3 Keys To a Silky-Smooth Career Transition:
Navigating the Rough Waters Of Change
I had you at silky-smooth, didn’t I?
The fear of a rough career transition is often enough to keep you anchored in place, and even a coveted new role can lead you into uncharted waters.
Whether you chose your transition or it chose you, here are three keys to ride the wave without wiping out.
1. Ditch Short-Term Fixes For Medium- and Long-Term Plans
Short-term thinking will get you a short-term solution.
So many people focus on short-term tactics—updating their resume and scouring job boards—before they’ve gotten clear on what they actually want.
I get it. When you’re desperate to make a change, it can be tempting to skip the planning and get straight to the doing. But what you think you’re saving in time on the front-end will bite you on the back-end when you’re stuck in a job that doesn’t align with what you want long-term.
In fact, short-term job fixes often end up recreating the same issues or unveiling unforeseen ones. So, you make another short-term jump, and the cycle repeats.
When I ask prospective clients what they want for their career in the next 6 months, I often get some version of:
I want a job
I don’t want what I have now
If the goal is to find a job, you’ll succeed. But I want you to have the job, the one that gives you the opportunities, impact, money, and recognition you deserve. Not the one you settle for because you fear that nothing better will come along.
And while it’s great to know what you don’t want, how can you possibly get what you do want if you haven’t defined it?
Short-term moves are often driven by emotion rather than a true understanding of what will make you happy. This career myopia tricks you into seeing only a few, limited options. But it's not the full picture.
Does this short-term move align with my longer-term career goals?
Would I still make this move if I were happy in my current situation?
Which is stronger, my desire to leave my current situation or my desire to take this opportunity?
Longer-term plans take the pressure off by creating space between your current job reality and future career vision. They release you from “I need to figure it all out NOW” mode and help you invest in career moves now that will pay dividends for years to come.
Occasionally, thoughtful short-term career moves are necessary to get you to a temporary island of much-needed relief and position you for where you want to go next. But I urge you to not let your medium- and long-term planning drop. Even once you land your dream job.
2. Understand Why
We just covered the importance of understanding What you want.
Understanding Why you want it—and what it will mean for you once you achieve it—is one of the most important pieces of your career roadmap.
The people I work with want a combination of autonomy, growth, money, recognition, supportive relationships, and impact. We spend a lot of time understanding the Why behind those goals.
Most people assume a change (like a promotion or more money) will automatically bring a desired feeling (like more respect or security). Yet, too often it doesn’t bring the expected result.
My friend and former colleague quit his corporate job because he saw it as a roadblock to becoming an entrepreneur. He writes, “leaving my job did not bring me the happiness and freedom I was looking for. Asking myself [about the] "WHY" behind my goals/decisions made me realize that my full-time job was never a problem. In fact, it helped me start my business!”
He’s now pursuing parallel goals of building his business and creating a stable corporate side hustle. Once he identified happiness and freedom as his true goals, he realized he could achieve them in a bunch of different ways, including ones with healthcare and a steady paycheck.
People often think that career fulfillment necessitates a complete 180 from where they are currently. If that’s what you want, go for it. But it can also be a set of pivots, tweaks, and ninja moves that don’t require massive upheaval.
Speaking of upheaval, your Why can also keep you afloat in rough waters by reminding you of what drove you to make the change in the first place.
It all starts with Why.
3. What You Focus On Is Where You End Up
You're communicating what you want in every moment and interaction. What are you saying?
During my college internship, I talked about my dream to live in Paris so much that my manager assumed I wasn’t interested in a US role. Luckily, when I finally mentioned I wanted to be hired full-time, that same manager not only hired me but snagged me an assignment in Paris.
That time, it worked in my favor, but many more times throughout my career, my words and actions undermined my own goals in spectacular ways.
I once complained to a Managing Partner so much that I lost his support for an early promotion. My big mouth swallowed up all the good work I had done.
Back to that assignment in Paris, our team was routinely asked to stop work while awaiting key management decisions. When this happened, I did what any self-respecting spoiled ingénue intent on sabotaging her career would do . . .
I traipsed through the office, dramatically proclaiming, “I have nothing to doooo!” like a lovelorn figure from a 1920’s melodrama.
I waltzed around the client site: head thrown back, one hand to my forehead, the other delicately outstretched as if clutching a dead lover's monogrammed handkerchief, bewailing my fate.
I was so busy emoting, I failed to notice the client team tucked in a back room.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it’s that I was right to not pursue a career in the theater.
I guess the other lesson is: You are what you talk about, so make sure that’s who you want to be.
I know you’d never make such inappropriate, cringe-y mistakes. But are you truly diligent about aligning your thoughts, words, and actions with where you want to go in your career, or are you letting your fear and anxiety do the talking?
When you talk to your friends, colleagues, and higher-ups, do you speak in real terms about the opportunities you’re seeking, the value you bring to matters they care about, and the support you’d like from them? Or are you engaging in a less dramatic but equally career-limiting version of my examples?
Same goes for your actions. And before you decide you’re better off staying where you are, beware inertia. Not doing anything is still doing something, ensuring you’ll get more of what you have.
What you focus on is where you end up. Stop devoting precious time and energy to a job you hate, a dismissive boss, or a disrespectful colleague. Save your brainpower for getting clear on what you want instead, and steadily go after it.
Remember: All Change Is Growth
The truth about change is that it's rarely smooth sailing, but that doesn't mean you have to succumb to its watery depths. The trick is not about waiting for the oceans to calm; it's about becoming a skilled sailor.
Whatever transition you’re considering, remember that all change is growth. Our roughest transitions often turn out to be the best ones. And the smoothest transitions are those where we remember that simple truth.
Take a deep breath and release the pressure. Then ride that silky-smooth wave.
Scroll down to comment and share.