Fernando Narvaez, Esq
Steven Simon, Ph.D.
The journey of making a mid-career transition comes with various challenges. Many of these are obvious or clearly identifiable, such as “do I need further education or licensing etc.”? However, some may be completely hidden from our path and therefore, we become unaware that they even exist. In other words, we cannot acknowledge that which we don’t know.
Of these hidden challenges, none seems more elusive than the paradigm of ourselves. By the time we reach our mid-career phase, we have grown to see ourselves from one perspective only. “This is what I’ve always done.” “This is what I went to school for.” “I have never done anything else in my life!” These are the things we tell ourselves when we are trapped in the paradigm of ourselves. We simply cannot envision ourselves as something different. What we do has become who we are.
This means that when we are faced with the notion of changing our careers, it is not always enough to “see” what else is out there; or even to try to seek a new career or job based on such factors as skills, interests, and best-fit environment (as we advocate elsewhere using the intersection principle).
In order to overcome the paradigm of ourselves, we need to be able to visualize ourselves as being someone else and doing something different. We need to be able to shift the way we view ourselves. The challenge becomes greater as the transition we wish to make becomes farther removed from what we were doing before. For example, a career change from real estate broker to social worker requires a major paradigm shift because of the huge differences in the occupations and industries. On the other hand, change from a real estate agent to real estate broker involves a minor shift that fits within the expected career path of a real estate agent.
With the benefit of the information era, there is an abundance of sources that can bring ideas as to what else we can do given our experience and skills. However, for those trapped in the paradigm, being told what other careers exist or even going through a process of career assessment and exploration is not necessarily enough to shift the paradigm to incorporate who we would be in the new occupation.
Why does this happen? Because most of us who have invested years of education or on-the-job training, plus years and years of practice have solidified our concept of who we are. We have come to the point that we simply cannot envision ourselves as doing something else and therefore being someone else. Not only have we invested our time, money, and effort, but there is a natural fear of the unknown when presented with the notion of possibly starting over from square one.
This can be seen in career professionals such as attorneys, accountants, teachers, or doctors. Other examples can be seen in other skilled or semi-skilled careers such as truck drivers, who may not be able to see themselves doing something while sitting at a desk or in a job that does not involve driving. We have heard.... “but I’ve been driving a truck all my life, I don’t know how to do anything else.” However, it’s not just “I don’t know how to do anything else”. It’s also that “I can’t see myself as doing anything else”.
We have all heard a story of some former attorney that became a restaurant owner, or the doctor who started his own business, and so on. And while these may make interesting reading, most individuals have a hard time seeing themselves as something other than what their title is; and that mental block impedes their ability to explore other mid-career paths. There is a feeling that after spending many years getting through the required schooling, and being addressed by a certain title or in certain manner, suddenly it becomes impossible to be something other than Attorney Smith, or Doctor Jones.
So how does someone break free of the paradigm trap? Research suggests that how other people view you strongly influences how you ultimately view yourself. Thus, the extent to which you can test and present yourself in the new role can help with influencing your own self-paradigm.
How can this be approached? Let’s say you have been exploring what drove you to realize that your 15 year career as a software engineer is no longer who you want to be. You have worked with a career counselor, have assessed your best skills, including those that might transfer to other fields, as well as your interests, salary needs and so forth. One of your best new possibilities appears to be a career as a financial analyst. Doing this might involve some early sacrifices, which you are willing to make, but this occupation feels too foreign to you. It is simply not you!
Understanding the that you need to change your self-paradigm, the counselor suggests that you begin to engage in social tasks that expose you to this occupation. This accomplishes 2 purposes. First you will find out firsthand what a financial analyst does on a day to day basis and to some extent experience it. Second you will do this in the presence of others who will observe your engagement, give you feedback, and simultaneously see you in this role. This will give you the beginnings of what it will feel like to be a financial analyst.
Some specific tasks might include doing informational interviews followed by “shadowing”. Informational interviews involve discussions with those in the field to find out more about what they do, their challenges, opportunities, as well as positives and negatives of the occupation. Shadowing involves following around one or more financial analysts and maybe assisting with a few tasks, for a few days. These experiences can sometimes be arranged through your social media connections such as through LinkedIn.
For longer term experiences, volunteer (unpaid) work can be legally arranged in some settings, or paid internships can be explored. As these experiences are pursued, the new occupation starts to become more a part of the self-paradigm. On the other hand, things can go in the other direction and the new occupation can be rejected because it’s really not the right direction. Either one can be a good outcome.
Once an individual seeking a different path begins to see themselves as anything they want to be, it becomes easier to pursue other professions, open more doors and possibilities. But most importantly, it can provide a stronger drive, focus, and courage to take the necessary steps to make the change.
Attorney Fernando V. Narvaez has been representing individuals with disabilities seeking Social Security, Veterans, and Long-term disability benefits for over 13 years. He is licensed in Florida and Massachusetts. For more information, please visit www.attorneyfernando.com for a free consultation. There are no fees unless a claim is approved.
Steven Simon, Ph.D. provides help with career changes, finding new jobs, and other career dilemmas to those in various stages of their careers. Get a free copy of his latest ebook, The Ultimate Job Finding Solution: A Guide to Landing a Job in the Sweet Spot of Passion and Meaningfulness at amazon/kindle and other popular outlets. Also, look for his new book, Relaunch! Stagnation, Change, and Renewal in Mid-Career and Beyond, expected in late 2017.