I recently spoke to a prospective career coaching client who told me she did everything right when she decided to change careers a few years ago.
She went through a lengthy process of self-exploration to determine her strengths and weaknesses. She created a vision for life and then questioned how her career could support that. She did her research and conducted informational interviews. She set concrete career goals, made intelligent choices, developed a plan and executed it to perfection.
So she couldn’t understand why things hadn’t worked out.
She did everything she was supposed to do, didn’t she? She didn’t rush into anything. She didn’t let emotions drive her decisions. Where had she gone wrong?
Listening to this client, I felt for her. I could see how this kind of thing would be discouraging. You put all that time and energy and focus into making a decision and then that decision turns out to be wrong? Man, what a drag.
But I’ve seen it before and, sadly, I know I’ll see it again. In my work with my clients, I do everything in my power to prevent this kind of thing from happening. In order to do so, I’ve found that it helps to really understand what causes the problem. So here are just a few of the reasons even well-thought-out career decisions sometimes don’t work out.
1. There’s a point of diminishing returns for information.
We’re all familiar with TMI (too much information) in our personal lives. You know: That friend who tells you all about her bathroom activities…in detail? That’s TMI.
Well, there’s such a thing as TMI in career exploration as well. Sometimes, you can get so heavily invested in gathering data, and doing your research, and collecting the facts; you actually work against yourself. As odd as it sounds, sometimes the more you learn, the less you know.
All that information can suppress your own intuitive wisdom. I call this problem, “Head versus Heart.” Too often, career changers put too much emphasis on the head and not enough on the heart. They think the more information they have, the better their decision-making will be. That’s true up to a point, but after that it becomes incredibly untrue incredibly fast.
How is one supposed to weed through all that stuff? How do you distinguish between important information and unimportant? The more you have the harder it is to know.
Remember that the amount of time you spend thinking about this, mulling over the possibilities, and gathering information means nothing.
As a certified career coach, I’m trained to help my clients conduct guided, purposeful research; use that information intelligently; and offer advice on when it’s time to stop.
2. We see what we WANT to see.
Excitement can blind us. Just ask anyone who ever fell head over heels for someone on a first date only to discover later that the person was a wildly wrong match. Most people in this situation look back and say there were red flags all over the place, but somehow they missed them.
The same thing happens in job interviews and the career exploration process in general. We see an opportunity—a possibility for the happiness we’re seeking—and we get excited about its potential. We want it to work so badly. And suddenly we’re blind to the negatives. We see only the things that confirm our belief that this is the answer to all our career woes. Psychologists call this “confirmation bias” and, if you’re not careful, it can turn your brain into the enemy.
This is yet another reason people seek the support of a career coach. As an unbiased third party, your coach can help shed light on the evidence so you can honestly evaluate the situation from ALL angles.
3. People aren’t all the same (and they aren’t always truthful).
Many career changers rely on others to help them understand what’s involved in a career decision. For example, if you’re thinking about becoming a teacher, perhaps you’ll talk to a teacher about her career satisfaction and what her work is like day to day. Or, if you’re considering taking a job a new company, you’ll likely talk to the hiring manager or the HR person about what it’s like to work there. Maybe you’ll even talk to a friend who worked there in the past.
Unfortunately, these people aren’t you. They’re experiences aren’t necessarily going to be your experiences. They offer a perspective; you have to take that with a grain of salt. Just because Sally loves being a teacher doesn’t mean it’s the right move for you. And just because Johnny despised the company you’re considering doesn’t mean it’s not an ideal place for you.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that you have to be cautious when taking information from someone who has a vested interest (like a recruiter). These people will—intentionally or not—paint a pretty picture for you, even if it’s not necessarily accurate. A very common complaint I hear from my clients is that they accepted a job believing it was one thing but it turned out to be another. You have to do your due diligence in the interview process and be skeptical.
Still, there’s no substitute for actually experiencing something yourself. Until you do, you’ll never really know what it’s like. Understand that others can only share their opinions, their experiences, and their feelings. Your job is to translate those things, pull out concrete information, and develop your own perspective.
4. There are no guarantees.
In the end, there are no guarantees that any decision—no matter how well thought out it is—will ever lead to the expected results. There are inherent, unavoidable risks in any career move. The best you can do is invest the time and energy required to minimize the risk and manage your expectations. Do the work on the front end, but recognize that you can’t predict the future. Just give it your best shot and don’t beat yourself up if and when there are surprises along the way.
Remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
There are no failures. Every career move—even the ones that don’t work out—will teach you something about who you are and what you want. All will move you closer to your destination, IF you approach them with that point-of-view.