Are you ready for a career pivot?
September 17, 2020
By Jennifer Wills
Career change. Career transition. Career pivot. Call it what you like; many of us are making changes in our careers—voluntarily or otherwise. And if you’re not making changes now, you should be thinking about what your next move could be, or developing skills to stay relevant in today’s changing workplace.
In this post, I share three books related to career changing and finding what’s right for you. Each book takes a slightly different approach, but there are some common themes among them, along with creative activities.
- Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, by Jenny Blake
- Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (also authors of Designing Your Work Life, which is on my reading list)
- Reinventing You, by Dorie Clark
The idea of reinventing oneself isn’t how I think about making a career transition. We are who we are; we have strengths and experiences, and we can build on those. We can further develop our skills and build upon our foundation, but we are the person we are. As Jenny Blake suggests in Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, pivoting is like basketball, where one foot remains in position while the rest of your body turns. You remain at the center.
Many of my clients come to me from a place of discontent with their current careers and a readiness to move forward with something more meaningful, particularly in the sustainability space. Sustainability is broad and varied, so it can feel overwhelming. Although considering a career transition may be outside your comfort zone, you may feel more resolute if you think deeply about why you want to make an impact in the world. What is guiding you? The answers might include your values and a purpose statement. You can reflect on these and feel more grounded as you enter the exploratory phase of your career transition.
As you read these books, keep these points in mind:
- Start with who you are and where you are: Each book has its own approach to this. For instance, Designing Your Life includes “Good Time” Journaling (journal about what you enjoy doing) and Reinventing You suggests you discover how others perceive you by conducting personal 360 interviews. Finally, Pivot walks through exercises, such as mind mapping, to identify your values, principles, and strengths.
- Learn about what’s possible and identify whether it’s right for you: Networking and interviewing individuals can help you discover what a career is really like. Every book stresses the importance of talking with others about their careers. Networking cannot be overstated for career development in general. CLiGS blog posts also stress it here and here, and alumni of the program discuss the importance of networking in their careers, for example Molly Brown’s story here.
- Try out some possibilities without fully committing to the change: Each book has its own term for trying out a career path before making a change: “prototype experiences” (Designing Your Life), “test-drive” (Reinventing You), “pilot” (Pivot). Each suggests apprenticing, volunteering, and shadowing as ways to do this.
Designing Your Life asserts that there are multiple great lives we could each live, and you get to choose which one to live next. This means there can be more than one great career for each of us. I love this idea, and have lived it myself. I had been an attorney with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for over a decade. I didn’t want to work for the government anymore, and I didn’t want to be an attorney anymore. So, about twelve years ago, I decided I wanted to start a small organic farm. I took a course on starting a farm business. I apprenticed on a farm. I volunteered for small farm member-based organizations. What I learned is that living on a farm is a family endeavor, and not having the entire family on board meant that I needed to consider a different pivot, a different “great life.”
The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability and the Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program helped me with the pivot I ultimately made. At the time I was going through the program (2016), I wanted to work for a corporation that was doing good sustainability work. I got an interview with a very prominent company, but the location was not where I wanted to move my family. So, I went back to the drawing board to figure out what I could do from my small town in central Virginia. I hired a career coach. I took a class on entrepreneurship. I developed a process for working through career transitions. While working part-time with the EPA, I started my coaching business and started working with clients who were seeking personal and professional growth, including career transitions. Now I coach XMNR students seeking career transitions, self discovery, and professional development. I continue to hone my coaching skills. I completed a 140+ hour International Coach Federation accredited course through George Mason University. I am now working toward ICF certification, and I’ve developed a method for coaching individuals outdoors that provides a unique approach to coaching and the coaching experience.
I hope that you find one or more of these books helpful in working through your career transition. I’m happy to talk with you about personal and professional growth, and preparing for and embracing change. You can find me at www.jwillscoaching.com.
Jennifer Wills is the founder of J. Wills Coaching, through which she coaches environmental and sustainability purpose-driven professionals and organizations in their searches for career change and advancement and clarity. As faculty, she advises students in Virginia Tech’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability Online and Executive Masters programs on career and leadership related topics. She also teaches International Environmental Law and Policy with the Center. Jennifer was an attorney with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where she spent 15 years advising and problem-solving with clients, developing environmental regulations and policies, and collaborating with federal agencies and outside entities on regulations and legislation. Jennifer holds a Master of Natural Resources degree with focus on leadership in sustainability from Virginia Tech, a J.D. from the University of Kentucky, and a B.A. in biology from the University of Louisville.