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Changing course: how to steer your career in a new direction

Falling out of love with your career? Perhaps it’s time for an about-face.

The source of a career emergency can take many forms, from boredom and burnout to sector and economic turmoil, an unexpected redundancy or simply a desire to find a more fulfilling professional fit.

Whatever the reason, you’re not alone. Recent history is awash with examples to demonstrate that a first choice may not always be the right choice.

Andrea Bocelli practiced law until he was 34, when he turned to opera. Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter before being cast as Star Wars hero Han Solo. Before training to become a priest, Pope Francis was a chemical technician. And, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spent her early career as a research scientist.

Changing course midway through your career can appear daunting. But it’s never too late to begin again. You just need to be prepared. It requires a combination of forward planning and a willingness to take a leap of faith, says Mike Linton who, after 25 years as an engineer, decided to become a teacher.

“You’re not only leaving the security of what you’ve got, you’re jumping into something completely new,” he says. To prepare for the change, Linton and his partner had serious discussions about finances, specifically how to ensure they could survive on one income while Linton completed his studies.

It’s never too late to begin again.You just need to be prepared.


Lifestyle sacrifices have been made, but Linton is optimistic about his future. He doesn’t underestimate the challenges ahead and admits he wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the job and the steep learning curve.

“Teaching is very information intense, and you have to learn to relate, manage, inspire and educate young people who have their own unique qualities.”

Like many career changers, Linton has transferrable skills that he’ll be applying or modifying in his new role teaching secondary science and maths. Personal experience in technical and project management roles for the telecommunications and healthcare sectors will inform what he discusses with students and the way work is structured.

“Rather than presenting an abstract problem, I can make it relate to something concrete,” says Linton.

Flexible mindset

Everyone’s career path is different, and those seeking change don’t always know which way to go. Sometimes the impetus can be serendipitous. But finding the right path can also take time and, where possible, a period of reflection can clear the mind.

Take lawyer-turned-career coach Penny Robson. It wasn’t until she found herself in an exit interview at the law firm she was leaving that she considered what might lie ahead. “As the psychologist was interviewing me I thought, ‘God, I’d love her job’,” says Robson.

Although she didn’t immediately make the leap. Instead she did “lots of yoga” and went back to university, taking courses in English literature and Introduction to Psychology.

“When I left law, I didn’t know where I was going to go and I really needed that space,” she says. “Many people do because they’re so burnt out.”

Having time to regroup gave Robson the head space she needed to challenge her own self-limiting beliefs and get to a point where she realised she had what it takes to use her legal experience in a new way.

After completing a Masters in Coaching Psychology, Robson started her own practice. She says that, while her clients seem to have an innate idea of what they really want to do, many tend to play it safe.

She’s developed a process to break that mindset, encouraging storytelling to expose strengths and weaknesses, and what really matters to people. “I map it all out and that’s when possibilities emerge,” says Robson.

“Once people have a strong vision of where they want to go, they get quite excited. That’s when I ask: What’s stopping you going for something that you’d really like to do? Let’s go for fantastic!

“And remember, small changes can lead to big changes down the line, so don’t let fear hold you back,” Robson says.