Navigating a change of career

woman going through a career change

Article by Caroline Whaley, Co-founder, Shine for Women

There are myriad variables that can instigate a change of direction, be it struggling to progress in your current role, looking to reapply your skills in a new industry or transition into a new career.

Whichever prospect applies to you, there’s no doubting it’s a daunting, life-changing decision. Despite this, a recent study by Aviva revealed that more than half of UK workers (60%) are considering this change.

Changing careers is certainly an unnerving prospect, and not a decision to be taken lightly – yet it has the potential to change your life for the better.  

Reasons for change 

Having been there myself, I understand the turmoil and self-confidence it takes to make this change. When I decided to take the plunge and leave my job, I was based in Africa working for the Nike Foundation. This was a hugely rewarding role that I loved. My decision to pursue a change of path was sparked when my boss decided I should be relocated back to the US. Having been working for Nike for 17 years, and with a milestone 50th birthday fast approaching, I knew if I wanted to make a career move, now was the time to do it. 

So I decided to leave, and to the surprise of colleagues around me, I left without securing another job, uncertain what the future would hold, or what career path I would follow next. I was keen to begin this new chapter by stopping – for the first time in my life – and carving out time to take stock and reflect, mostly to see what would happen. I also decided I would say yes to every opportunity that came my way.  

Just say yes!

Shifting from a full-on role in a major corporation to undefined days without a clear structure was tough, but vital in determining my next steps. It was from this time out that I discovered where my strengths lie and what motivates me. In my case, I need challenge and I need to achieve.

Saying yes to every opportunity that came my way helped me decipher what my value in the world was. Although I had never practised professionally, I was a trained coach. After leaving Nike, ex-colleagues started asking for 1-2-1 coaching. It wasn’t until a friend rang me needing my help with a business idea – Shine for Women – that my future fell firmly into place. I hadn’t contemplated a standalone role focusing on women’s leadership but when I reflected, I knew it was the perfect chance for me to use all the skills I’d developed throughout my career. I took the leap and haven’t looked back. 

Learnings and lessons 

Changing careers is a huge learning curve for anyone, and I certainly learned a great deal from the experience. Some of my key takeaways? Remember your experience is invaluable. Everything you’ve done before can be reused, reinvented and recycled. Your life lessons, be it in business or relationships, can be re-applied.

I also learned the importance of staying in touch with my former colleagues and allies, because they can still be that for me in my new life. Don’t underestimate their importance. In your next chapter, they’re likely to be even more valuable for the fresh perspective they provide. 

No pressure

It takes time to switch careers or build a business. Try to limit other pressures in your life and be practical and honest with yourself. It’s really important to assess how long you can last financially before you must earn again. If in doubt, seek advice. It’s added pressure you don’t need.

Going solo

The Aviva report highlighted that a fifth of UK adults are now hoping to generate a steady stream of income from a hobby that they’ve had more time to develop thanks to many months of working remotely during the pandemic.

If, like me, you’re planning to set up your own business, you will likely find the freedom that goes with it incredible. But with this comes great responsibility and it requires unwavering confidence and self-belief because every decision, challenge and direction you choose is yours, which is wonderful and, at times, terrifying.

It is so important to look for a business partner who is aligned with your vision and values. Sharing the highs and lows with someone makes it far more enjoyable. Finding the right person can be hard, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend hastily securing a formal business partnership with someone you don’t know well. I’m one of the lucky ones, but more partnerships fail than succeed.

Gut feeling

Ultimately, there’s no one rule fits all guide for making this step and switching careers. By far the hardest step is making the decision. After this, you have no choice but to fully embrace the change. 

Believe in yourself and your abilities. Change is daunting, but it also has the potential to be life-changing. Something interesting will always come when you make a change. So be brave, embrace the fear and accept that until you take the plunge and try, you won’t know the outcome. 

Of course, there is always a chance that things may not turn out as you thought they might. The question I asked myself to overcome this hurdle was: if there is no right or wrong, which way would I go? Your heart and your gut will give you your answer. 

One final note – I know, it is far easier said than done – but relax into the change and trust it will be ok because honestly, it really will turn out alright in the end!

About the author

Caroline WhaleyCaroline built her career in the adventure travel industry before joining Nike where she spent 14 years in senior global marketing and General Management roles. Three years with the Nike Foundation then followed where she helped inspire, empower and shift social norms for teenage girls living in Africa, as the fastest route to eradicating global poverty.

With this experience leading, coaching and developing culturally diverse teams in highly competitive corporate and non-profit environments, Caroline founded Shine in 2013 at the age of 50 to express her passion for the power of human potential, whether on the field of play, the workplace or in making the world a better place. She’s now bringing that experience to other individuals, teams and organisations such as WPP, Snap, William Grant & Sons and Channel 4.

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