One of my readers recently emailed me about making the decision to change careers. Like so many of us, she felt stuck in her job and found herself worrying about paying the bills.
She knew it was time for a change, and she wrote, “Part of me knows this is the correct step but I am also super afraid.”
If you’re currently thinking about making a career change or transition, this article is for you.
I share the case study of a guy who’s gone through various career changes. And I also include insights from my own experience when I changed careers back in 2015.
At 53 years old, Ray Croc had been constantly changing careers; from a pianist to musical director, then a real estate salesman, and finally, a traveling seller of paper cups and milkshake machines.1Source: Biography
One day, at a hamburger restaurant, Croc saw an opportunity. The restaurant’s menu and operations were simple and efficient. And he thought that with the right strategy, the business held exponential growth potential.
Croc originally visited the restaurant to sell a set of milkshake machines. But instead, he made another offer to the owners: He would work as a franchising agent for a cut of the profits. The brothers who owned the hamburger place, Dick and Mac McDonald, agreed.
By 1955, Croc founded the McDonald’s System, Inc. (later McDonald’s Corporation), which opened its first new restaurant in Illinois. 4 years later, McDonald’s opened its 100th restaurant. And by 1961, Croc bought the company outright from the McDonald brothers for $2.7 million.
In his autobiography, Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s, Croc described his mindset on switching careers, when most people “his age” tend to be afraid of change.
“As long as you’re green you’re growing, as soon as you’re ripe you start to rot.”
I think that’s the underlying principle of changing careers. Change challenges us to get out of our comfort zone. And the key is to not let being comfortable keep us from going after what we want.
Here are other practical principles to keep in mind if you’re also considering changing careers. When you focus on these principles, you can eradicate fear.
1. Focus on your strengths
Most people have probably heard this a thousand times. But I’m still amazed at how many folks don’t actually do it. People continuously underestimate this advice.
We’ve seen writers who try to become YouTubers. Or athletes who try to become musicians and vice versa. Just because someone wants to do something doesn’t mean they’ll be good at it.
That’s why I stick to the philosophy of management consultant Peter Drucker: Stick to your strengths. Drucker puts it well in his book, Managing Oneself:
“It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”
I highly recommend checking Drucker’s book if you want to really understand what you’re good at.
I’ve actually done Youtube videos as well. I did them in batches. And even considered doing it on a more consistent basis. But my books and articles still did way better than my videos because I’m a better writer. So instead of dividing my time by producing videos, I maximize my effort in producing great articles.
To me, it’s better to be a great writer than a good writer with “okay” videos. Sticking to your strengths leverages opportunities to work for you.
When you work with your strengths, you can become truly great. When you try to improve your weaknesses, you only become mediocre at best.
2. Rely on a support system
Your mind is an asset. You use it to solve problems and think of ways to succeed. So it’s important to take good care of it. Without a healthy mind, it’s hard to get things done.
That’s where a support system comes in. Science has shown that having other people for advice and companionship helps keep up our mental health.3Source: Very Well Mind Your support system is also something you can fall back on:
- When I was starting out my writing career, I moved back in with my parents for a year so I could concentrate all my energy on writing.
- If you have heavy work to do, you can ask your partner or other loved ones to pick up some of your tasks. Strategic delegation is key.
- You can also rely on mentors for career advice and insight.
People who don’t have a good support system tend to burn out. Having other people there for you helps you get out of your head.
This may sound cliche, but it’s true: You can’t do anything on your own.
3. Aim for being the best
This principle only works if you follow the first one. Excellence is key to making a successful career change. You’ll want to think to yourself, “I want to be the best at what I do.”
Whether you actually become the best or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that you adopt that mindset because it pushes you to do better work.
When I write, I do my best to create useful and insightful material. I have to keep reading and continue learning. And I put a lot of work into producing valuable content.
The best hold the most rewards in this world. There are writers who struggle to pay their rent. While Stephen King makes millions for a single book. That’s how skewed rewards are for people who reach the top.
That’s why I discourage the bare-minimum mentality: People who only do “good enough” and refuse to go the extra mile for their goals. People who are satisfied with being average.
I’ve never seen anyone with that mentality succeed. Even Stephen King doesn’t settle. Despite his success, he continues to write ten pages a day, six days a week. And he refuses to take a holiday.
This doesn’t mean we need to be as hardcore as King. But that’s the result of aiming for the best — you become and stay the best by being consistent.
I can’t guarantee you’ll be famous or earn millions by getting better-than-average results. But you’ll definitely do better than average folks.
Give yourself time
I think one great way of looking at a career change is to treat it like learning a new language.
You’ll make stupid mistakes. And as long as they’re not permanent, that’s fine.
Robert Greene talked about this idea in his book, Mastery. Like McDonald’s Ray Croc, Greene has also gone through various professions before becoming a full-time author. He used to be a translator, a magazine assistant, and even a construction worker, among others.
In Mastery, Green says the right mindset makes a significant impact on adapting to a new career.
“When you enter a new environment, your task is to learn and absorb as much as possible. For that purpose you must try to revert to a childlike feeling of inferiority… You drop all of your preconceptions about an environment or field, any lingering feelings of smugness.”
It’s never too late to change careers. As long as you can “drop all preconceptions” about your new direction, you can absorb the lessons you need to succeed.
And if it takes time, so what? If you play it right, you only have to find your dream career once.