Contributed by Jackie Pires, NSU Career Advisor
This past summer, I had the pleasure of doing a practicum at the FIU Alumni Association, working with Maria Tomaino, Associate Director of Alumni Career Development. I enjoyed meeting so many FIU alumni and working with some of you through career coaching. During the summer and this fall in my role as Graduate Assistant Career Advisor at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Fort Lauderdale, I have had a number of “a-ha” moments throughout my advising appointments, especially with alumni. These moments have centered around making career transitions.
My most recent “a-ha” moment came earlier this week, when I was away from my desk. I was getting my haircut by a woman I had never met before. As we were exchanging life stories, we realized that we both shared something in common – we have both made significant career transitions. For many years, she thought that she wanted to become a nurse, however it wasn’t until she completed her BSN and started working at a hospital for a few months that she realized nursing was not for her. Soon after this realization, she said she quit cold turkey. She withdrew from her position at the hospital and the classes she was taking. She always had a knack for make-up and doing hair and when she was getting her haircut, her hairdresser said to her, “You know, you would make an amazing hairdresser!” The more she learned about this career path, she knew it was perfect for her. Not only was it an opportunity for her to have fun and be creative, but she would be able to help people everyday, build relationships with her clients and hopefully one day build her own business. She went on to tell me that just last week, she shaved the head of one of her dearest clients who is battling breast cancer and afterwards she shaved her own head too! That, right there, is finding your career passion and calling to make an impact on someone else’s life. And in the process, she ended up finding herself too.
While sitting in the chair getting my haircut, I began reflecting on my own career transition and the alumni I have met this past year who were also contemplating career transitions. I’ve found that our stories, no matter the situation or industry, all have a lot in common.
Listen to that voice inside you. The longer you ignore it, the more time will pass, the more distressed you may become and perhaps, if you wait long enough, the voice may tire and fade away. That voice is a reflection of your career values – what you need most in your career to be happy and fulfilled. How often do you ask yourself about your career values? Your career interests are represented by what you like to do. Your career skills are made up of everything you’re good at doing. Often, we take jobs because of our interests and skills, but we may find ourselves leaving positions or changing industries because our values are not fulfilled. Family. Work-life balance. Location. Opportunity for growth. Financial stability. Integrity. (To name a few.) What are your most important career values? Which ones could you live without and which ones have you discovered are non-negotiable? If you are faced with a difficult career decision, go back to your foundation and remember what matters most to you in your career. The answer often lies with your career values.
Get comfortable with being vulnerable. Making a career transition means putting yourself out there and taking a step (or sometimes a giant leap) into the unknown. Your career transition is not going to move itself, so it’s up to you to be proactive with your job search. Join LinkedIn to make strategic connections in your new field and start by leveraging the connections that you already have. Set up informational interviews with professionals in the field to build your network and discover opportunities. Building relationships is going to be particularly important, especially if you are breaking into a new company/field. Follow up on job leads. Attend networking events and professional conferences. Put yourself out there. Make it known that you are job searching. There is a distinction between asking for help and networking, and you never know when colleagues will reach out to you when they are job searching in the future.
Take the first step. Acknowledge that you would like to make a career change. Say it out loud, write it down, tell a family member or friend. Have a career talk with a mentor. Admit it to yourself and then put it out into the world. This step is so important, because it has to come from YOU. Sometimes this first step is a big, bold, scary step down a completely different road, and you may not know exactly where you’re headed. I speak from experience when I say that taking this first step, this leap of faith, is one of the hardest decisions someone can make. However, once you decide it’s time to make a change, not only will every step following become easier, you will become stronger and more confident in your ability to move forward. There’s no better time than the present.
Be patient and be aware. Career transitions take time and sacrifice. Finding a position may take some time and getting to where you want to be in your new career may take even more time. Remember to stay in tune with the things that mean the most to you, excite you, etc. These are your career values that will steer your job search. The Cliffs Notes version of my story goes something like this: I was a Sport Management major wanting to work in sports, particularly in college athletics. Upon graduation, I was offered an amazing full-time position as the Director of Operations with a well-established non-profit organization in the sports world that I couldn’t pass up. After about four years, I didn’t want to admit it, but I was ready for a change. During that time, I was mentoring a high school student through one of the organization’s impactful college scholarship programs. I believe it was this experience that made me want to build an advising career within higher education. After four months of leveraging my network, doing my own research and ten informational interviews, I applied and was accepted into NSU’s M.S. in College Student Affairs degree program and began working as a Graduate Assistant. Some may say that I was crazy for leaving my position and that I “took a few steps backward.” Sacrifices? Yes. Worth it? YES! It’s hard for me to doubt my decisions because I am doing what I love and I have found my passion for helping students and alumni along their career journeys.
Just a few weeks ago, I lost a close family member gone too soon. Through difficult times, you can’t help but reflect how you are living your life and the impact you have on other’s lives. Ultimately, life is too short not to pursue what you really want for your career. When contemplating a career change, are you thinking it’s not the right time? Not sure where the new road will lead? Easier to stick with what you know? Not sure how you will make ends meet? There will always be a million reasons to stop you from making a career change. However, I challenge you to think about all the reasons you should. If not now, then when? If not you, then who? Put yourself first, and trust me, you’ll be very glad that you did.
In closing, here are two quotes that came up during my recent heart-to-heart with my hairdresser, and I couldn’t have said it better myself! Enjoy the journey.
“Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” –Confucius
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” –Neal Donald Walsch