I was once discussing buying a house with a friend. We were thinking which was the smarter: buying a house you don’t like very much in a beautiful place and paying a lot or buying a “plain field” that does not cost much and then building the super house you dream of and create environment you want (dig ponds, invest into garden, etc). The conversation was quite heated as we were coming from different corners: I was coming from “traditional” point of view “the place of real estate is the most important”, he was coming from “don’t overpay for place, you can create it all in plain field”. Of course, the economic discussion could be endless here, but it was clear: you can chose very different strategies to implement the same goal – to have a house of your dreams.
This real estate example illustrates the dilemma lots of people have when they start thinking about a change of career. If I am not happy with my job and/ or my profession anymore – what should I do? Should I implement the “plane field project” – just drop everything and start my career from scratch or should I try to “rebuild” – reflect on my current career and decide how will I rebuild the house – which walls will I knock down and which ones will I leave. Which legacy needs to be maintained and which needs to be abandoned?
As it is with the house – both strategies can be successful and lead to the same goal – reshaping your career. However there are important things to reflect/consider while choosing your one.
Plain field strategy. Young people usually don’t have this dilemma as their career start is often quite a plain field itself. But if you are in a phases of mature career and want a bigger (or radical) change, the question is – is it worth starting from scratch. Can a musician become a plane attendant? If I meet a musician for a consultation who wants to “forget it all” and become a plane attendant, I would be extremely interested to discuss the reality and the fantasy behind this. If I hear that the musician is just very tired and bored of the routine of working in the local orchestra, I would say “hold on and think”. What is driving the decision to change career radically? Fatigue and emotion is usually not the best drivers in this case. Nor is the unchecked fantasy – the job of plane attendant might not be just “traveling around the world and seeing sun above the clouds every day”. If musician still likes music and invested in it, perhaps he can start working with teaching? Maybe writing about music for journals or creating the programs for radio? Killing ones own professional capital diminishes your life experience. But if I hear that the times of live music is over (which hopefully will not happen :)) and the musician understands his job will be not existing soon, I would think that perhaps this is the decent strategy – not to stick to the past and start building a capability to recreate a career from “scratch”.
However, sometimes someone can consciously chose “plain field” strategy in career change as the most suitable to implement desired change. Just then one should be quite good in planning before – thinking how and where one will live when old house will be sold or knocked down and the new will be still just on the papers of architects.
Rebuilding strategy. In mid-careers we usually have “career houses” already. The ones that we have built, preserved and invested in. I think when considering a career change in the “mature career stage” this strategy should be the one to start thinking from. The preferable situation is to try to reuse the professional capital you already have. By “professional capital” I mean various things: competence, knowledge, reputation, social professional network. If you like the environment the house is in and it is not endangered – try to think how you want to rebuild your new house so that you preserve the corner stones of it and you “save acquired capital” to employ into something new. If during the career consultation I would find this option is possible, I would encourage thinking about it further. Of course it is not any-less easy – the difficult questions and decisions will be what to tackle, what to leave and what new elements to build, so that the same house looks different and changes its function. And hopefully improve. As having the experience of living in it, you know exactly which side your sitting room windows should face, so that you have the best view of the sun during afternoon chills.