By Stephanie Thurrott, The Muse
Christina Pendleton built her career working with kids—she’s had stints as a preschool director, early educator, and educational consultant. But she always wanted to launch a nonprofit. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed her to finally realize that dream.
“Having the time to think everything through, decide on a focus, file the necessary applications, write a business report, apply for grants, and hire someone to develop a website—all of that would not have happened if it weren’t for all the extra time I’ve had since March,” she says. Her new nonprofit will benefit adolescents whose parents struggle with substance-use disorders.
Maybe, like Pendleton, you’ve been thinking about a career change for a long time. Or maybe you’re reconsidering your career path in light of challenges you’ve faced—or realizations you’ve had—since the start of the pandemic. You may be rethinking your priorities and preferences, whether you’ve discovered that you thrive working from home or you feel as though you belong in another field entirely.
“There are a multitude of reasons as to why someone might want a career change, especially now, after all we have been through,” says Melanie Ross Mills, a life strategist based in Dallas who coaches people through life transitions such as career changes. “Anything goes—from their position dissolving to wanting to ‘personally rebrand’ and take the leap.”
Jumping into a new career isn’t something to take lightly—especially with all the uncertainty that comes from living and working through a pandemic. Now could be the perfect time for you to make that change. But the stresses and realities of the moment might also be skewing your perspective.
If you’re wondering if a career change is really the right move for you in this moment, ask yourself these questions first.
1. Do I Want to Change Careers, or Do I Just Not Like Working During a Pandemic?
It’s important to think carefully about why you might feel like you want a career change at this particular time. You don’t want to make a big change like a career shift simply to address issues that are most likely temporary in your current career, Mills says.
If you’re unhappy working from home or dealing with other factors related to COVID-19, your dissatisfaction might be tied to the realities of the pandemic rather than your role. Think about the ways your job has changed during the pandemic and consider whether it’s likely to return to the way it used to be or to evolve permanently into something new. Whatever your prediction, how does that make you feel? Do you expect you’ll be satisfied in your current career once we get past the pandemic?
For example, if you’re a teacher, you may find yourself struggling with remote learning and worried about the challenges of the upcoming school year. But if you’ve always loved teaching, you may decide to stick it out. On the other hand, if you were already frustrated or dissatisfied with your teaching career and the pandemic has brought those feelings to the surface, you might decide that this is a good time for you to explore new career paths.
2. Am I Unhappy With My Job or My Career?
The pandemic may have uncovered or intensified all the ways you were already dissatisfied at work. Maybe you feel unappreciated or undervalued at your company. Maybe you always struggled to get along with your boss and it’s become even harder when everyone’s working from home. Or maybe you were starting to feel unhappy with the direction your team or workload was going before the pandemic and the changes that have come from COVID-19 have crystallized those feelings.
But remember that feeling unhappy in your current job doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change careers entirely. In some cases, it’s your specific job, manager, team, or company you aren’t pleased with and what you need is a new job in your field at a different organization. Try to be honest with yourself about whether the issues pushing you away from your current job are likely to crop up again in another field, in which case a career change may not be the answer you’re looking for.
However, if you don’t like doing the kind of work you’ve been doing or don’t see a future for the industry as a whole, you might be looking for a bigger change.
3. What Am I Looking For in My New Career?
“Don’t focus on what you’re running from, figure out what you’re running toward. Why do you want to launch this new career?” says Robin Pou, a chief advisor and strategist who works with executives and entrepreneurs who are changing careers. Focus more on what you would find satisfying and rewarding in the new career you’re interested in, rather than what you’re frustrated with in your current career. Think more about what you want to do next—and why—than about what you’re trying to leave behind.
For example, you may feel as though you’re not making a difference in your current career. Instead of stopping there and ruminating on that, ask yourself what career path would make you feel as though you could make a difference and whether you can envision yourself being fulfilled in that type of role.
If you’re genuinely excited about your new career path—especially if it’s something you’ve wanted for a long time, like in Pendleton’s case—you might be ready to take the tools and strategies you’ve learned in your current career and use them to begin your adventure in a new career.
4. What Is My Mental and Emotional State Right Now?
Living through a pandemic can wreak havoc on your emotional well-being. “None of us have ever experienced a time such as this, and it’s possible that there will be an additional set of feelings, emotions, and thoughts you will want to address” before concluding that the solution is a career change, Mills says.
Be honest with yourself about how you are handling things. You could be feeling down, unproductive, unmotivated, or stagnant because of the current situation rather than because you truly want to make a drastic change in your career. It’s difficult—but important—to separate the thoughts and feelings that are cropping up due to what’s happening in the world from the ones tied to the kind of role you have and the industry you work in.
“You’re making a life decision in the middle of a traumatic event where emotions are really high,” Pou says. “Ask yourself if you are making this decision out of emotion or out of rational thought.”
Take a look at your coping mechanisms, too, since they could be affecting your judgment. Are you depending on alcohol, medication, or toxic relationships? Are you thinking clearly and rationally? Are you panicked and making impulsive decisions in other aspects of your life? These might be signs you should wait and think more before making any moves.
5. Am I Prepared to Deal With Two Life-Altering Events at the Same Time?
Living through a pandemic and changing your career are both major life events. Even if you want to pivot in your professional life for all the right reasons, do you feel prepared to do it while also dealing with all the other stressors COVID-19 has brought?
If you change careers now, you might feel the effects of the pandemic, at least at first, and that could make the transition more complicated. For example, it may be hard to find a company willing to take a chance on a career changer when hiring is stalled and competition for openings is fierce. If you do find a new role, you might only work virtually with your new boss, coworkers, or clients for a while. So it could be harder to build connections and relationships with them. If you think launching your new career now might be too difficult or stressful right now, you might decide that this isn’t the right time. (Or you might decide that the general upheaval makes this an even better time for you!)
6. Do I Have the Financial Resources to Support a Career Change?
Think about the potential financial impact of the career change you want to make during this economic climate. You’ll want to consider how risky it might be to make a change during a recession and whether you can take on that risk.
If you’ll lose your income for a while or you expect a salary reduction, can you adjust your expenses or rely on savings? Can you build your savings for a few months to give yourself a cushion to fall back on during your transition? If you’re worried about the possibility of layoffs or budget cuts in your new field, would it be wiser to wait before making a change?
Some industries have been hit harder than others, including retail, transportation, leisure and hospitality, and government. If you expect it will take a long time for your industry to bounce back or for the type of role you’ve previously held to be in demand again, it might make sense to look for ways you can use your skills and experience in a new field. You may even want to go in a different direction for a few years with a plan to return to your current field when it rebounds.
Trying to think through all of these questions can be intimidating. It may help to write down the answers, review them, and see if that brings up new thoughts and ideas about how you see your future career.
This can also help you look at your thoughts more objectively and anchor your feelings in facts. “Journaling allows you to purge all those things rattling around in your mind. It’s another view of the situation,” Pou says.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you will better understand the motivation behind your desire for a career change. You may decide to stay in your current job or field after all. Or you may decide that now is the perfect time for you to explore a new career path. If you’re ready to make the change, take these concrete steps to get started.