How I Took the Leap: My 9 Steps

Taking the Leap: It takes both optimism and thoughtful planning

by guest blogger Angela Bushman

I recently left an enviable, reasonably well-paying job at a Fortune 500 company in favor of a free-fall into the great, unknown landscape of opportunity.

The sort of role I (until recently) occupied offered splashy, exciting projects, travel and connections with people of mind-blowing talent. It was, as many have told me, “a dream job.” It just wasn’t my dream. And that dissonance made it stressful.

I am a blend of free-spirited idealist and responsible mother and homeowner. Yet my own experiential evidence supports what might otherwise qualify as irrational optimism. I have been hired during hiring freezes, in poor economies, in dire times, when pundits and public alike have preached doom and gloom. Others in my circle have made recent moves that have offered both higher pay and reduced stress. Even the LinkedIn newsfeed notified me that a rather significant percent of my connections had made a move in the past year. Thus, I am choosing to believe in great possibilities based on the tremendous value I offer, my network of supporters and luck.

Each day I face a kaleidoscopic range of emotions, from confidence and excitement to fear and doubt. Even my optimism has a pragmatic bent — I’d begun networking and found positive support among outside colleagues even before I leapt. I have a financial cushion, and there are folks I know I can call for freelance, contract, and project work. My resume, bio, and online profiles had been diligently updated.

I struggled in my recent job for some time. Even when I began, I knew my stay would be temporary. A position in an established department of a large company calls for a narrow set of skills.  I’m better at creating something from nothing, synthesizing disparate ideas or programs and establishing the structures and systems to support what I’ve built.

And yet my ego told me I wanted this recent job on my résumé, even if for only a short time. What I planned to be a two-year stint turned into nearly four years as project after project came at me, causing a hamster-on-a-wheel effect. I had no idea how to get off. Developments in my personal life made the relative stability of staying put a necessity. Now that I am a single mother of two, established in a new life routine, I’m re-prioritizing my own health and happiness.

Within days of having made the decision to take this leap, friends and colleagues began asking me what was different?  Was I in love? Had I lost weight? Did I do something different with my hair? I was immediately happier and more joyful — and those around me could easily tell. Stress no longer plagues me. I’ve begun sleeping restoratively through the night. And I actually crave healthier foods. Even if this leap of faith seemed crazy, I know I’ve made the right choice for me.

Are you ready for a major life or career transition? If so, give yourself the gift of planning:

  1. Prepare the tools you’ll need for next steps. Update your resume, LinkedIn profile, bio and other tools you might use in your search.  Or have your business plans drafted.
  2. Start networking. Ask colleagues for recommendations, connections and contacts. Go even further:  tell everyone you know what you’re looking for and what makes you great!
  3. Plan your finances. Save or negotiate a financial cushion.  Six months of expenses is often recommended.
  4. Craft a personal marketing plan. Identify your key strengths, competencies and types of roles and organizations you’ll target. Be sure to think about what skills or services you might be able to offer on a freelance or contract basis.
  5. Notice cues in your environment. When you stop hearing “Are you crazy?!” and begin hearing, “Good for you! Let me give you some names,” — you know change is afoot. Allow yourself to be fueled by the positive energy around you.
  6. Look for evidence. I’ve recently seen a number of colleagues not only find a better work-life balance but also achieve higher earnings. There’s a trend I can embrace!
  7. Consider your total compensation. Evaluate your salary and benefits and find ways to discover how you can leverage your strengths in growing industries.
  8. Build a support system. You may experience times of uncertainty or self-doubt. Have a plan for managing through these times. Find a mentor — or counselors, colleagues and friends who can affirm your value and skills.
  9. Adopt a sales mentality. Every “no” means you’re one step closer to “YES!” in theory, but here is a link for practical tips to help you in the process.

So what’s my plan?

  • I’m taking my time and re-focusing my career direction to better leverage my strengths and achieve greater work-life balance.
  • I’m viewing opportunities in the way I view dating:  I’m not a great fit for everyone, and not every one is for me. Still, I can always get excited about meeting new people and learning about new opportunities. I’m working on finding a match that’s rewarding for both of us.
  • I’m searching for an opportunity that values and rewards my strategy, program-building, communication and relationship skills.
  • I’m connecting fearlessly by reaching out to people in decision-making roles and expanding my network.
  • I’m exploring how to publish the children’s books I’ve written.
  • I’m researching the costs and potential market for two new products.
  • I’m writing business plans for two or three business ideas that I believe have potential.
  • I’m blogging.

I wish you the very best on your next leap of faith, and I hope you’ll return the favor.

Angela Bushman is a Minneapolis-based writer, marketing communications consultant and mother. Contact her at writetouch@gmail.com.  


Is it crazy to consider a career shift in this economy?

Is now the right time? When would it be a good time? Certainly there are valid reasons not to change. The economy is tough and if you’re earning a decent living it is easy to rationalize staying where you are.  All too often we put this decision off.  We wait for the perfect time or for the perfect opportunity to come to us.

Interestingly enough, many of us are living in limbo. We aren’t fully committed to our current career or to figuring out what might be a better option.  Isn’t life too short to linger in a career that isn’t a good fit anymore?  Why wait — until you’re too locked into your current situation to change, you can’t stand your work situation any longer, or you’ve actually lost your job — before you actively consider a career shift? Exploring options while you’re in your back-up mode — worrying about finances or feeling like you’re living in limbo — isn’t an ideal environment to be open to new possibilities or actively take a risk.  (It can work, but the stress can be stifling.)

Time is life’s real currency. Are you living your life’s currency wisely?

Why not invest in yourself now? Doesn’t it make more sense to do it while you have the energy to thoughtfully evaluate your possibilities?

Time is life’s real currency.  The heart of the question is: Are you living your life’s currency wisely? Many of us start our careers optimistically, without much analysis of our choice.  Out in the real world, we gradually figure out that it was nothing like we had imagined.  Few of us did more than rudimentary skills testing.  Perhaps only a fraction of us found a mentor to help us provide real-world insights to see if we were making a good choice.  Maybe you loved your job for years; only now it has lost the excitement or the meaning it once held.  Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to be quite successful, too well, in fact, so that you don’t even consider what might make you happier — your “best self.”  Let’s hope we don’t sell out for golden handcuffs, especially if the salary isn’t all that great to begin with (or even if it is), because it’s our lives we’re talking about here!

Why not raise the bar? Consider a career change to find one that is more interesting, rewarding, and meaningful — perhaps one that is “more livable” too.  Naturally all careers have trade-offs, but the trouble is that we don’t often take the time to find a better match for ourselves.  We stay where we started just because it seems easier.  On reflection, and once we’ve made the shift, we wonder why we waited so long!  (Some of you may find that this process helps you determine that you’re in the right career; all you needed was a little rejuvenation!)

Take the time to imagine what your life would be like if only you could make a shift. According to Civic Ventures, more than 8 million Americans between 44 and 77 are embarking on new careers. We’ve all heard stories, but somehow we can’t see ourselves — our options.  So stimulate your thinking with a few real life examples:

  • An intellectual property consultant switched to his love of the ocean and now sells sailboats.
  • A banker opted out of corporate life; he prefers to work on his own, remodeling houses.
  • A computer programmer went back to school for a degree in nonprofit management; and now works in energy conservation.
  • A beautician went back to school to become a massage therapist.
  • A stockbroker now teaches fitness and relaxation.
  • A photographer’s representative switched to planning travel for touring musicians.
  • A public relations consultant who loves language, is now a teacher (teaching English to French students).
  • A copywriter went back to school to become an acupuncturist.
  • A dancer/actress became a marketing consultant (also farms part-time).
  • A marketing strategist became a stay-at-home dad, web entrepreneur, and real estate investor.

Don’t start exploring career options with the job market.  Start by asking the more important question: “What do I really want?” Career experts often recommend evaluating the future growth in a particular field, researching potential employers, estimating income and advancement options, etc.  That’s vitally important, but that’s actually the easy part — and it shouldn’t be where you start.

External analysis should come AFTER your internal analysis, which is often more challenging. You know yourself better than you did right after college or your first job. All too often, we know what we don’t want rather than what we want.  Knowing what we don’t want helps us cross options off the list, which is good. Getting us out of our routine and into the more exciting, dynamic world of our passions, possibilities, and motivations is what’s key.  Of course, money matters.  But it’s not solely about the money.  As Henry David Thoreau said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”

According to Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, you’re more likely to be successful when you find a strong convergence between these two factors:

  • a career that taps into your values (meaning), interests, and abilities and
  • a vibrant field with plenty of job options and upward mobility — and one valued by society.

Start exploring career options by expanding your network. One of the biggest barriers is your existing network. Colleagues know you only in your current role — which is a very narrow view of your potential. Schedule informational interviews with people outside of your current circle — people who are open to seeing you in new roles.

The good news is that it is fairly easy to network these days. Even though everyone is busy, most people want to expand their network too.  Make a commitment to yourself to meet at least one new person each week — with the precise intent of helping to identify what you value, your deepest passion, and your strongest interests. Meet in person, over coffee or lunch, so you can truly to get to know one another in a meaningful way. Be sure to help them expand their network too.

Remember to document what you learn from each interview. Keeping track of your efforts will help you feel like you’re making progress.  It’s likely to take time to piece together all the components of a successful career move. Unless you’ve been training as a concert pianist since the 2nd grade, and built up 10,000 hours of practice, chances are you’ll be in the research phase for a while.  If you’re typically used to making quick decisions, try to enjoy the process and allow yourself time to dig past the first good idea.  For people that love thinking about options, find someone that will help keep you on track so you don’t get lost in the options — a colleague, a coach, or mentor.

It’s important to remember that your career isn’t limited by your direct experience. Sure, many employers are looking for someone with a perfect fit.  But more and more, smart business people know that skills can be taught.  What matters more is a person’s ability to learning and adapt.  As the senior editor at Inc Magazine, Norm Brodsky says, companies should “hire for attitude not skills.”

Career Passion Shouldn’t Be an Oxymoron

Work, we spend most of our waking hours there — and a majority of our creative energy.  You’d think more of us would choose something we truly cared about.  If so many of us are unhappy at work, why not do something we love? There are many reasons, even seemingly good reasons. We settle in, glad to have a job, and doing something we excel in.  It’s familiar.

But, what is the price we’re paying? Are we setting the bar too low, selling life short in a career we don’t value?  You can’t ever get that time back.  Ever. Today it isn’t as though we have only two choices:  making a decent living and barely getting by.  Actually most of us have more career options than ever before.

What's Your Career Passion?

In a recent Forbes article, Lisa Earle McLoed says that when you love what you do it “delivers just about the best return on investment you can get.  Because when you show up with your heart, your mind works at a far greater capacity than when you leave your heart at home.” It’s tough to solve problems and face harsh obstacles when you aren’t fully engaged.  Sure, many of us do amazing things at work, even under really difficult circumstances.  But imagine what you could accomplish if you had more career passion.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Job Versus Vocation — What I Didn’t Learn in B-School, Andrew J. Hoffman stresses the importance of career passion — “There’s pure joy when you take a risk to pursue your dream and find work that you deeply connect with.”   Well, his definition of “pure joy” might be different from mine; but I agree with Hoffman’s point —  take time to think about what you want.  Do you want a job, a career, or a calling? “A calling” might be too strong a word for many of us, but why not seek out a career to be passionate about?  It’s the passion that says you’re leading a life worth living, worthy of all your hard-earned knowledge and your genuine interest.

Cynics might criticize this approach as being too idealistic, too impractical. But as author Seth Godin says: “impossible and perfect” are the two biggest principles stopping people from making progress. I think he’s right. We think it’s “impossible” to have our dream job (or anything like it), and so we focus on all the obstacles.  Or we look for the “perfect” career,” one that’s an absolutely sure bet.   

Often what is really holding us back is a lack of commitment to ourselves.  Figuring out what we’re passionate about can be hard work. Not all of us know what we want.  All too often we only know what we don’t want — and we’re too burned out, frustrated, or busy to make time to think about it.   Or we have a few ideas, maybe even a clear picture of what we want, we just don’t know how to get there. Sometimes it takes trial and error. Gone are the days when our destiny was tied to whatever our parents did or being stuck to one career. Instead, we have a torrent of possibilities even if it doesn’t seem that way. The good news is that today’s career options are so varied; the bad news is that it’s confusing to sort them all out.

THREE WAYS TO RE-ENERGIZE YOUR CAREER PASSION

1. Can’t quit your current job? Re-energize yourself by taking on a new project.  At first glance, this appears to be counter-intuitive.  Even if you’re working long hours, according to research psychologist Dr. Steve Wright, people are happier when they have a job that fully engages them. So find something that’s interesting, challenging, and a good match to your strengths. Find a project, or better yet create one, that you find stimulating.  Or, if you’re passionate about your job, but the environment is sour, mentor someone that could benefit from your expertise.  It won’t fix your current situation, but it might make it more interesting and expand your network.  Or make yourself the new project, and find yourself a mentor. Seek out someone in your field that might reignite your passion for the job or help you start thinking about possibilities.  We all have options though they seem illusive when times are tough.

2. Don’t have a clue what to do? Try a few tools to help you get to know yourself better.  There are almost too many to choose from.  As a place to start, here are four very different approaches to consider:

  • Gallups’ StrengthsFinder 2.0, is a book that gives you a code to take their online test, which automatically generates a personalized Strengths Insight Report and Action-Planning Guide.  Ranked #1 bestsellers by both the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek, the book costs $25.
  • The Artists Way and The Artist’s Way at Work are both popular 12-week workbooks.  You complete detailed exercises each week to “rediscover your creative self.” which I think all of us need to be innovative at work.  I found they are more interesting than many career-focused workbooks. The Artists Way has sold over 2 million copies worldwide, so you can easily find them for under $25 too.  They encourage people to work together, in groups, to provide support while you explore options.
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is “the world’s most widely used personality assessment,” with roughly two million assessments taken every year. You can take the assessment test online, free http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp It is so popular that there are other tests, books and resources available on line, compete with career suggestions by personality type; many are free or under $25.
  • Find personal support — books and tools can only go so far. Often what we need is a person to help us sift through the options — a life coach, executive coach or mentor.  Each approach has pros and cons, but what’s important is that you find the support you need to figure out what’s next.  Life coaches often charge $100-$150/hour, executive coaches may charge more.  Mentoring, on the other hand, is free.  With either option (fee or free), it’s important to find a person that fits your values, interests, and personality.

3. Know what you want to do, but don’t know how to get there? If you’re passionate about a career option, then finding support to help you on your way is key.  Often our existing networks aren’t as effective to get where we want to go.  Instead, I recommend finding a mentor to accelerate your transition.  They have the direct, real-world experience and insights you need that are relevant to a specific job.  What’s more, they have a network to help open doors to vital connections. If they specialize in the area you’re interested in, life coaches and executive coaches might be useful too.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have several careers I was passionate about.  There’s an ebb and flow. What I wanted, worked for a time.  Then as I learned more about the job and myself, I gained courage. I was willing to ask important questions about what I really wanted. Each time, I’ve been grateful for the chance to try something new — and live more of the life I envisioned. I’m hoping you’ll be inspired to make the time to invest in yourself and explore your career passion.

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