You’ve decided. You’re reinventing yourself. You’re shifting direction. Pursuing your passion.
Hooray. Except, you don’t know what to tell people. Or when to tell. Or how to explain your career change decision without sounding like you’re having a mid-life crisis.
I hear you. And that’s why this seventh installment in the reinventing yourself series is all about how to tell people about your career change plans.
The Stress in Announcing Your Reinvention Plans
Someone I know has been thinking about a huge career change.
He’s quite serious about it too. He has done the research. He’s networking with others who are doing similar work.
He understands that switching to this new field of work will likely mean an initial step down for him. He knows he’ll probably take a pay cut at first. He’s ready for that. He’s got a rough roadmap and timeline.
The one thing he hasn’t done and has been dreading all this time? Telling his wife he’s serious about these plans.
The vast majority of career pivots are unlikely to involve a lot of drama.
Someone who’s unhappy at work and decides to switch to a new job that’s a better fit should expect to hear nothing but encouraging comments from family and friends.
The announcement is easy. No big deal. You just tell them what you want to do, and boom, there you are.
Significant career reinventions, on the other hand, can be trickier to handle, as my friend can attest.
He worries that his wife and immediate family will not understand his reasons for wanting such a big change. He worries that they will not support him in this important endeavor. And he isn’t sure if he’ll be okay going it alone. He worries that their objections will cause him to wobble on his resolve and second-guess his decisions.
Sharing Your Decision
A good practice is to bring the people whose opinions matter most to you into your decision-making process.
Share your thought process with them so that they can understand your considerations. Listen to their feedback and let them weigh in.
Although bringing people into your decision process is ideal, there are times when this is not possible or realistic. And in those cases, you will have to break the news to them in the best way that you can.
The one thing to understand—and accept—is that your decision about your career affects people around you.
They may have the same questions, fears, and concerns that you have. Maybe even more.
It will serve you well not to gloss over this and to plan ahead so that you are not surprised or derailed by their reactions.
Who You Tell About Your Career Change Plans and Why
To tell or not to tell. I’ve seen both sides of this equation. I once worked for someone who was maniacal, à la Steve Jobs, about keeping new projects secret until all was ready to be revealed. At another time, I worked with someone who discussed everything with everyone and held nothing sacred.
As with everything else in life, there are pros and cons to each approach; pick the one that fits you best.
I tend to fall on the side of keeping things quiet for as long as I can. Part of it is because I’m an introvert. I’m far more comfortable deliberating about decisions quietly in my head (or in my journal). When I’ve got things sorted out for myself, then I can talk about them ad nauseam.
I also subscribe to the concept of incubating an idea and treating it like a tender sapling in the beginning.
I believe that change and transformation decisions are fragile, not impervious to major assaults or temptations to reverse course.
Whenever we are changing our mindset, our habits, and the labels and stories we’ve had in our heads, or when we’re leaving a comfortable and known thing for an exciting and unknown thing, we are vulnerable and exposed.
Until our resolve gets stronger, we need to protect our ideas—ourselves even—from other people’s opinions.
Clearly, the more confident you are about your decision, the more made-up your mind is about the direction you want to take, the easier talking about it will be
In the beginning, you want to be intentional about the people you bring into your process.
Consider the people who are important to you, whose opinions matter, and who are most likely to be affected by any change that you bring into your life.
Here are some of the people who may fall into that bucket:
- spouse or significant others
- inner circle
- coach or mentor, if you have one
- coach or mentor, if you have one
- anybody whose supports you may need
- people whose advice you trust
When the right time comes, you will, of course, expand your communication to other people: your boss, colleagues, friends, and your broader network.
Understanding Your Reasons
Before you discuss your career change with other people, you want to understand the reasons you are sharing your plans with them.
Do you need their permission to go a certain direction? Are you asking for validation? Are you looking for support (financial, emotional, tactical)? Are you merely informing them?
It’s also a good idea to prepare and consider what you might do if you don’t get their agreement, permission, or support. How dependent are you on their support? Would you proceed with your plans without their support? Could you? Would you want to?
It’s best to expect that you will be asked questions, some of which you may not have thought of before or would rather not answer yet.
Some will offer advice (even if you’re not asking for it); some will challenge the rationale behind your decision. This process can lead to second-guessing.
The more unsure you are about your plans, the higher the risk that you will be swayed by other people’s opinions. Sometimes these conversations can sting, especially when you hear an objection that you didn’t anticipate.
What You are Responsible for
Some changes are easy to explain and easy to understand. Some changes create dissonance and rattle the peace and quiet. Some changes are so surprising that people can’t help but express their shock and awe. Some changes are worrisome, while others simply confuse the heck out of people.
A friend once considered leaving a good, “stable” position for an exciting role in a new start-up. It brought about such difficult conversations with his family that he decided to let the opportunity go.
Here’s the thing: it’s not your responsibility to bring people along with you on your journey.
You are not responsible for, nor can you control, how they react to the changes that you’re bringing into your life. You are not required to convince them about your decision (or your sanity, for that matter).
But concerning all the relationships that are important to you, you want to do everything you can to help them understand why you are making the change.
You can understand that some of them may be freaked out by your decision, especially if you’re talking about a radical shift. It behooves you to help them get un-freaked.
Share your deliberations with them. Explain why this move is important to you. Show them that you’ve thought about your decision and that you’re motivated to pursue your new career goals.
In the end, doing your best to help them understand your decision is all that you can do. Whether they accept it or not is, ultimately, not something you can control.
What’s On Your Mind
Is telling people about your career change plans a challenge for you? What is your main concern?
Break Free: The Courage To Reinvent Yourself And Your Career is now available on Amazon, in print and Kindle versions. It is all about helping you “be brave” and make the critical decision that can change your direction and create the career you want.