We are supposedly living in the age of a 100-year life, where most of us will be having multiple careers, and therefore undergoing numerous transitions from career to career, or from career to school and back again. Being able to make these transitions smoothly is likely to be key to our happiness and well-being.
A recent study from the University of Hamburg explored these kinds of transitions to try and understand just what it is that makes them so challenging. They hypothesize that the key to a successful transition is to obtain closure in one period before you transition to the next. If we feel that we have done all we can and have completed the goals we had set ourselves, then moving on to pastures new can be relatively easy, but if there are lots of loose ends that remain un-tied, we tend to move on with a series of regrets instead.
The worrying thing about their finding is that those people who were unable to achieve closure were subsequently found to perform worse in a series of cognitive tests. In other words, their sense of regret was harming their performance, which in turn makes it less likely that their new career will be a success, and so a vicious circle is formed.
Now, it should be said that the German researchers were looking solely at planned transitions where we had given some thought to our actions and were deliberately moving onto something new. Of course, many career transitions are not planned in that way at all, with redundancies often coming out of the blue, giving us no real time to plan, much less tie off those loose ends that appear to be so important to help us achieve closure.
So how can you transition from one career to the next successfully when the change is largely forced on you? Probably the first thing to appreciate is that this need not be the end of the world. Cast your mind back to your teenage years, and you probably had a first love that, for whatever reason, ended in a breakup. It is quite probable that this was a devastating event and you convinced yourself that you would never find love quite like it again. The reality for most people is that not only did they find love again, but their subsequent partner was a much better match for them than that first love.
The same can be the case with careers. Many professionals moved on from a job they thought was great and whose departure from was utterly gut-wrenching, only to find out that the grass really was greener on the other side and they managed to find a job that was a much better match to their skills, values and lifestyle. Just as there is not a single person in the world for us to love, there is not a single career that we can flourish in.
In his latest book Polymath, Waqas Ahmed argues that too often we tend to impose limits by the way we think and describe ourselves. We’re an accountant or a project manager, but these simplistic labels barely scratch the surface of who we are, what we value and the skills we possess. Ahmed argues that the greatest thinkers throughout history had a multitude of talents that the very act of trying to boil them down to a single label would have seemed absurd. While we are probably not the next Leonardo Di Vinci, we are likely to have many talents that are under-utilized in our current or old job. This is your opportunity to tap into those abilities and explore new ways of capitalizing on your talents. We are living through a long stretch of job market growth, so it remains a fantastic time to change direction with your career.
Support is at hand
Not only are many employers now developing alumni networks to provide support to former employees, but careers coaching services are also increasingly being offered for an extended period. The days of such support being offered for a short period immediately after redundancy are fast becoming a thing of the past. These kinds of services can be valuable in helping you not only assess the skills you have and even those you do not know you have but also to assess how these could be best deployed in the workplace.
The transition process is certainly not easy, and it can be frightening and uncertain, but with the right support, it can undoubtedly be one of the most positive journeys you will embark upon in life. Data suggests that the majority of us would transition to another career if we had the chance, now could be the best chance you will ever have.