Creating a backup plan for a career pivot

Many people considering joining the Great Resignation are thinking about making a bigger shift than just changing where they work. A Catalyst-CNBC survey found that 50% of employees intend to make career changes due to the pandemic. A third of those surveyed are looking for a job in a new industry, while 22% plan to quit their job and start their own business.

The desire for change goes back to meaning and fulfillment, says Jenn Lim, author of Beyond Happiness: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose and People for Growth and Impact.

“We all had so much time to reflect on these things—how we’re going to spend the minutes of our day,” she says. “We’ve asked ourselves, ‘Is this how I want to spend my life?’ Those questions became more pressing. From a scientific standpoint, the most sustainable form of happiness is having a higher purpose. Doing something that’s bigger than ourselves.”

Before You Make a Change

While making a big leap can feel exciting, it’s smart to plan—how to make the change and what to do if it doesn’t work out.

“When you’re looking to make a career change, there are so many different fears that we go through, like the fear of failing, the fear of embarrassment, the fear of rejection,” says Kim Perell, author of Jump: Dare to Do What Scares You in Business and Life. “The pandemic has accelerated our desire to change, though. A lot of people want to jump into the next chapter of their lives and their careers, but they may not know how.”

Instead of changing for the sake of change, Perell says you need to know the underlying why. “Is it about the money? Is it about being in control over your future? Is it about making more time for your family?” she asks. “It’s important to spend time thinking about the real motive and not just a surface level change you want to make. If you can dig deep and lay a good foundation, it makes it easier to make the jump.”

Lim agrees. “Before you make a change, you need to do the work on yourself first,” she say. “Sometimes the reasons for making a shift seem obvious, like, ‘I’m being treated like crap,’ or ‘I’m not getting paid enough.’ Those are all important things, but those are extrinsic factors and not intrinsic to what’s most important for us.”

Take time to understand your values. “People often say, ‘Family is my most important priority,\’” says Lim. “When they start looking at how they spend their time, it doesn’t match up. That’s where the work comes in. What is actually most important to you? Draft a purpose statement. Then when you make choices, you don’t have to look back with regret because you can say, ‘That was based on who I am from the core.\’”

Then Create Your Plans

Once you know why you want to make a change, move forward by starting with the end in mind. “Good planning begins with the endpoint and is then built backwards,” says Perell. “Next, outline where you want to be in one year. A year is a good amount of time to make a significant change. Write a personal mission statement of where you want to be, and then identify the small milestones to create checkpoints along the way. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

It’s scary to make a change, but you can break it down into small steps, says Perell. “What’s the first hurdle you need to jump over?” she asks. “It’s really about creating those initial milestones and the first few steps you need to take in order to achieve your goal.”

While it’s important to go all in and commit to your shift, Lim recommends having more than one plan. For example, Plan A would be ideal circumstances where everything you can control has been thought through and aligns with your values.

“Plan B is when you’re acknowledging that most of the time, those things will not actually be ideal conditions won’t be ideal circumstances will happen that’s outside of your control,” she says. “Make Plans B, C, and D, especially right now when there’s still a lot of volatility and uncertainty in the world. Those plans help our happiness levels because then we won’t be destroyed if Plan A doesn’t work out. It’s a management of expectations, hoping for the best but also knowing the full gamut of what can go wrong or what can go another way.”

Sometimes you may find that Plan A isn’t what you thought it would be. “The grass is greener on the other side is human nature,” says Lim. “It’s become much more important to be able to ground yourself with who you are and what you want. The meaningful things are the intrinsic things.”

Perell calls a backup plan a success plan. “Ask yourself some of the questions about worst case scenarios,” she says. “The goal is to ensure you successfully land wherever it is that you want to be.
It can feel safer to stay where you are than jump into a new job or career path, but there’s no growth in the comfort zone.”