Liberate Yourself With a Career Pivot

The concept of working hard at one company for 40 years until the retirement party and the gold watch is now an ancient legend. People don’t stay in one career for their entire lives anymore. From time to time, we all need to shake it up, or risk missing the paths we really want to follow.

I see my career as an impressionist painting. Individually, each brushstroke seems unrelated to the others, but viewed from a distance, the seemingly incongruous pieces create a masterpiece that no single technique could accomplish.

From Yellow Brick Road to the Road Less Taken

Over the course of my working life, I have been a scientist, a lawyer, a fund manager, and an entrepreneur. The journey between my role as a mergers and acquisitions attorney to founder and CEO of a social media SaaS company and manager of an investment firm may seem convoluted — and I’ll admit, leaving law behind felt like jumping from a yellow brick road onto an uncharted dirt path at first. But every shift I’ve made along the way has moved me closer to new and exciting vocations, and ultimately, to deep, sustaining job satisfaction.

If I had remained in one position instead of following the calling of the next, I might have made more money, but I also would have spent long hours, days, and years working for someone else’s benefit at the expense of my own. Choosing to make a pivot isn’t career suicide. If anything, the turns in my career have made me a better professional and a happier person.

People who change careers (and most of us do) rarely regret leaving the mundane drudgery of jobs that they no longer identify with and find difficult to return to every day. In fact, according to one study, more than half of all workers surveyed would choose different careers if they could start over again, and only 20 percent were happy in their current roles. Deciding to change careers can be frightening, but beyond that first leap of faith awaits boundless opportunity.

To figure out if you’re ready for a career pivot, ask yourself these five questions:

Is a paycheck the only reason I work?

Some people see careers as a means to enjoy life outside of the office, but then spend most of their waking hours at work. In my case, by the age of 30, I was making the kind of money many could only dream of by doing work that many would deem intellectually challenging and rewarding — and I was flat-out bored. I had lost my purpose. If you’re miserable most of the day, ask yourself what it would take for you to lead an overall happier life.

Do I have a safety net?  

In other words, what are the real risks of making a move? If your plan is to simply continue jumping to careers without ever becoming really good at anything, then you actually are taking on major risk. With each pivot, I was at a pinnacle point — with nowhere to go but up, I felt safe to make a lateral move into a new profession. This may sound counterintuitive, but if you are already at the peak, then you can usually return to it later, if need be. Do you have the skills and experience to support yourself should your first pivot fail? Striking out on your own is invigorating, but make sure you have marketable skills you can fall back on if necessary.

Am I financially ready to pivot?

Get a firm understanding of your financial situation to know how much risk you can afford to take. Pivoting careers may mean starting at a salary than you previously enjoyed, which often means making financial sacrifices. Make sure you can handle that transition, and be very clear about how long your resources will last. There is nothing wrong with betting on yourself, but set your limits and stick to them.

How will this affect my family?

Unless you are single and childless, this decision is not yours alone to make. If you have a family, involve them in your decision to pivot and communicate openly with them throughout the process. Even if the physical attributes of the change are minimal (i.e., location, drive, schools), the emotional elements take a major toll. Stress, uncertainty, and a general lack of availability are some (but not all) of the very real costs of making a change.

I have a wonderful wife and four amazing boys all under the age of nine. I made sure to speak openly with my family — including my children — and let them be a part of the solution. Knowing I had their full support helped tremendously when I hit the inevitable valleys and made reaching the peaks that much more enjoyable.

Is the grass really greener, or have I just not seen winter yet?

It’s easy to romanticize a career switch, so be as logical and objective as you can about the decision. Pretend you’re doing the research on someone else’s behalf, and then see if you would recommend making the move to that person.

When you do decide to make a switch, set yourself up for success by meeting with people in your new field, building relationships, and asking lots of questions. If your pivot is to a new job, get a firm offer before diving into the unknown, and try to leave your current role at a high money point (e.g., after a bonus or commission check) to be in top financial shape heading into the transition. And don’t burn bridges. Clearly communicate your intentions to leave in person. You never know when you might need a future reference from a client or colleague.

Parting Advice

Whenever I start a new venture, I write down my goals and reasons for making the change, and I keep that document close by for reassurance on the hard days. Don’t look back — constantly revisiting the past robs you of time you could spend investing in your future.

Most importantly, try to enjoy the ride as much as the outcome. You want to be as smart about the execution as you are about due diligence to make the entire experience rewarding, liberating, and educational. Take a moment to celebrate your bravery, and then throw yourself fully into your exciting new career.

Afif Khoury is a serial entrepreneur who is currently the founder and CEO of SOCi, an award-winning social media marketing and content discovery SaaS platform.