Three Steps to Make a Career Pivot

Most of us, as professionals, want to have a career where we're doing something we're good at, we're happy at, and where we create value for others. But maybe you're like many people, and your current job doesn’t excite you anymore. It doesn't motivate you like it used to and you're ready to make a change. You're thinking about a career pivot, about changing the trajectory of your professional career.

You want to be in what I call the Sunshine Spot of High Passion, High Skill, which I described in my previous article. Landing there is the goal of a career pivot.

Most of us want to be in that Sunshine Spot, but many are stuck in a role where we have High Skill, but Low Passion, like a “Grey Bureaucrat”. We want to make that pivot from the bottom right to the top right, into the sunshine. 

In this article, I’ll share how to get there. To make such a career pivot, it takes three steps.

1. Get Self-reflective
2. Stretch Yourself
3. Make Your Own Luck

These are the steps I took to successfully make such a pivot, from a career managing business development at a defense research center in Toronto, to my current leading global HR initiatives at the HQ of a Japanese multinational and teaching at GLOBIS. That’s a reasonably radical pivot! 

These steps describe my pivot, they describe the career pivots of others, and they can help you guide your career pivot. Let’s look at each. 

Step 1 – Get Self-reflective

A satisfying career requires Passion and Skill, and to pivot you may need to re-connect with what you are passionate about. 

To be clear, asking "What are you passionate about?" is quite a different question from "What's your passion?

Ask someone what's their passion and they might say "To become a yoga teacher", "To launch a startup", "To write a book." These are jobs, or goals. These are not that same as "What are you passionate about?" To answer that question, you need to dig much, much deeper, and identify the core values that excite you, motivate you, and give you passion. The core values that will keep motivating you through the ups and downs after you change careers or launch a startup.

So to answer that question, get reflective, get into your own head and your own past. Look back over your life, your career, your education, your hobbies. In all that time, what things excited you, made you feel passionate? Look for patterns and commonalities among all those things. Connect the dots.  That should give you insights into what you are passionate about.

And don't just do this alone. Talk to your friends and family. Ask them what gives you energy when you talk about it, what makes your eyes sparkle and energizes you so much that you can make other people’s eyes sparkle! That is a huge clue to what you are passionate about, what it is that can engage, charm, or inspire others. That shows where your passion can create value for others, that is where you can be a leader. 

At GLOBIS, all MBA students are required to do something similar before they can graduate, by identifying their Personal Mission over the course of their studies. They are supported in this journey by faculty, fellow students, co-workers, friends, and family.

Figure out what puts you in the top row of that matrix. Re-connect with your “Clumsy Cheerleader” (High Passion, Low Skill) at top left.

You may discover that while your passion may be “To launch a startup”, what you are actually passionate about is creating things, and launching a startup is only one possible way of doing that. That deeper, core motivation about what you are passionate about is necessary to help identify where to pivot to, and identify jobs or careers to help you realize that passion.

A startup may be one way to express what you are passionate about, but it may not be the only way. The key at Step 1 is to see where your passion could take you. Maybe you can find ways to express this passion at your current job.

And remember to identify a career that you can make a good living at. Passion is great, but passion alone won’t pay the bills!

Step 2 - Stretch Yourself

So take stock of your skills. What are you already good at, and what are your gaps? Think about what you need to do to bridge those gaps. Create a plan to help you get there – how, by when, and who can support you?

Then stretch yourself to bridge those gaps. Get out of your comfort zone.

There are only a few ways to bridge any skills gaps. You need to learn, or to practice, and ideally do both. 

Learning is the more obvious path. Go back to school, get an MBA like I did, take some courses, be mentored.

Then you must practice, get better and better at something by doing it, over and over. Mastery should be your goal, mastery of the new skills to bridge the gap to that Sunshine Spot.

And starting your pivot from zero is not a good idea! We need to leverage our existing skills, build off your existing career capital.  

Build off the skills and expertise you’ve already gathered, especially those “portable skills”, those skills which are transferable and useful to any potential employer are critical to a pivot.

Networks, old and new, are vital. Leverage your existing reputation and networks. And as you build those skills, you need to be building new networks, relevant to the career you are pivoting into. New networks will provide you with new perspectives, new mentors, new business partners, and, potentially, your future employer or customers. These networks will help you later, in the third step.

This second step may take some time, but once you feel like you’ve bridged those gaps, you’re ready for the final step.

Step 3 – Make Your Own Luck

You’ve identified what you’re passionate about, you’ve upped your game by learning new skills and building new networks, you’ve identified the role which you want to pivot into. Now it’s time to put all that preparation into action. Time to make the pivot.

How?

Make your own luck.

Take control.

"Control your own destiny or someone else will."
- Jack Welch

Make opportunities to get noticed. Leverage that network you developed in Step 2. Use your network to proactively go out and use those connections to help you land that new role, or to introduce you to the people who can make your pivot happen. 

Then show them what you’ve got. Find opportunities to showcase yourself, to demonstrate what you’re capable of. Don’t rely on mailing out CVs, take control.

Work pro bono. Give talks and seminars. Volunteer. Raise your hand. Find every opportunity you can to showcase your abilities to your future employers or customers. They’ll come to you.

Don’t be passive, don’t wait for luck to find you. Make your own luck.

Pivot Soon 

These three steps will help you begin thinking about how to plan your pivot. Most of the work is up to you.

Keep in mind this is not something that happens overnight, it can take time. It took me about 2 years to make my pivot happen.

So, start now! Spring has just begun, it’s a time of renewal, so make it count by pivoting your career into the Sunshine.

It’s never too late to pivot.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on LinkedIn in 2016. To learn more, please watch the TEDx talk I gave on this topic in 2015 at Kyoto University. Photo by Ian Schneider.

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