Why You Probably Need to Make a Career Pivot

You should probably quit or change your job.

Because there may be an 87% chance that you're in the wrong job, that you're in a job which doesn't excite you. Research by Gallup shows that only 13% of employees, globally, are engaged in their work, are motivated, and are passionate about their jobs. In the US the situation is better, (but not great), with about 32% feeling engaged, while here in Japan, the situation is even worse, with only 9% feeling fully engaged in their jobs.

As a business professional, you're good at your job, you're skilled and experienced, you produce value for others. But if you're one of those 87%, you're also unmotivated, lacking passion, and are not performing and contributing as well as you could. And that low engagement can also lead to depression and health problems.

Now probably when you began your job, you were excited, you did have passion, you were ready to change the world.  You were like a Clumsy Cheerleader, you had high passion and energy, but low skill. You began your career on the top left of this matrix I created in 2013 to help me visualize my career.

Over time you got better at your job, your skill did improve, you gained experience and ability. 

But what do you think happened to that original passion? Did it stay so high? Probably not.

Hay Group's data on millions of employees shows that most of us are highly motivated and engaged when we start a job, but after 2 - 5 years on the job our engagement bottoms out, never to regain that initial peak. 

We end up in careers where we're skilled but under a grey cloud. For 87% of us, we end up at the bottom right of the matrix. Low Passion, High Skill. We're creating value for others, but are not very engaged or happy.

So you need to decide, do I stay in a job where I'm unmotivated, or do I take control of my career and move on?

Where do you want to be on this matrix? You want to be at the top right, you want to be in the Sunshine Spot.

High Passion + High Skill =

Value created for others + Satisfaction for you

We all want a career that puts us in that Sunshine Spot, that lets us shine and create value for others while doing something we are passionate about! That's where we all want to be as professionals. I'm pretty sure none of us wants to be at the bottom left...

So now we know the destination, how do we get there? 

You need to pivot into a new career, driven by your passion.  Make a career pivot into a new direction. Leave the old job behind. You need to pivot, but do it strategically. 

This pivot could be into a new role in your current organization, moving to a new company, changing your role or the industry you work in, or launching your own business. Use this matrix to map out your career pivot.

You have two paths to the Sunshine Spot. The obvious one is to just move upwards from the Low Passion and High Skill quadrant. You could take your current skills and somehow "get passion" to move your career into the sunshine. You would need to find or re-discover passion at your current job, or a similar one, and make your career move that way. Regaining your passion for your current job is possible, though maybe easier said than done. 

But there is another path, a less obvious one.

Pivot Around Your Passion (but remember passion alone won't pay the bills)

To truly pivot, and to make sure that you are moving into a career for which you have Passion, you need to get back to the top left of the matrix. You need to rediscover your Passion, you need to get back in touch with what excites you and motivates you, you need to get connected with that Clumsy Cheerleader mindset. Map out your career pivot starting from that Clumsy Cheerleader. Identify your passion, and plot your career pivot from the top left quadrant.

And remember that Passion isn't enough. It's very hard to create value for others with High Passion but Low Skill. It's dangerous to plan a career around that. Your passion may be to become a yoga teacher, but don’t give up that financial planner job just yet…

To move into a career that puts you in that Sunshine Spot, you also need High Skill. You may already have the skills, but if you're making a radical career pivot you may need to gain new skills or improve through education, new networks, new experiences.  

Your Skill, your experience, your accumulated career capital, plus your Passion, is what will pay the bills. That shows your value to others. That creates value for others. That is what should guide you to a career which engages you and give you career satisfaction.

Start Mapping Now

This idea is not just an academic exercise. I've done it.

In 2011 I was working in Toronto doing business development and managing external relations for a research lab of the Canadian Department of National Defence. Now, I live in Tokyo leading global HR projects at a Japanese multinational, and teach part-time at GLOBIS. That radical career pivot took me two years to accomplish, by enrolling in the GLOBIS MBA program after I identified my passion, then using the networks and skills I developed to land two new careers.

What’s holding you back?

In Part 2 of this article, I’ll share the steps you need to take to make that pivot. If you have some time free, please watch the TEDx talk I gave on this topic.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on LinkedIn in 2015.

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