4 steps to a successful career switch

by Ana Lopez

Most of us dream of making changes in our lives, reinventing ourselves and our careers. But financial considerations, fear of the unknown and fear of failure often prevent us from going for it.

Change is hard – and it’s scary. But it is also well within our reach.

Author Joanne Lipman spoke to hundreds of people who have gone on to successful careers and interviewed researchers and scientists who have studied major transitions and transformations. To her surprise, she found that most career changes follow a similar pattern that can be broken down into steps, which she charts in her new book “Next one! The power of reinvention in life and work.”

Photo by: Gannett

Lipman’s also ran the walk. In her own career she made the transition from editor-in-chief of USA today And The Wall Street Journal weekend news into a best-selling author and speaker.

I spoke to her for the podcast Write about now about the steps, what she calls the 4 S’s: search, struggle, stop and solve.

Related: Considering Entrepreneurship After a Successful Business Career? Here are 3 things you should know.

1. The Quest

All career changes begin with a quest to do something different.

“This is when you start collecting information about where you end up,” says Lipman. “The nice thing about this search phase is that almost everyone I interviewed didn’t realize they were searching. It was totally unintentional.”

She cites the example of a telephone repairman, Chris Donovan, who drew pictures of women’s shoes in his spare time. He drew these designs for years (for fun) until his husband discovered them and encouraged Donovan to pursue his love of shoe design as a new career. The result was Chris Donovan Shoesa successful luxury shoe brand for women.

When deciding on your career change, take stock of your interests and passions and try not to overthink them by weighing all the pros and cons. Instead, trust your gut, says Lipman.

“People who successfully switch careers,” she says, “often cite the power of gut feeling.”

And research supports that. In one study, British and Turkish students were asked to predict the winner of a British football match. The Turks, who knew nothing about the teams, were just as accurate in their predictions as the British. Why? Because they didn’t overanalyze all factors – such as injuries, previous scores and player stats – they simply went with their instincts.

Lipman suggests shadowing someone who does what you would like to do and taking notes. Write down your goals and thoughts. Research shows that taking simple actions will help you achieve your vision.

2. The battle

This is the most difficult phase of any career change and can take an uncomfortably long time.

“It’s when you disconnect yourself from your previous identity, but you haven’t quite figured out which identity you’re going to land on yet,” says Lipman.

But this struggle is also the most critical phase of your transformation. You’ve made the switch, but don’t see success soon enough – maybe one day.

Lipman says one way to deal with the stress of the battle phase is to stay nimble.

“People who turn failure into success do it incrementally. Instead of throwing their hands up and throwing it away, they repeat and repeat and repeat,” she says. “They adjust, adjust, and fidget after every outburst.”

3. The stop

The struggle leads you to the third stage of change: the stop.

Lipman describes this as “either something you can choose, like, ‘I’m quitting my job. a divorce in my family.”

Lipman tells the story of Marla Ginsburg, a former TV producer whose career and investments were wiped out after the 2007 television writers’ strike and the 2008 recession. She began a second career as a fashion designer, which went well until her son was diagnosed with Parkinson’s was diagnosed. This was her stop.

“She was in Amsterdam, focused only on her son and his treatments,” explains Lipman. “It was the weirdest thing she said because of the change of scenery and the absolute stopping in her tracks. She suddenly had a creative spurt. She came up with this idea for her brand, which is called MarlaWynne.”

It is one of the top brands on QVC and HSN, with sales of more than $60 million, according to Forbes.

4. The solution

The final chapter of your career change journey marks the beginning of a whole new chapter in your life.

The solution is when everything that leads to this point – the seeking, the struggling, the quitting – comes together and you know what to do.

The solution is the answer.

Lipman talks about megawriter James Patterson (A spider passed by), who worked in the advertising industry until the age of 50. But Patterson always entertained the fantasy of being a full-time novelist (the quest). He published a few books and got mostly terrible reviews (the struggle), but he was honing his craft and hesitant to quit his day job.

Then he had an “aha moment.” He was (literally) stopped in terrible traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike when he was coming home from his beach house one Sunday evening.

“He looks across the road and it’s ‘whoosh, whoosh’ — all these other cars going back to the beach,” Lipman explains. And he said, ‘I’m on the wrong side of the road. I have to go to the other side.’ He returned to New York, quit his job, and then he said, “I’m a writer.”

That solution earns him $60 million a year.

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