Have you been feeling doubts about your career recently, or perhaps for quite some time? Maybe you’re not sure if you’re in the right job, or even in the right field, and you can’t figure out if you should try to keep making your current position work, or jump ship to something else.
Then you’ll likely recognize yourself in the stages of career transition my guest will describe. His name is Joseph Liu. He’s a consultant, coach, and speaker who helps people navigate the challenges of switching careers. In his work, he’s seen that there’s a recurring pattern individuals follow when thinking about and making this weighty decision, which he calls the “7 Stages of Career Change.” Today on the show, Joseph walks us through these stages, which begin with Doubt and Dismay and end with Reflection and Relaunch. With each stage, Joseph explains what typically goes through people’s minds, common mistakes that are made, and the best actions to take, which sometimes involves transitioning out of your current career, and sometimes does not. We end our conversation with the considerations to keep in mind if you do decide to make a change.
- How do people generally approach career change? What are the common pitfalls?
- The difference between changing jobs and changing careers
- Why the grass isn’t always greener on the other side
- The 7 stages of career change
- What does the Doubt stage look like? What mistakes do people make in this stage?
- When does Doubt move to Dismay?
- Small tweaks you can make before “breaking up” with your job/career
- What does the Exhaustion phase look like? What challenges present themselves there?
- How do you actually make the move to change careers?
- Why it takes a long time, for most people, to make career changes
- What are the 5 broad paths to Relaunch?
- Handling the nuts and bolts logistics of career change
- Is it really possible to find career nirvana?
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- How to Pursue a New Career (While Still Getting the Bills Paid)
- How to Use Introductions to Strengthen Weak Ties and Advance Your Career
- Be an Entrepreneur Without Quitting Your Day Job
- How to Quit a Job (Without Burning Bridges)
- How to Find Your Calling in Life
- How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do
- 30+ Questions to Ask Yourself Before Leaving a Job
- How to Keep Your Head (and Even Thrive) in a Bureaucracy
- How to Deal With a Job You Don’t Like
- How to Ace Your First Day and Week at a New Job
- AoM articles on sides hustles
- Don’t Should All Over Yourself
Connect With Joseph
Joseph’s podcast The Career Relaunch
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. Have you been having doubts about your career recently or perhaps for quite some time? Maybe you’re not sure if you’re in the right job or even the right fueled and you can’t figure out if you should try to keep making your current position work or jump ship to something else. Then you’ll likely recognize yourself in the stages of career transition my guests will describe today. His name is Joseph Liu. He’s a consultant, coach and speaker who helps people navigate the challenges of switching careers. In his work, he’s seen that there’s a recurring pattern individuals follow with thinking about and making this weighty decision, which he calls the seven stages of career change.
Today on the show, Joseph walks us through these stages which begins with doubt and dismay and end with reflection and relaunch. With each stage, Joseph explains what typically goes through people’s minds, common mistakes that are made and the best actions to take, which sometimes involves transitioning out of your current career, sometimes does not. We end our conversation with practical considerations to keep in mind if you decide to make a change. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/careerchange. All right, Joseph Liu, welcome to the show.
Joseph Liu: Thanks so much, Brett. Thanks for having me.
Brett McKay: You have made a career for yourself helping people figure out whether they need to change careers and how to do it, but you, yourself, have also changed careers a few times in your lifetime. Can you tell us about your story of career change and how you ended up doing what you’re doing today?
Joseph Liu: Sure, Brett. Well, first of all, I should probably say I’m based in London in the United Kingdom right now. But I’m originally from the United States where I spent most of my life. And I’m about 20 years into my career now and I’ve gone through three major changes that I think illustrate a few different types of career changes your listeners might find themselves going through. And I guess the first one that immediately comes to mind is when I was walking away from something without knowing exactly where to head next.
Back in the days when I was growing up in Ohio and Missouri, I grew up thinking that I wanted to become a doctor, so spent most of my childhood thinking I was going to become a physician one day. And then, I got to medical school many years later and ended up quitting medical school after two weeks at the Georgetown School of Medicine in Washington DC. And then, just spent the next few years trying to find my way cause I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do next.
I also went through a major geographical move which comes up for people sometimes. After I did my MBA, I marketed consumer packaged goods at the Clorox company in the Bay area for a few years and marketed things like trash bags and drain opener, and enjoyed that but eventually moved over to London to be closer to my then girlfriend, now wife, who was based out here. And so, that was another major change.
And then, the most recent change I went through was leaving the corporate world behind to start my own business in 2013, where I was enjoying my work marketing, at the time, Luxury Desserts. I was working on the hog and dos business for General Mills in London. And at the same time, I was starting to grow a little bit disenchanted with the corporate world and also marketing a product that I thought was a great product, but not something that I ate a lot of myself because I told myself many years ago during business school, I wouldn’t market things like junk food. And although luxury ice cream isn’t exactly junk food, it’s also not exactly good for you. And I really struggled with that. And so, I eventually walked away from the corporate world to focus on what I’m doing right now, which is to help people relaunch their careers.
Brett McKay: And did you have to do any extra training to do what you’re doing now? Did you have to go back to school or anything?
Joseph Liu: Yeah, when I was working on the hog and dos business, I was also enrolled in a part time coaching certification program in London through the Coaches Training Institute. And I really loved that. It was a weekend program. So you’d go every month for three days over the weekend. And through that process and after working with some of my own individual clients in the evenings and weekends, I eventually got my coach certification. And I think that that’s something that was useful to me just to develop some coaching techniques and skills, but also just to, more than anything, to give me the confidence to know that I could start my own business focused on helping others navigate changes in their careers.
Brett McKay: In your work with helping people navigate changing careers, what approach do you see people take most often? And how does that common approach often sabotage them from actually finding a career that they enjoy or find meaning in or satisfaction?
Joseph Liu: Well, I’ve found that actually a lot of people go through very different ways of approaching career change. And so, I think everybody’s career journey, I’ve found, has been very unique with the people I’ve crossed paths with. And at the same time, there are some common pitfalls that I’ve seen come up across industry sector function, job role level in the organization. And I guess three come to mind. The first one that comes to mind, and I’ll use these because I’ve also been guilty of these same pitfalls, is not taking the time to pinpoint, A, exactly what’s wrong, and B, whether the move that you’re considering is going to address that specific issue.
Just taking myself as an example, my immediate reaction when I left the Georgetown School of Medicine was to assume that I was at the wrong medical school, but actually if I was really being honest with myself, the issue was actually me, and just the misfit I felt between what I wanted to spend my days doing and the prospect of becoming a full time physician. And so, not taking the time to pinpoint what’s wrong. I think the second thing that can come up is trying to fix everything at once. So trying to find a next role that addresses every single issue that you’re struggling with right now, which can be paralyzing because you’re waiting for the next perfect move, but actually it’s the culmination of multiple moves that broadly gets you closer to your goals that will ultimately help you get there.
And then, just one final pitfall is more of a practical one around not spending enough time ironing out your personal narrative and defining very clearly for yourself and for others, your personal brand. And so, as I mentioned prior to this work, I spent about 10 years working in the consumer goods brand marketing space. And before you relaunch a product, you’ve got to be crystal clear about what you’re trying to be as a brand, not only so you’re clear about it, but also so you can convey that to consumers. And I think the same goes for ourselves when we’re trying to redefine who we are and reinvent our careers. We’ve got to be clear about what that narrative is for ourself first so we can then, very clearly and confidently, communicate that to the next investor or the next hiring manager or next partner that we’re trying to attract.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s go back to that number one pitfall of not pinpointing exactly what the problem is. And this leads to my next question. I think an issue people might have when they’re trying to pinpoint exactly what the problem is. They might confuse, maybe they don’t need a career change, maybe they just need a job change, they stay in the same career. So hat’s the question. Do you see a difference between changing jobs and then changing careers?
Joseph Liu: For sure. Yeah, and I think it’s just the magnitude and I guess also what’s at stake. If you’re just changing your job, that might mean maybe making a tweak to the project you’re doing or maybe switching to a different company or even to a slightly different role within the same organization. Whereas, if you’re looking at a wholesale career change, that could involve going back to school and “starting over” and is just a lot riskier. So I think that that’s probably one of the hardest things to figure out, Brett, is to figure out if you’re just slightly off course or if you’re just categorically in the wrong career as a whole. And that’s where so much of the confusion has come up for me in the past, myself, and also with the clients and the audiences that I now work with.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I can see that being an issue for people to think they’re having a bad time at their job. They’re like, oh well, I guess I should just quit and become a barber.
Joseph Liu: Right. Definitely this grass is greener on the other side phenomenon. And I think this goes back to at least trying to take an honest look at what the real issue is. And sometimes, we’ll end up, I guess, shifting the blame toward the organization or our manager or a colleague. And I’m not saying that those aren’t real issues. They oftentimes can be, but if you’re finding that that same issue is following you around, then maybe there’s a deeper issue going on with either you or the fit between what you’re doing and who you are.
Brett McKay: During your career at helping people manage and navigate career change, you developed this system or this model of seven stages of career channel change. And I’d like to walk through people because I think it’s really useful because at each stage you have questions that people should be asking themselves, things they should be doing in order to help them, maybe not even have to change careers, but if they need to do that, you provide action points for that. The first stage is like stage zero in your career change. You call it the status quo. What does that look like in a career? What does it feel like?
Joseph Liu: I guess I should take a step back here and where this came from. Early on, I was doing a lot of individual career consulting, which I don’t do quite as much of the individual work these days. But when I was doing that, and even now when I talk to people navigating change, I noticed there were some very common emotional challenges and also practical challenges that I was hearing across various clients again and again and again. And these patterns emerged into this pretty consistent trajectory of, it’s not necessarily linear, but a general pattern that people follow when they’re going through career change.
And as you mentioned, the first situation which isn’t really part of the actual change is just the status quo. And status quo isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in fact, another way of putting it is just feeling content with your job or even feeling really happy with your job. So if you’re in that category, that’s great because according to Gallup, the vast majority of people are not fully engaged with their work. The latest figure, I think, from the most recent state of the global workplace poll says that 85% of people globally are not engaged with their jobs.
So if you’re in status quo, if you’re content, if you’re happy, if you’re thinking more about how to get your next promotion or what the next move might be for you within the career track that you’re on, that’s great. You are in that top 15% where you’re one of the lucky ones. I guess the corollary to that is that sometimes you can become a little bit too content and a little bit too complacent and maybe not feel as engaged with your work without really realizing it because you’re just so used to this status quo.
Brett McKay: What can people do if they’re feeling good about their work so they continue to feel good about their work?
Joseph Liu: I think it’s all about thinking about what’s really important to you and making sure you’re getting those things. And also, that you’re taking some proactive steps to gain more of what you want in your career. Some examples of what those things could be is a really common one that comes up is, hey, I want to earn more money. So in that case, maybe you should be looking at the next promotion in your career track. But there are other things that are less material like, hey, I’d like to have more flexibility, or I want to have more ownership over my projects, or I want more authority or control over my projects.
Just taking a step back and thinking carefully about, and this is a really good time to do it at the start of a year, is to think about what do I want to get out of the next year? What do I want to get out of this particular chapter of my career? And am I taking proactive steps to make sure that I’m gaining those things? And if not, then maybe having a conversation with my manager or thinking about the things that I can do within the workplace to make sure I’m getting more of those things.
Brett McKay: It sounds like be content, but don’t be complacent.
Joseph Liu: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Okay. Status quo is where we want to be, but then there’s the stage starts rolling, being dissatisfied with the career. And the first stage is doubt. What does that look like?
Joseph Liu: Yeah, for each of these stages, I break it into three broad parts. It’s what you’re feeling, what you’re wondering, and also what you’re saying to yourself. So in this particular case, you’re starting to feel perhaps a little bit disengaged with your work. You’re wondering if these feelings are normal, if it’s just par for the course. And you might be finding yourself saying that you don’t like your job either to yourself or out loud. And typically when this happens, it’s because of mismatches. Mismatches between your own talents and skills and the tasks that you’re required to carry out, or a mismatch with the organizational culture, or a mismatch with what matters to you and what matters to the organization that you’re working for. And so, I would equate this to having an ache in sports where you’re not really in pain, but you’re feeling a little bit of an ache.
Brett McKay: And this necessarily doesn’t mean you have to make a career change. This is where you’d start asking those questions like, is there a mismatch with the job that I’m doing right now within this career? And maybe I’ve got to find something different.
Joseph Liu: Exactly. Yeah, there might not be an underlying issue that’s so major to warrant a major career change. But I do think it’s worth looking at it and at least paying attention to it. For example, for me, if I just go back to my college days, when I was thinking about becoming a doctor, I was spending all of my summers doing medical research and feeling really bored with it. And I remember even falling asleep sometimes doing the work and feeling really drained and finding that time was really dragging on.
And I think that for me, I didn’t really pay attention to that as much as I should have, which is what resulted in me going all the way to medical school before deciding to pull out. And so, I just think it’s worth paying attention to it. And in some cases, maybe those minor aches are worth the upside or the bigger picture or the broader goals that you’re trying to accomplish in your career. But in some cases, maybe they’re not.
Brett McKay: What are some mistakes that people make in this stage?
Joseph Liu: I think that sometimes what can happen is people are a little bit too quick to judge a situation. Let’s say you’re within the first 90 days of starting a new job and you’re not very happy there. And I actually find that that’s a really tough time to precisely diagnose whether you’re in the right place or not because a lot of times, that discomfort could be because of just the learning curve or getting used to a new organization or trying to develop new relationships. So I think it’s worth giving it a chance.
And sometimes, and again, I’ve been guilty of this myself, I’m just a little bit too quick to judge, I’m too quick to jump ship. And that can be a problem, first of all, because you might be leaving for the wrong reasons, but also on a practical level, then you have to try to explain that to your next employer who’s concerned about you also walking away from the role that they’re considering you for. So I think not giving it enough time can be an issue. On the flip side, as I mentioned before, just completely ignoring the feelings can also end up catching up with you.
Brett McKay: All right, it sounds like the action plan here is don’t ignore it, but don’t act rationally, and start asking yourself some questions to figure out what exactly is causing those feelings of doubt about your occurred career or current job.
Joseph Liu: Yep.
Brett McKay: All right, the next stage in your model is dismay. What does that look like and feel like?
Joseph Liu: Okay, dismay is going from this feeling of slight disengagement to complete misplacement. So feeling like you’re completely out of place, that you’re completely in the wrong career. You might be looking up, left, and to the right in your organization and you just don’t see a role that you would want to have as your next role. And you’re probably wondering whether you could ever really be happy in this line of work, and you probably find yourself saying that you just don’t like your career and you don’t like the career path that you’re on.
Some of these, I guess, signs that you might be experiencing this that differentiate it from just the doubt stages that you’re feeling completely drained, so completely emotionally drained, completely physically drained, where you’re basically dedicating your evenings and weekends to recuperating from the drain your job is creating on your life. You might find that time is dragging on. You might find you have to pretend to be someone you’re not, you’re not growing. A big telltale sign is that you’re in a bad mood often, all the time and you’re just not a very fun person to be around because your job is just not bringing you any joy.
Brett McKay: And what is the big mistake that people make in this stage and then, on the flip side, what can they do instead?
Joseph Liu: Going back to mistakes, I guess again, it’s really unique for each person. And I guess the word mistake is a strong word because I think this is a very confusing journey. I think when you’re feeling this, you’re probably wrestling with really big questions like, hey, did I make some wrong decisions about what I wanted to do with my life? Or what would be the implication of me walking away from this? And so, I guess to answer your question, I think some of the pitfalls or maybe the missteps that happen during this stage is very similar to the first stage, not paying attention to it and not doing something about it, where you end up allowing this job of yours, which is just supposed to be generally a positive part of your life, and it just spirals into something that is a constant drain on not only you but also other people around you.
And I think that other people will start to notice it. And I’ve had people tell me in the past, and I think we’ll get to this at one of the other stages, hey, you don’t, you don’t look very happy at work. But just ignoring it and not doing anything about it I think only ends up resulting in you not doing a great job at work but also not taking steps to try to fix the situation.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I can see that big challenge having that sunk cost fallacy going on. It’s like, man, I went to medical school, I’ve invested three years so far into this career. Yeah, it stinks. But if I let go, I just wasted 15 years of my life.
Joseph Liu: Yeah, exactly. And this happens a lot in the corporate world, which is where I spent a big chunk of my career, where the system is designed such that the longer that you’re at an organization, the more benefits you get, the harder it is to walk away because there is always an even more enticing carrot dangling in the distance. I was just catching up with a former colleague of mine in the Bay area a couple of weeks ago and he’s been at this organization that he’s currently at for nearly two decades. And when he hits the two decade mark, that reaps some serious benefits for him.
And you can just imagine when you’re at year 19, you’re not going to walk away from that. You’ve come this far. And so, it gets back to that saying, I don’t know who said this, but we didn’t come this far just to come this far. And so, it’s really hard to let go of the thing that you’ve invested so much time and energy and belief into.
Brett McKay: Yeah, the doubt phase, maybe you’ve pinpointed some things that are bothering you, you’ve tried to address that. If you move to dismay, you feel misplaced, you’ve got to listen to that because it means something’s still wrong with this path. Small fixes are going to fix it. You might have to make some bigger fixes.
Joseph Liu: Yeah, and maybe you even tried some of those things and you just realize it’s not doing anything. So for me, when I moved to the UK, I was working at a small startup dessert company and, over time, I didn’t feel like it was the best place for me to be. So moved back to a bigger company, which was General Mills and I was still not really feeling as engaged with my work. And so, I realized that there was a bigger issue going on.
Brett McKay: The next stage is mitigation. What does that look like and feel like?
Joseph Liu: Okay, mitigation is someone’s attempt to try to fix the situation. So now, you realize you’re in the wrong career, let’s just say, the idea, as you mentioned, Brett, of just walking away from it can seem really daunting and risky and maybe even a bit hasty or impractical. So what tends to happen with most of the professionals I cross paths with is they try to fix it. They’re feeling misplaced and they’re wondering whether there is a way that they can stick this out. And so, it’s almost like this feeling of persistence. I want to try to conquer this. Maybe I can fix this.
And what that can look like is maybe picking up a side project like the one that I did when I was really getting interested in coaching other people. So instead of doing it at work, I would take on this side gig of coaching people outside of work or doing my certification on the weekends and the evenings. So it could be a side project, it could be making a tweak, maybe switching to a different industry or company or function or role, but not all of those things, but maybe one or two of those things. Maybe it involves networking and maybe talking to other people to see if there are solutions and really just trying to come up with some fixes on the edges to see if you can put a bandaid on the situation.
Brett McKay: But that sounds like it can spread you thin. If you’re trying to moonlight on top of your career, that can be exhausting.
Joseph Liu: For sure, and that’s what tends to happen. Sometimes people ask me, well, can this work? Can you just stay in the mitigation stage forever and just have that be okay? And I think it’s possible, but for the vast majority of the people I cross paths with and most of the people I tend to cross paths with are working in the corporate world or some large established organization where they’ve got serious demands on their time. And they’re working 40 to 60 hour weeks, sometimes evenings and weekends. And on top of that, they’re trying to feed this side interest and it just, you’re exactly right, just spreads you too thin, which is not sustainable I think in the long run.
Brett McKay: But I think it’s interesting. Most people don’t quit their job at this point. Even in these stages of career change, you still don’t tell people you should quit your job right now if you feel doubt. It feels like this mitigation process is part of the process to figure out what’s the next move.
Joseph Liu: I think it is, and I think it’s important because I think if you skip this stage, what happens is you always wonder, gosh, what if I would’ve just tried before I make this really drastic move? What about just trying this one thing? You can think about the metaphor of relationships before you break up with somebody or before you walk away from a marriage. I think most people want to try to see if they can fix it before they make such a major decision to walk away from everything you’ve invested all your energies into. So I think it is a natural and understandable human behavior and desire to try to fix things and to try to not quit. Popular media is always talking about never quitting and never giving up. And so, I think that that’s really etched into our minds. And people are resilient people. People want to find ways to make things work.
Brett McKay: All right, the next phase, you’ve tried mitigating, tried fixing things, tried to do the side hustle, so maybe you can have some sense of satisfaction with your life even though your job’s not that great. But eventually, you’re exhausted. What does that look and feel like and what’s the main challenge there?
Joseph Liu: In this stage of exhaustion, you’re feeling stuck. You might be wondering how much longer can I go on like this? You might find yourself saying things like, gosh, this just isn’t working. I’m trying to get it to work. It’s just not working. And we’re talking about physical and emotional exhaustion. We’re talking about not really bringing 100% to anything you’re doing. And I’m talking about your full time work, your side projects, your relationships, your health, your personal interest, the people in your life, family, kids. You’re not doing anything justice in your life because you just don’t have the capacity for it.
And I think the big clue here is that it just starts to affect other people in your life, either explicitly or behind the surface. And so, I’ll just give you just a really personal example. When I was thinking about leaving the corporate world behind, I was working on a global team where I was engulfed in a lot of internal politics and stakeholder management, which I found really tiring and not really what I went into marketing for.
And I’ll never forget, I was in London with my wife one night and we were having dinner and I was just complaining about work again. And this had been going on for months and I remember her just telling me to just, hey, could you just not complain for once about this? Because I was complaining about it all the time and I can totally understand where she was coming from because I just wasn’t that fun to be around. And I think when it starts to affect other people in your life, when you feel like you’re just not doing justice to yourself or anyone else, I think it’s a sign that you are at the bottom of the emotional journey and it’s probably worth trying to get out of it.
Brett McKay: All right, so that leaves the next stage, and that’s departure. This is when you decide I got to get out of this. This is just sucking my life, it’s ruining my family life, my personal life. But deciding to leave and leaving, those are two separate things. What’s the big challenge that people have once they decide I got to get out of this, I got to change careers, and then actually making the move to do that?
Joseph Liu: Yeah, this is really, really tough, Brett. And I think even if you’re really unhappy with your job, I know so many people who are unhappy with their jobs and they still just won’t leave. And I don’t fault them for that. I completely get it because I think the choice to walk away from a job or especially even an entire career is huge. It’s the biggest professional move you can make and the one that comes with probably the most risk and also just personal confusion. And so, in terms of what stands in the way of people making this move, there’s probably three things that come to mind for me.
Number one is just risk. And going back to what you said earlier, Brett, just letting go of what you have. And another one that is really common and understandable is money. Finances, thinking about the prospect of a change to your salary, both up or down, and whether that’s going to make a meaningful difference to your life or completely losing your salary if you don’t know exactly what you’re going to move on to next and you decide to resign before you have something lined up. And I’ve done that before.
And then finally, just pure fear and just the pressure to get it right, which people who are feeling dissatisfied in their career, I think, feel this pressure even more, which the cruel irony of it is you don’t feel like you’ve maybe made the best choices in the past. So this time around, you want to make sure you get it right. But in doing so, that can lead to a bit of paralysis and wanting to wait for the perfect move before you make a move, which results in maybe you never making a move. And that can happen. That can stand in the way of you moving on.
Brett McKay: It’s funny, as I was reading through this, your stages of career change, I’ve gone through this myself. I’ve been doing the blog and the podcast for 12 years now, but before that I went to law school. I thought I was going to be an attorney and I loved law school. But then, I started having doubts about my career when I actually did my first internship at a bankruptcy court. The actual work of law, I don’t enjoy this. This is not Matlock. I thought that was going to be up there. I’m just doing pushing a lot of papers.
And then the dismay happened my second year when I interned at a big firm in Tulsa. And I got my first case of heartburn, I was stressed out and I was like, I’m not liking this. And then, I graduated law school and that’s when I started the blog, was while I was in law school. So I kept doing the blog. Then, I remember having that mitigation phase. Man, I’ve invested so much. I’ve spent three years. I spent a lot of money, I got to do something with this. And so, what I did was I found a career in law but not practicing law.
I worked for a Thomson Reuters, which they own Westlaw. It’s a legal research company, and I worked with them. It was great. I worked from home, still doing the blog, but I still really wasn’t into law. I got to that exhaustion phase. I was like, I can’t do this blog that’s growing and this job at the same time. I’m tired. We just had our first kid. And then finally, I made that departure. I got to get out of here. But it took me a long time between deciding I got to quit and then actually leaving. I was worried about money. I was worried about health insurance. I liked my manager at my company and I felt bad that I’m going to let him down. So there was that I had to get through. So it took probably three or four months from the time I decided I’m going to leave to actually leaving my career in law.
Joseph Liu: Wow. Yeah, and that’s not an unusual trajectory. And I know people who decide that they want to leave and they’ve got a plan. I’ve had clients I’ve worked with and they’ve got a two year plan where they’ve decided they’re going to leave, and these people are quite senior, they spend the next two years lining it up because there’s just so much at stake, not only for themselves but also for their teams. And it sounds like you also went through a very similar thing where, okay, I want to leave, but how am I going to do this and when’s the best time and gosh, the implications of all that are huge. Yeah, I totally get it.
Brett McKay: Yeah, the other student’s like, yeah, I wanted to leave in a way that didn’t burn bridges. And it also built momentum for my next move.
Joseph Liu: Yeah, and that’s really important to think about, just resigning the right way and taking a longterm view of that because you never really know how your career is going to shape up or who you’re going to cross paths with again. And there’s so many people out there who just don’t resign the right way because they just don’t feel like they have any skin in the game anymore. But I’ll tell you, the people who resigned professionally and thoughtfully are people who I always remember very positively in my career.
Brett McKay: Yeah, it’s a small world for sure. After departure’s reflection. What’s going on there and what’s the ideal outcome in this stage?
Joseph Liu: Here, ideally, you’re feeling a sense of relief because reflection is whether you take an actual literal break or a sabbatical from work or not, you’re trying to give yourself the head space to just figure it out. And so, you might be feeling really relieved that you have either made the decision that you’re going to depart mentally or that you’ve actually are now going through the stages of resigning and you’re thinking about what path you should pursue next. But really what you’re feeling at this point, because you’ve just gone through this exhaustion phase, is you probably want a little bit of a break, and that’s okay.
I think sometimes, as professionals, we are so conditioned to not leave any gaps in our resumes and our CVs. And I really think it’s okay within reason to just take a moment, get some head space to think about what you really want. And I think, to answer your question about the ideal outcome in this stage, is hopefully the clarity, the confidence and the courage to make a move that you feel is going to really bring you some fulfillment and joy and satisfaction and is going to be engaging work that you really care about and can allow you to make the most of who you are.
But I think you can only, maybe you can’t only get it this way, but I think you’re going to have a greater likelihood of understanding what this is when you have a little bit of separation from the environment or the conditions that are constantly depleting you and not leaving you with a lot of residual energy to actually figure this kind of stuff out.
Brett McKay: After you reflect, you’re moving to relaunch. What is that? Does that involve going back to school, starting a new business? What does that look like?
Joseph Liu: It could be. Those are two very common paths. There’s probably more paths in this, but five broad paths come to mind from the people I’ve crossed paths with. Number one is, as you mentioned, going back to school or gaining a new set of skills or some sort of a certification that you feel will either bridge the gap between where you want to go or even just give you the confidence to launch out into whatever new direction you want to go in.
Another one is, as you mentioned, starting your own business or venture, and that could look like turning that side hustle into a full fledged business. It could mean running your own independent business. So you could start a freelance business. It could be a bigger scale idea where you’re actually thinking about launching a high growth startup. That’s another a path. Number three is some people just decide they want to make a tweak or a minor shift or they come to the realization that just shifting industry location, company, function or role, probably not all five, but making some sort of a tweak to their former situation is actually going to address the issues.
And then, the final two are exploration. Taking some sort of a portfolio approach where you decide, hey, I’m either going to keep the work I was… Similar to what you described before, I’m going to keep some of elements of my legal work going while I’m exploring something else because both of those things are of interest to me, or because you’re trying to figure it out and you feel like the best way to do that is to proactively take action and dip your toe in the waters of a variety of paths that you’re considering in a way that is low investment and low risk.
And finally, I should probably say one other path that people do take, and I’ve had people on my podcast who, who have come on the show and they have described this trajectory where they actually walk away from their former jobs and they’ve taken some time to do some either self exploration or some reflection, and they actually realize that they want to go back. And that does happen. And people can be very happy doing that. Sometimes, people return. I think there’s a term out there called the boomerang employee.
And so, you might go back to either a former company or you might go back to the type of work you were doing, but just in some sort of different version of that that you feel is going to make you happier. But there are people who do end up deciding that, actually, what I had was pretty good. And upon further reflection, I don’t think a change is going to address the issue. I think maybe it’s something like a mindset shift or a change in mentality or just one of those tweaks that we mentioned before.
Brett McKay: During this process, this is very high level stuff, you’re thinking on a personal level, your goals, your aspirations, psychology. But involved in this process where the nuts and bolts, the day to day stuff, the challenges, the Tuesday afternoon problems that people have in a career change. Okay, well, I want to change careers but what about health insurance? How are we going to pay rent or mortgage? How have you advised clients in the past on how to handle that stuff as they try to make a big career change move?
Joseph Liu: Yeah, dealing with the financial barriers is really, really critical. It’s so important to do this because everybody’s got financial concerns and everybody’s got a financial situation that they’ve got to deal with. I personally have never been in a position where I had the luxury of taking a tremendous amount of time off or being able to step away from work that long.
For example, when I left medical school, I had to get a job right away. I actually temped for a while as a secretary at a lot of law firm actually of all places in Washington DC, and just to make ends meet. The point is that you’ve got to deal with financial barriers. And I think when I work with clients or audience members, there’s a few things that come up. Number one is taking realistic stock of what sort of a salary decrease or salary loss you could weather, and how long you could weather it for, and whether or not you can take steps to reduce your spending, to bring down your expenses or the costs in your life so that you can make that runway as long as possible. But really just doing the math on that.
Another way of looking at it is to try to build up the savings required to get you to a place where you feel comfortable with the kind of runway that buys you. And by runway, I’m talking about a transitional period where you may not be earning the income that you want to be earning or you may be earning a decreased income for a certain amount of time, but building up that savings is really important because that gives you the confidence to know that you’ve got a little bit of a time before you have to resort to some other plan, which it gets into another point.
And I think that it’s having a solid backup plan in place and that’s important on a very practical level. But really putting that down on paper. What will I do if within X period of time, let’s say a year, this thing that I’m exploring just doesn’t gain traction? Whether it’s landing a job in a new industry or starting my own or running my own business, what if it just never takes off? And what are going to be the metrics I have in place that will trigger me to say, okay, I’ve given it a shot, but now it’s time to go back to do this other thing that was a plan B. And having that plan B in place, I think, gives you the reassurance to know that everything’s going to be okay, even if it doesn’t work out in the worst case scenario.
Brett McKay: Yeah, you hear personal financial advisors always talk about have at least six months of personal spending saved up. And that comes in handy if you lose a job, but it also comes in handy when you decide I don’t like my job and I got to do something else. And it gives you that runway you were talking about.
Joseph Liu: Exactly. And a less tangible benefit of that is that it gives you some confidence and it reduces the desperation that you have. And that desperation can show up. If you’re desperate to get your next job, the hiring managers can sniff that out. Or if you’re desperate to land that next client, those prospective clients can sniff that out. And so, you want to show up in this new entity of yours or whatever this next chapter is of yours, you want to show up confidently, you want to show up in a way that makes people want to bring you on board. And that’s hard to do if you’re financially uncomfortable. You just show up differently. I think that’s another added benefit that’s a little bit more behind the scenes but just as important.
Brett McKay: All right, have some savings in place and then when you do decide to make the cut, you have to tighten your belt and figure out where you can cut expenses so you can have that runway to do what you need to do to make the transition. And then, also it sounds like have a plan B in case your career change doesn’t work out.
Joseph Liu: Definitely. And just one more thing to say about that plan B, make sure that that plan B, that you’ve got the buy in from anybody who you think you need to get the buy in from in your life. That could be partner, family member, sometimes kids. They’ve got to be on board with your plan also because they are going to feel it during this transitional time. They are definitely going to be the ones to bear the brunt of whatever volatility you’re going to experience in your career during this transition.
Brett McKay: And what I like about this approach, it’s very practical because a lot of career advice you often read online particular, it’s burn the bridges, just make the move, don’t look back. I always read that I’m like, man, that could work out 2% of the times people do that, but 98, it’s probably not going to work out. And it’s going to end up bad.
Joseph Liu: Definitely. It’s like you said earlier, Brett. It’s a small world. I literally found this out today before this call that someone I used to work with in Paris who was on the Hog and dos team there, is now part of the careers team at a business school in Europe where I regularly speak, and she’s taking over the careers program there. And I saw her name and I thought, oh wow, we worked together, this was seven years ago. And I’ve had former colleagues become clients, I’ve had former managers introduce me to people who have had a direct impact on my business. You never know. I always assume I’m going to run into somebody again. So you want to, when you’re resigning, I couldn’t disagree more with whoever out there is advising people just burn the bridges. I think you should give it 100% up until the very last day.
Brett McKay: So what happens after all this? You’ve gone through these stages, you’ve made the career change. Will people likely go through this cycle again or is it possible to reach career Nirvana where you escape the cycle of doubt and dismay?
Joseph Liu: It depends. It really depends. I would love to say that, okay, you go through these seven stages, you figure this stuff out and boom, you end up landing your dream job. What I have observed is that it really depends. And so, I think if you take the time to figure out, and if you have the ability to wait until the right role comes along, if you take the time to figure out what you want and you can wait until the right role comes along, then yes, I think you can absolutely find work that you find meaningful and fulfilling and maybe that’s it, you can call it a day.
I think if you don’t or if you’re hasty with it or if you just can’t, if you just don’t have the time or the space or the practical ability to figure this out and you really just need to take that next job, then yeah. I know people including me who go through this cyclical rebirth over time, either because they outgrow whatever they thought was going to be right for them or it’s just this natural process of wanting to move onto the next exciting thing. There are chronic career changers out there. I’m probably one of them. And that’s actually becoming more acceptable these days, to have multiple careers.
And so, yeah, I think people do have different chapters. I don’t think our careers are necessarily linear and I don’t think that people should feel like they need to be linear in order for them to be “successful.” I think you can have a little bit more of an off the beaten path career and still find it very rewarding and very enriching, and grow through the process, and find each and every interesting. I think that is possible.
Brett McKay: Joseph, where can people go to learn more about your work and what you do?
Joseph Liu: Well, if you want to get a free roadmap that actually describes these seven stages of career change in more detail, or if you just want to check out more career change resources including my career relaunch podcast, you can go to Josephliu.co/join, where you can sign up to receive my newsletter and also be the first to hear about the book I’m working on writing about how to navigate these seven stages of career change. And speaking of the book, right now, I’m trying to actually identify a solid book agent to work with. So if somebody out there is listening to this who’s involved with nonfiction publishing and you’re interested in learning more about my book or about the seven stages of career change, I’d love for you to email me. And you can reach me at [email protected], and we can have a chat.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Joseph Liu, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Joseph Liu: Okay, thanks so much for having me, Brett.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Joseph Liu. He is a consultant and coach for career change. You can go to his website, josephliu.co, that’s liu.co, where you download those resources we talked about today as well as find out other information about his work. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/careerchange, where you find links to resources, where you delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Check out our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles we’ve written over the years about careers, personal finances, you name it, we’ve got it there. Also, if you like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the AOM podcasts you can do so in Stitcher Premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com. Sign up, use code “manliness” to get a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher on Android or iOS, and you start enjoying new episodes of the AOM podcast ad free.
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