As someone who used to change careers almost as often as I changed my signature t-shirts, I’ve sought my share of advice about life decisions. At some point, I began giving advice as well.
Advice can be tricky.
Most people begin with their nearest friends and dearest family members. Before you know it, you’re in a serious state of confusion. The ideas you had seem to dissolve as soon as you put them into words.
That adventure you saw as exciting and life-changing? You get a.response like, ‘What are you – nuts?”
Or you express realistic doubt over the odds of success in your next venture. “It’s so competitive,” you say.
Your loved ones brush past your concerns like a broom sweeping away dead leaves.
“You’re wonderful,” they say. “You can do anything.”
It’s true. Just when you most want someone to listen, you realize you need to get beyond the familiar faces of your comfort zone.
Your friends will be kind. They have the best intentions. But unless they’ve been in the game, they’ll have you dunking shots in the other team’s basket.
I went through this myself when I changed careers after 20+ years in academia.
My friends were eager to help. They suggested I consider jobs in Guam, Australia, and Saudi Arabia. (Where would I leave the dog? What would I do when the gig was over? Nobody knew.) They suggested books designed for entry-level professionals.
Here’s what some well-meaning friends have advised their friends:
- “If someone’s not happy in a job, he should talk to his supervisor,” argued a friend I’ll call Herb. He has remained in the same field for thirty-five years without a twinge of regret. He’s never been unhappy so he doesn’t realize that talking to your supervisor is probably be the very worst step you can take.
- “Career choice? Easy! Just think of whatever you’d rather do than eat.” When it comes to Haagen-Dasz mocha fudge with almonds, I’m afraid there’s no contest.
- ‘Want to move? If you’re not happy where you are, you won’t be happy anywhere.” Scientific research says otherwise.
- ‘”Start a business? You need a network.” Actually, you need a mindset and an offer that will be irresistible to a hungry market.
In her book, Working Identity, Herminia Ibarra warns that real job-changers move outside their comfortable, familiar networks.
People who know you have skin in the game. They don’t want you to change.
Your friends, colleagues, bosses, and recruiters will encourage you to stay in the same game, when you may already have moved on — and you’re still learning the new rules.
During a major transition, some of my clients actually move to a different part of the country, where they don’t have to explain their new identities.
Most important — they will be forced to talk to strangers and learn from experts. Often I’m hired as an impartial resource who knows the big picture and the unwritten rules. And hiring an outsider has saved more than one job, friendship and/or personal relationship.
[Adapted from Your 21-Day Extreme Career Makeover.]