Why People Are The Key To Your Career Change (And How To Help Them Help You)

Image of people in a hot air balloon

Newly Updated

There's no magic wand to career change; no one-size-fits-all answer to finding fulfilling work. But if there's one thing that will have a massive impact on your journey to work you love, it's other people. Natasha shares why making a shift alone is a dangerous game, and how to get started building your career change support team.

I remember the feeling clearly.

Lost, uncertain, confused about where to turn next. A backdrop of hope, somewhere in the picture, but largely a sense of being out at sea, on my own.

And that solitude was one of the most unsettling elements of my whole career change. A huge responsibility. My future, my well-being and happiness for the rest of my life, resting entirely and unequivocally on my own shoulders.

It was weighty and intimidating, and ultimately it paralysed me.

Sound familiar?

It's easy now, with the wisdom of Captain Hindsight on my side, to see how a tiny shift in my mindset could have changed everything.

You don't have to do this thing alone.

In fact, I'd argue that bringing other people into the picture is the one thing that will have an exponential effect on the speed, ease, and grace of your shift.

It's not always comfortable. To begin with, it can be completely nerve-wracking. But it will be worth it.

Here's why.

You can't be what you can't see

A few weeks ago I was having lunch at a restaurant on the seafront.

It was quiet, just a few tables occupied, and the manager of the restaurant was standing in the doorway waiting for a delivery. The man who arrived was a fisherman in his 60s, dressed in layers of shirts and a pair of old corduroy trousers, and he carried a big polystyrene box filled with fresh oysters.

Oysters have always fascinated me, and so I took the opportunity to jump up and take a look.

The fisherman, clearly passionate about what he did, launched into a long and detailed explanation of his wares. He told me about the life cycle of an oyster; the different kinds that existed, where they like to live, how to care for them and grow them, and I was... entranced.

And what struck me most, as I sat down again to my meal, was what completely, gloriously different worlds he and I inhabited. This wealth of knowledge about something I knew next to nothing about. The way his entire worldview was shaped and illuminated by things I rarely gave a passing thought to. It was as though he and I lived in two separate bubbles, the curve and lenses of which made our whole existences look completely different.

And as I looked around the room at the other diners in the restaurant, I wondered: what do they know that I have no conception of? What do they do that I can't possibly imagine? What does their world look like?

It's a concept we talk about a lot at Careershifters: the idea that what you see of the world – and therefore what's available to you – is dictated almost entirely by what's already visible to you.

When you're considering a career change, trying to imagine what else you could possibly do, you inevitably flick through a mental Rolodex of job titles and career paths, imagining, judging and discarding each one as you work your way along the list.

But what's available to you in that mental list is limited.

You can't be what you can't see.

If you work in a corporate environment, then chances are the people around you are also working in corporate environments. The job titles you can imagine are theirs; the industries you can conceive of are corporate. And if you try to expand your imagination outside of that world – to think 'outside the box' of your immediate life – your options are still constrained to the things you know are out there. Those options feel much less available, though. Interesting, but ethereal and hard to touch.  

The 'ideas' stage of career change is deeply frustrating.

You crave inspiration and possibilities. Ultimately you're hungry for clarity and certainty, but until that arrives then even just a little spark of excitement or a seed of an idea would do.

But as you look around, all you seem to see are the same old things.

Until, that is, you stumble across someone who occupies a different bubble in the world. A momentary overlap of their existence and yours, which, like an encounter with an oyster fisherman, opens up a sense of wonderment and inspiration for something you weren't even able to consider. Not through any fault of your own, of course. You just didn't know it was there to know about. You were stuck, isolated, in your own bubble.

And isolation kills innovation.

The best part about this, of course, is that you don't have to go looking for people whose lives are vastly different from your own to stumble across fresh new ideas.

Everyone you know – and everyone you pass on the street every day – is a little window into a different angle on the world.

They all have ideas you don't have. They all know things you don't know. They are your access to fresh perspectives, ideas, and possibilities.

Some are easier to tap into than others, of course.

But when you notice how your day-to-day life is literally teeming with other people, you might just start to feel a little less trapped inside your own bubble, and a little more excited about what there is to discover.

You can't trust your own judgement

"I'm just so boring. I'm the spreadsheets woman – the one in the back who taps away doing all the dull tasks that nobody wants to think about. I'm not interesting enough for an interesting job."

Melissa was a systems manager for a retail chain, and was desperate to escape what she called 'the big-business hamster wheel' before she turned 35.

She'd been certain that her work experience, skill-set and personality type all spelled doom for a career with any kind of excitement or passion.

She was an introvert, detail-oriented and meticulous. She tripped over her words in high-pressure environments, and although she often lay awake at night filled with ideas for how to make the business work better, she never felt confident enough to go to her manager with them. And of course, her manager never asked.

Sure, she wanted to make a great impact on the world, and of course she was inspired by the world of start-ups and technology, but that just wasn't her world. Those people were innovators and extroverts, ideas people who 'got out there' and 'made things happen'.

Then, as part of our work together, Melissa spoke to no less than five start-ups by visiting a co-working space in her city. Not long afterwards, she had a Skype conversation with the CEO of a well-known meditation app.

Every one of these conversations turned Melissa's world-view completely inside out.

Each person had spoken of how important it was to have people to balance the scales in a start-up; how entrepreneurs needed grounded, methodical people to help make their ideas happen. They talked about the processes they used to make sure everyone's voices were heard, and how in small companies it was much harder to get lost in the background.

Melissa's skill-set and personality was desperately needed and wanted across the start-up scene. The reality of the world she craved was the precise opposite of what she had imagined.

You have your own version of Melissa's doubts and assumptions.

And whatever yours are, they're as real and as solid and impenetrable as hers.

This is the trouble with trying to tackle the world of career change alone.

Much as your worldview is shaped by what you can see, it's also shaped by forces that you can't see – your own assumptions, opinions, fears and prejudices.

Maybe you think your secret passion will never pay enough to live on. Perhaps you think you're too flighty and changeable to have a career for long. Maybe you don't think anyone will take you seriously, or that changing career is shameful, or that it'll take you years to retrain and find work.

And those assumptions live right inside your skull, snuggled up so tight beside facts and knowledge and ideas and passions and interests, that they're often impossible to distinguish from one another. They've been there so long that they've formed the very walls of the maze you're lost in. They guide your every movement and thought.

So how do you start to separate myth and conjecture from fact and reality?

You could test all your ideas through action, which is always a great thing.

But the fastest route to it?

Other people.

In the space of a few short conversations with people who lived and breathed Melissa's interest, everything changed. The guiding walls of the maze she was lost in fell away and moved.

"I can't help but wonder how much longer I'd have spent feeling crap about myself if I hadn't done this work." – Melissa

Instincts are a fine thing to follow. But...

People know people (who know people, who know people)

If you do have a hunch about what you might like to get into, but have no idea if it's realistic (or, if it is realistic, how to start), this can be the jumping-off point for a very disheartening downward spiral.

Either you're stuck Googling your intended industry and getting nowhere fast, or you're scrolling through job sites and submitting applications for roles you have no experience in.

As a career changer, the traditional job-search methods are not your friend.

Inexperienced and unfamiliar with the world you're trying to step into, you're rarely likely to find yourself at the front of the pack when it comes to new opportunities.

But that doesn't mean there's no point trying.

It simply means you need to take a less-travelled route. (The good news is, it's usually about 14,000 times more enjoyable and rewarding than copying-and-pasting the same information into another application-form box.)

It's often called networking – but at Careershifters we focus much more on what we call 'connecting'.

Reaching out to people who might be able to help you, and then asking them who else they know that you might want to talk to.

And it's a similar route for those of you who are still at the ideas stage. If you're working on broadening your world view by connecting with people with new perspectives, then a great way to find more of them is to ask for more of them.

Ryan, who took part in our Career Change Launch Pad a few years ago, likens his experience of doing this to following a breadcrumb trail:

"You kind of only have to start the ball rolling with one person. Just find the first person to have a conversation with and then one person seems to inevitably lead to another. And the first person doesn't have to be the right person – they don't have to be perfect. They just have to be vaguely connected to the thing you're interested in. Keep on asking for more connections, and it doesn't take long to have a really exciting conversation, in my experience." – Ryan

Sure, you could Google your way around the internet, researching your interests wildly and applying for jobs you're unqualified for.

Or you could start building a team of supporters – inspiring people who are invested in your journey because you've made them a part of it – and following a breadcrumb trail of hunches and interests and Little Yeses, all the way to a new career.

Lighter = faster

Over the last decade of immersing ourselves in career change, we've become pretty clear on one thing at Careershifters.

Finding fulfilling work is not algebra. There are no hard and fast laws – no certainty, and no one-size-fits-all, find-your-lifelong-passion-in-30-days green smoothie.

But there are some principles that seem to do a damn good job of getting people there.

What I keep noticing in the people we work with is this:

The ones with the lightest approach to their shift are usually the ones who move fastest.

Lighter = faster.

Just like physics.

People who approach their career change with weightiness and drag – they make much slower progress.

And when I talk about this principle, I usually refer to it in the context of mindset; of the importance of taking a playful and ease-filled approach to the process.

But it's just as relevant from another angle, too.

Career change isn't an easy business. It's filled with potential risks and big questions and important decisions. It does feel weighty. And there are so many moving parts to it; so many small, individual actions to take, each one imbued with its own sense of importance and risk. Each small step you have to take takes time, and effort, and often pushes you outside of your comfort zone... It's a lot to ask of yourself.

And that's why it's often so hard to take action or to make progress on your shift; because you're metaphorically pinned under its weight.

So what do you do if you need to move something heavy?

You enlist some help.

You share the load.

But how do you do that in career change? Surely it's up to you to make this happen, no? You can't ask other people to make a shift for you...

Well, no. You can't.

But you can ask them to introduce you to someone. You can ask them to bounce possibilities around with you, or to listen to your business idea with a critical but constructive ear. Or you can ask them to come with you to a meetup so you don't have to deal with your crippling fear of talking to strangers all by yourself. Or you can ask them to keep an ear out for anything going on in an industry you're interested in. Or look over the e-mail you're about to send and check for embarrassing typos.

Anything – any small thing – that other people can do to support you is one less weight on your shoulders. And the bigger the support team you can build, the less you'll ever have to ask each individual member to do.

People love to feel important, and wanted, and useful. Despite all our weird, socially constructed misgivings about asking for help, often the greatest gift you can give someone is the chance to help you with something small but meaningful.

"I think it was the biggest turning point in my whole career change. I told 20 people I knew that I was thinking about making a shift, and gave them a rough idea of the things I thought I was interested in. And over the past six months, help has just been consistently trickling in. My aunt saw an industry event going on in London and bought us two tickets to go together. My friend put me in touch with a guy he knew who works in TV production. People have been sending me articles, ringing me up to check how things are going... I sent one email – ONE email! – to a group of people I knew, and I'm still reaping the rewards even now." – Amy, Launch Pad participant

Five ways to people-power your career change

1. Broadcast your intentions (within reason): People can't help you change career if they don't know you're trying to do it. And as we saw with Amy (above), sometimes just one small mention of what you're up to can provide enough support to last for a year. Hand-pick a small group of trusted friends, family, and acquaintances and let them know you're working on a career change. Share your ideas and thoughts with them and ask them to support you with your shift over the coming months.

2. Talk to strangers: Keep an eye out for your own oyster-fishermen in your day-to-day life. Who looks interesting? Who could you reasonably strike up a conversation with, and ask about their work? Cultivate curiosity in the lives and perspectives of other people, and watch your own world burst open as a result.

3. Get accountable: Inertia is the arch-enemy of career change, and it feeds on isolation. So stop trying to do this alone. Ask a friend to become your career change accountability partner. Meet up, or jump on the phone every week and agree on an action to take before your next session. It's much harder to avoid your shift when someone else is watching.

4. Write love letters to inspiring humans: Connection is a muscle – it gets stronger the more you use it. So once you've started building it up in small ways with the people you know, have some fun by flexing it with the big guns. Who runs a business or a company or a charity that really inspires you? Send them an email letting them know that you love their work, and see what happens.

5. Consider our Career Change Launch Pad: If you're really ready to take on people-powering your shift in a big way this year, check out our Launch Pad. It's a high-intensity, high-impact, eight-week online course focused entirely on surrounding you with committed, wonderful career changers just like you, and teaching you the skills and techniques you need to connect your way into work you love.

"I've never felt more supported or energised by a group of people before" – Rachel, Launch Pad participant.

Click here to find out more.

How are you going to people-power your career change? Let me know in the comments below!

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is head coach, writer, and experience designer for Careershifters. When she's not working, you'll find her listening to neuroscience podcasts, learning pottery, and dreaming up her next adventure.