Pursuing your purpose: navigating a career change

At a young age, society expects people to pick the career they want to work in for the rest of their lives. They will typically select a degree that satisfies the requirements of their career objectives and study for years before entering the workforce.

However, this is a demanding task since interests can change often. As a result, youths and older adults can feel unfulfilled in the career or degree they chose years ago based on their previous interests.

Additionally, outside expectations about which careers are more beneficial than others can make switching to a field based on one’s interests challenging.

Sonny Wong, a career counsellor at Toronto Metropolitan University and registered psychotherapist focusing on career identity development, said that family members may influence selecting a field of study.

“Sometimes, the decision to pick a major is rooted in the family decision-making process on what is deemed as the best investment with the family finances,” Wong said.

Other times, although an individual would like to transition to a new career path, they are hesitant due to the years of work they already dedicated to another field.

Wong said that “sometimes students recognize that their existing major is not a fit, but year one goes by and year two and then by year three, you have accumulated many credits to graduate on time in the existing major that switching into a new major is not economic.”

For those already working in a particular field, switching a career path can be daunting due to economic and timely issues. Wong said that feeling unsure about new workplaces, the costs of certifications and abandoning their seniority holds them back.

Getting out of this challenging mindset involves adopting a strength-based mindset rather than a problem-focused mindset.

Wong explained that a problem-focused mindset revolves around the uncertainty of whether you will like working in a new field or if you’ll make enough money mixed in with other feelings of self-doubt.

Meanwhile, a strength-based approach involves having a positive outlook on the future, such as imagining new possibilities, meeting amazing colleagues and looking forward to working every day.

“One of the techniques is really talking about more of the strength an individual holds, the talents the individual holds, and the solution to move a little bit closer to gaining clarity,” Wong said, “because a lot of the fear of moving into a new field is that you’re not clear, it’s the unknown.”

Another way an individual can gain clarity about which field to switch to is by identifying what Wong called a healthy career identity.

“A healthy career identity means that in my waking moments, as I’m engaging in the world, making money for my livelihood, what are meaningful activities and meaningful successes,” Wong explained.

In other words, identifying your skills, strengths and purpose by evaluating your everyday life and connecting it to a desired career is what forms a healthy career identity. When someone feels that something is meaningful, like creating visual art, for example, developing skills related to artmaking is a representation of forming a healthy career identity.

Once you have done the internal work to identify your skills and passions, Wong said gaining skills that attract employers through research is imperative. This means reading job postings for a desired new career, looking at the qualifications listed and making a checklist of the skills you have yet to learn for that position.

Feeling hesitant when switching careers is valid because it can feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar. However, transitioning into a new career does not have to require massive life changes.

Recognizing that your interests are shifting is the first step. After that, changing careers requires making small steps toward a goal. These small steps can include reaching out to experts in a field, updating resumes, acquiring new skills through certification programs and finding local volunteer opportunities.

 “We forget that where we are today in our identity is through those small steps,” Wong said.

Furthermore, making conscious small steps in another direction will likely help you gain clarity in your interests rather than making you fearful about the future.

Switching career paths is also about reconnecting with yourself. It is a time to remember your past passions and interests while allowing those feelings to boost your confidence as you find another job.

By identifying and respecting what you truly want out of your professional life, you can find a career that aligns more with your sense of purpose.

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