7 Habits of Highly Effective Career Changers

Career change can be a slog. Anyone who tells you it’s quick and painless is straight up lying.

Let’s get real about the challenges for a minute.

First you have to figure out what you want to do, a key step that derails the majority of people before they even start.

Then you have to go into the world and make it happen. This likely includes wrong turns, dead ends, and course corrections—not to mention the litany of indignities associated with networking, applying, interviewing, and negotiating—all while you’re battling self-doubt and questioning whether you’ll ever find a career you love.

Yet people change careers successfully every day despite these challenges.

How do they do it???!!!

When it comes to keeping momentum, there are certain behaviors that successful career changers employ. 

It starts with habits. 

I’m not talking about daily habits, like getting up at 5am, reading an hour a day, or reinvigorating your morning routine. 

The habits I’m talking about are bigger than that. They’re mindsets and actions designed to help you stay the course in the most challenging of times: when your brain is telling you that maybe your current job isn’t so bad, your dream job doesn’t exist, you’re not ____ enough to get it done, and you should just quit trying already.

You’ve probably heard of the importance of grit and courage. But you’re not born with those qualities and you don’t just magically will them into being. 

The path to career change success starts with a set of beliefs and continues with the commitment, practice, and discipline to uphold them.  

Here are 7 habits of highly effective career changers that will help you keep momentum and stay sane throughout your career change.

 

Habit #1 – Career change is a roller coaster, not a death spiral

Successful career changers know that things will go wrong…and that they’ll get better. They don’t quit because something doesn’t turn out as expected. They don’t make decisions based on a bad day or week or month.  

They know career change is a roller coaster and not a death spiral. 

Accept that your career change will have ups and downs. There will be times when you’re discouraged and questioning. Accept the inevitable pitfalls on the path to something better.  

Let’s say you’re headed on a trip of a lifetime to Bali. You planned for months down to every last detail.

Day 1 of your journey arrives. Your flight gets delayed. You deplane and re-plane twice. You miss your connection. The person next to you, who clearly has Diphtheria, coughs on you the entire flight without apology. The airline loses your luggage. You arrive to your dream destination exhausted, angry, and questioning what else could possibly go wrong. 

While it’s certainly not the start you envisioned, do you cancel the trip and head home? I hope you don’t. Do you stop traveling altogether? Of course not.

You head to the bar, pool, or since we’re in Bali maybe you opt for yoga. You may even have a good cry and/or rant. Then you resume your Balinese adventure.

You know that bad things can happen when you travel. You also know that travel is a gateway to adventures and surprises you couldn’t have foreseen. You know there will be misadventures, and you do it anyway.

Your career journey is no different. There will be delays and unexpected results. There will also be opportunities that you didn’t even know existed and options you couldn’t have made up if you’d tried.

When unintended results happen, it’s okay be sad, mad, annoyed, or all of the above. Feel the feelings, then look for the opportunity.  

This habit isn’t about staying relentlessly positive in the face of failure or bad news. It’s about riding it out because there’s success and good news ahead.

You wouldn’t cancel a trip because of a bad flight, so why would you give up on your career change because of a minor detour?

 

Habit #2 – New Career ≠ New You

You can run from your job, but you can’t outrun yourself.

I’ve tried. It doesn’t work.

We tend to infuse our career change with all kinds of expectations:

  • “I’ll feel more confident when I have a job that pays more.”

  • “I’ll start going to the gym when I have a better boss.”

  • “I’ll have more time and money, stress less, date more when…”

     

Changing careers doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly be more confident, make time for the gym, or start that hobby you’ve been putting off. If you’re putting all those expectations on your career change, no wonder it feels impossible.

People are often unpleasantly surprised to find themselves facing the exact same challenges they were trying to escape. Because the one constant is THEM. 

I am a workaholic.

In my corporate career, I’d often work long hours and obsess over issues when I was supposed to be relaxing.

In my current career, I often work long hours and obsess over issues when I’m supposed to be relaxing.

I left my corporate gig because I wanted to work less. Surprise, I’m still a workaholic.

I changed EVERYTHING about my life. It wasn’t enough—until I was ready to address the root cause of my workaholic tendencies. The key to working less was not changing my job. It was building in daily habits and discipline to stop myself from working so darn much.

Decouple your job from the work you want to do on yourself. 

Of course there’s intrinsic value in a role or organization that’s better aligned to what’s important to you. But a new job is not a panacea, and it will not automatically deliver the changes you expect.  

If you want to be more confident, don’t make it dependent on a bigger paycheck. Work on your confidence now. It will make your life a whole lot more enjoyable starting today and make it easier to flex those muscles once you land it.

It may even help you get that dream role faster. Just imagine how a more confident you now can propel you into the future

Exercise:

  1. List what you expect to feel and do differently when you’re in a better career.

  2. Which of those feelings and actions could you start today?

  3. Each time a challenge arises, ask yourself, “How would Confident Me act in this situation?” How would Business Owner Me make time for the gym? How would Future Me handle this situation?

If you want to be a leader in the future, be that leader today. No job, no matter how objectively horrible it is, can stop you from being who you wish to be.

Just like you’d solve any problem at work, seek to understand the root cause so you can come up with lasting solutions instead of band-aid fixes.

Habit #3 – Your Career Change Is Your Job

Your current job is no longer your job; it’s your side hustle.  

Smart career changers know that their career change comes first. It’s the most important thing.

Set up your days to maximize the time and energy you give to where you want to go. Protect that time and energy with your life. It is, after all, your LIFE.

To practice this habit, orient your thinking like this:

How can I leverage my current situation to get me to my new career as quickly and easily as possible?

Maybe it’s taking advantage of training. Maybe it’s getting exposure to the work you want to move to. Maybe it’s limiting the hours you spend in the office or prioritizing them on the work that is most important for your next career.

Get in the habit of running every decision through the filter of how it advances your career change.

Connect every decision you make in your current job to your future career. 

Example: Is it worth it to me to work late for the next 6 weeks to finish this project?

Potential answer #1: Yes, because the experience is directly transferrable to my next career.

Potential answer #2: No, because it’s not critical for my new career, and it’s time away from working on my career change. 

Potential answer #3: Yes, it’s important for me to finish this role strong, but I’m leaving on time twice a week so I can keep momentum on my career change. 

Potential answer #4: No, because it will mentally drain me, and I want to redirect that energy to my job search.

 

Amend your answers to fit your situation. The key is to consciously evaluate the choices you’re making in your current job to align them with where you want to go.

This includes refusing to give life to work relationships and office shenanigans that deplete you. Disengage. Put your precious time and energy towards your future.

And, no, this is not about spending 40 hours—or even 20—on your job search. That kind of time is not necessary, not to mention exhausting. If you’re employed, the bulk of your time will necessarily go to your current job…because they’re paying you. Instead, be smart about how you’re working for them so that it also works for you.

  

Habit #4 – If Career Change Is Your Job, Plan Your Vacation

Already treating your career change like it’s your job? Great. Now plan your vacation. 

I worked with a woman who, upon returning to the office in the new year, would take the list of corporate holidays and block out her vacation time for the full year. Now that’s a habit I can get behind.

Taking downtime seriously is a mentality that will help you succeed in any career or career change.

A lot of folks take an “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” approach to their careers. They assume that their new job will bring relief.

Successful career changers recognize that a great job is not the same as a vacation—no matter how amazing it is. And starting a job when you’re already depleted is not a recipe for continued success. 

You need breaks, so build them in. And be prepared to take impromptu personal days. We all need them.

If you’re feeling exhausted or uninspired, it’s okay to take your foot off the gas. Refill before you run out entirely.

Hitting it harder is just going to create tension between you and the career you want to create. 

Give yourself permission to not work on your career change for a set period of time, then truly disconnect, so you can return with renewed clarity and energy. 

 

Habit #5 – Successful Career Changes Center Around People, Not Places Or Things 

Smart career changers attach themselves to people that keep them challenged, happy, and engaged. 

They build a habit of nurturing relationships. They look for strong leaders who understand talent. 

They don’t waste time scrolling through job postings. They seek out people, at all levels, with the skills, values, and attitudes they respect.

Look for great leaders, like-minded co-workers, and happy teams as hard as you look for your next role. 

Leaders who truly care about their people know how to find (and create) opportunities that map your strengths to the work that provides them the most value. It's a built-in win-win, and a much quicker path to a role that fits you.

Organizations that are serious about people don’t waste time with broken hiring practices and bureaucratic red tape. Don’t waste time on those that do.

In addition to adding skills to your resume, add people to your success team. Regardless of where you are in your career, make it part of your regular day to help and be helped, deepen connections, or just say hello.

 

Habit #6 – Feel the Love

What’s perhaps the most important factor in staying motivated and engaged during a long job search? Appreciating things as they are.

Accept your current situation and where you are in the career change process. 

It sounds counter-intuitive, I get it.

You might really hate your job, and it objectively might be terrible, but it serves a purpose. Take a minute to appreciate that purpose:

  • Does it pay your mortgage? Allow you to afford great vacations?

  • Maybe your career change is teaching you patience. Maybe it’s teaching you that strangers really want to help. What else is it teaching you?

  • What if you were thankful for that org change or your challenging boss because it’s the kick in the pants you need to finally leave?

 

This is not about telling yourself that your situation is great when it isn’t. It’s about appreciating the things that work for you rather than railing against the things that don’t. If you lead your job search out of fear, anger, and desperation, what do you think you’ll find?

Rather than stewing in why you hate your job or getting frustrated about how long the job search is taking, shift for just a moment into why you’re thankful for it. Then build on that.

You may think blame and anger fuels you, and it may for a period of time. But whether you realize it or not, you are telegraphing that energy. Consider the message it’s sending and determine what you want to communicate instead.

Habit #7 – Remember the “You” in Your Career Change

In addition to tracking your what progress—the tangible steps you’ve taken—track your how progress.

Your how progress is your growth. It transcends any single tangible step you take.

A long path to career change can make it challenging to see just how far you’ve come. Take time to look at the real and self-imposed roadblocks you’ve overcome to get this far.

Savvy career changers regularly acknowledge their growth and celebrate self-improvement as much as external accomplishments. They recognize that what they love about the present is a product of what they at one point worked so hard to attain, and that they’re actively creating what they want in the future.

They concern themselves less with how an important conversation went and more on being proud of doing something out of their comfort zone.

They celebrate turning down opportunities that aren’t right for them because they recognize their confidence has shifted. They realize their old self would have taken the role—any role—out of fear. Their new self has the commitment to keep going until they find the right role.

Check out these actual quotes from career changers I’ve worked with:

  • “I’ve started to be able to make tough decisions for myself, which I would never have done before.”

  • “I know now that I'm absolutely capable of making career changes.”

  • “I feel like I can achieve my dream lifestyle.”

  • “I learned so much yesterday about what I enjoy and what I don’t enjoy and today I’m feeling like there is limitless possibility.”

At one time, the career and life you wanted might have seemed like an impossible dream. Focus on the shifts in your beliefs and values that now make it possible—and how your diligence, passion, and determination are drawing it closer.

Career changes don’t just happen. You create them. Give credit to yourself.

7 Habits To Stay Motivated and Sane During Your Career Change

There are a ton of habits you can build to help you stay motivated during a long career change or job search. I’ve found that these seven are key for my most successful clients’ career transitions (as well as my own).

We’re lucky to live in a time where it’s encouraged to innovate and create and evolve in our careers. When this is the rule and not the exception, it’s imperative to build in success habits that sustain you for the long-term and keep your mental game strong.

What habits have you found to be the most helpful in your career transition?

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Author Bio: 

Before becoming a coach, Caroline spent 20 years in management consulting and financial services. She's made it her mission to help people grow, contribute, and get wherever they want to go.

Caroline wants women to recognize how much power they truly have to define their careers. The life and career you want really is possible once you have the roadmap. Take the first step by downloading her free guide.

She’s also a tennis fanatic, aspiring Minimalist, FIRE (Financial Independence and Retire Early) enthusiast, and Aloha Spirit seeker 🤙. She loves to share stories from her unconventional life and career focused on freedom, creativity, fun, health, family, and community. If she can do it, you can, too.

If you want to hear more about my twisty-turny career journey, here's my story.