7 Steps to Sustain a Career Change

Tips to help you maintain momentum on the way to a career you love

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Curt Rosengren
If it's time for a career change, to a path that energizes and inspires you, try this. Grab a magic wand (an invisible one will do), close your eyes, spin around three times, wave the wand and say, "Wobbity bobbity, fibbity fun, when I open my eyes, career change be done!" Really. Do it. I'll wait.

[See how to change your work and the world.]

How'd that work? Not so well? Bummer. It looks as if you'll have to do it the way everyone else does it—one step at a time. Here's the reality: Real substantive change doesn't happen with the wave of a magic wand. Success requires commitment, effort, and persistence. It unfolds over time. It's easy to come out of the starting gate sprinting full speed toward change. But this isn't a sprint. You have to be in it for the long term. Here are some tips to help you maintain momentum on the way to a career you love.

Pick a path you care about. Imagine two paths. One of them you pick because other people will admire it, or because that's where the money is, or because of external expectations. The other lights a fire inside of you. It energizes you to even think about. A big part of maintaining momentum is about feeding the energy to keep you moving forward. When you aim your efforts toward something you really care about, you get energy from the pursuit. It's also a lot easier to take the inevitable bumps and bruises along the way when you experience them in pursuit of something you love.

[See how to do what doesn't come naturally.]

Reach out for support. Over the years, I have interviewed dozens of people to find out how they were able to successfully pursue their passions. Almost all of them echoed a variation on this one theme: "I couldn't have done it alone." As you pursue your passion, make a concerted effort to reach out for support. Here are three forms of support that have repeatedly popped up:

Knowledge support: You don't have all the answers, so don't pretend you do. Take stock of what you need to learn, and find ways to learn it. Find mentors, interview experts, or take classes. The less you grapple with figuring out the answers, the more energy you'll have to use them.

Emotional support: You're going to feel fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Don't pretend you won't. Reach out to people you can be vulnerable with. The more open and honest you can be, the less power your doubts will have.

Objective perspective: Friends and family are great, but they can be too intimately entwined in your story to give you an objective perspective. You might get that external perspective from a coach, a mentor, or others (not your close friends or family) who are also pursuing their passions.

[See why it's time to start dreaming again.] 

Take care of yourself. Remember what I said about feeding the energy to keep you moving forward? Part of that energy comes from good self-care. Think of your body and mind as the factory you use to turn the raw materials of your dreams into tangible reality. If that factory is in disrepair and you don't give it the fuel it needs to do its work, your results are going to be limited. Keeping your factory in good condition means getting enough exercise and getting enough rest and down time. Fueling the factory requires attention to the food you eat. It's as simple as that.

Anticipate difficulty. Want to get where you're going without any bumps and bruises? Don't hold your breath. Unrealistic expectations of smooth sailing can suck the energy right out of you. Each time you hit a bump, negative thoughts will begin to cascade: "Why is this happening? I must not be able to do this. If this were possible, I wouldn't be running into this problem." But running into obstacles doesn't mean that you're on the wrong path or that it can't be done. It just means you're moving. It's a part of the game. When you anticipate challenges and recognize them as simply part of the landscape you need to navigate along the way, they lose a lot of their potential to rob you of your momentum. Rather than being disheartening, they become just another puzzle to solve.

Acknowledge progress. Many people have a tendency to discount the progress they've made and focus only on what remains undone. They never really give themselves full credit for what they've achieved, because (a) they don't pay attention to it, and (b) what they achieve is never "enough." There's always more to be done.

As you pursue your path, I encourage you to do two things: track your progress, and celebrate it. Change often unfolds slowly over time. It's like having children and being around them all the time, so you don't really notice on a daily basis how much they've grown. In order to notice, you have to have a frame of reference. Tracking your progress helps you notice that it exists. If all you do is give a perfunctory nod toward your achievements and then turn your attention back to what you haven't done yet, you're not much better off than if you hadn't paid any attention to it at all. Take time to stop occasionally and really celebrate what you've done. Pat yourself on the back. Tell someone about it. Treat yourself to something special. It's all about reinforcing the positive.

Start with a realistic time frame. I have seen many people get frustrated with their career change—and sometimes veer off track as a result—because they had unrealistic expectations about how quickly it would unfold. The overnight career change is the exception to the rule, and when you start with an unrealistic time frame in mind, you are doomed to feel impatient and unsuccessful. It's like expecting to run a mile in under a minute. Not going to happen. Even if you're a world-class runner who can run a mile in under four minutes, if you expect it to be done in a minute, by the time you hit 60 seconds you feel like a failure. So keep a realistic perspective on how much time it will take.

Feed a positive perspective. It never ceases to amaze me how people will open up their heads and pour in a toxic stew of negativity and then complain because they don't feel positive about the potential they see in the world. Have you ever really paid attention to how the news programs your brain to see the world? Who could stay positive with a worldview like that?

Get rid of that toxic stew of negativity, and replace it with something positive. Read inspiring books. Go to uplifting movies. Surround yourself with positive people. I don't mean you should be pie-in-the-sky, with no grounding in the real world. You can still face problems. You can still see challenges. But when you consciously feed a positive perspective, you are more likely to see possibility than impossibility. You are more inspired to keep moving rather than just give up. And you are more likely to believe in your own potential.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As a speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker , explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.