about feelings of uncertainty. Research on young adults shows that social interactions at work are crucial in your professional identity consolidation. This is good news. The tension will be gone as soon as you can engage with your new colleagues or a broader community of professionals in your field.
Making connections is the key to accepting your new career identity.
If you are hesitant about your career change, you might want to look into networking. Networking can help you learn how to talk to people in a specific profession and give you more confidence. Every field develops a particular jargon, humor, and references. Certain jokes, puns, and pop-culture references become popular in specific professional communities because they face common challenges in their work.
For example, I'm a data scientist working in the healthcare context. One thing we often complain about is how long it takes to get data access. The data is often sensitive, so there is usually an approval process. We know it's necessary, but it's something we can all complain about and feel connected.
Additionally, you should manage your expectations. It is unlikely that one job can satisfy all your self-realization needs. Especially if you've just started a new career path.
You can be excited after you've read everything about the position and you've passed the interview, so you must have some understanding of the role. But don't forget that everyone struggles initially, so be ready to make mistakes and learn. It doesn't feel great, but it is a necessary part of the process.
Whether it was perks, location, or status, you made the decision for a reason, so trust your judgment. Again, beginnings are difficult. If the position doesn't feel right, try introducing yourself to a mirror - Hi, I'm [Your Name], and I'm [Position]. It's much more effective to just give it a shot than daydreaming about a potentially non-existent position elsewhere.
I was able to resolve my own career identity crisis by writing this story; I hope this was helpful for you too.