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You want to leave academia or your high-powered job.

You’ve hit a glass ceiling and see no other way to progress without sacrificing your core values.

You’ve realized the system is not one you can hold up any longer.

It’s exhausting!

But it’s important that you don’t react but respond consciously with intention and a specific strategy.

There are many barriers you might face in this process, however.

  • You might look for a side-gig.
  • You might wait to get tenured or secure good funds to make the change.
  • You might look to get more certificates or degrees.
  • You might create many resumes to match all of your skills so you can apply widely.

How is that working? I’ve been there; I’ve done ¾ of those!

But why do you believe these things?

What is your seeking to complete more degrees serving? Get curious and ask yourself whether you are seeking qualifications and certificates.

Here are some common reasons. I have curated these since they are important to our needs as humans: to feel safe in certainty and avoid uncertainty, to have variety in our lives, to be significant and to be recognized and valued by others, to have meaningful connections or to belong, to experience growth, and to have an impact or contribution.

Let’s take the one example about pursuing many more degrees…

Safety and certainty – A degree or certificate makes it crystal clear what kind of job and keywords you’ll be seeking next. There is a certainty and safety in that kind of thinking.

“If I have a certificate in Project Management, then I’ll apply to project management jobs”

If that’s exactly where you want to be, then great, but ask yourself 1) do you need a degree or do you have demonstrated experience already 2) can you explore more widely to see what kind of skills you have and who needs them in their organization 3) is this a conscious choice?

You need to leave your comfort zone to do something new!

Variety – Pursuing another degree takes changing structures in your life to accommodate your participation in activities and lessons. So, you get some needs for variety met.

Making a commitment to change through seeking another degree or qualification is an important step to making a successful pivot in your career.

However, if you are continually seeking many more degrees, could it be a cop-out at that point? A distraction from putting yourself out there to apply for jobs? A delay tactic?

Sometimes success in something you know how to do well in (e.g., schoolwork) can itself be a prison!

This brings us to the next one…

Significance – Pursuing another degree could be making you feel good about yourself by engaging your mind, positioning yourself as qualified or an expert in a field by the PROCLAMATION of a certificate.

Ask yourself why you might feel like an imposter.

Connection – Pursuing degrees could be facilitating networking and connection, as you might be joining other people doing the same. You are then connected by shared journeys.

Ask yourself how else you could make connections with people, because feeling connection could be holding you back from making a shift… especially if you keep pursuing degrees.

At some point you need to make a conscious decision to embody a new identity – the one who takes action to a new career.

Growth – We did advanced studies because we love growing, challenging ourselves and learning. Pursuing degrees may be satisfying your need to grow and challenge yourself.

But do ask yourself if it’s getting you to your career goals. Write down where you want to be in a years’ time?

Reverse-engineer the trajectory to get to that benchmark. What do you have to do next week for that to happen? What are the goals for this month? Break the benchmark process down by month.

Contribution – Our values are connected to the contribution we’d like to make in the world, having a legacy that we might leave behind. Oftentimes, we need to leave our ego behind in order to contribute to society, since it’s a gift we are providing.

To do this, you need to be unstuck in all areas above! Contribution is the cherry on top and it’s propelled by the other areas of need.

It’s the ultimate key for fulfillment. Those of you seeking fulfillment, then need to adhere to these mechanisms.

I’m not saying that a degree can’t be an important first step, but I just want you to get curious and have that weekly board meeting with yourself and plan and strategize your way out.

Speak to people about their journeys, especially people who have already made the pivot to where you want to be. Build connections with those already in the business, as there is a timeline where you’ve already joined them!

Now, we can do the same with the other things that we might be pursuing instead of jumping into a new career.

Pursuing a side-gig.

Safety/ Certainty – We keep one leg in the perceived safety of our old career while pursuing a side-gig. Our mindset is that this side-gig could fail. However, our “safe” career could fail or make us redundant. I didn’t think that could happen to me but it did.

Recognize and accept that in order to do something new, you might feel discomfort, embarrassment, judgement, and fear. These are normal ways that your brain alerts you to possible risks when something is new.

Anticipate those feelings and acknowledge them but you don’t need to react, you can respond.

Life might feel safe in a cage but there is a whole world to explore outside the cage!

Also, a side-gig is likely to fail if it’s not nourished: dividing your time risks that happening.

Variety – A side-gig does keep things interesting!

The important thing is to listen to your body. Does the side-gig bring you more joy and fulfillment than the seemingly safe career? Then ask yourself why it can’t be your main job.

If it’s about money, then make a 12 month plan and put benchmarks in place to make it happen. Otherwise, you might find the variety too much that you start to burn out.

Significance – boy oh boy, did I feel significant doing work on my side-gig, helping families and young people to access education and work. It was meaningful and fulfilling work with a purpose. So, pursuing a side-gig can be a learning experience – you might find what your values are through experimenting with starting side-gigs.

So, do use a side-gig to experiment and explore and to discover what you enjoy.

I would just gently invite you to explore your feelings, while engaging in the work. What thoughts and feelings are stopping you from jumping in, once you find a side-gig you like?

Connection – The connections you make through a side-gig are highly important because doors may be opened through them.

So, do use a side-gig to build connections and through these new relationships, you may even be able to heal your self-worth and create a new identity.

Also, I would invite you to consider that these new connections do not mean you need to abandon your old connections. Sometimes, you can create something entirely new that combines expertise across the old and the new!

So, you don’t have to *leave* academia when you quit the job.

Growth – There is an acceleration of growth that happens when you pursue a side-gig. Maybe you learn marketing skills, networking skills, fundraising, project management, etc.

This is great and challenging!

Just as with degrees, once you have some experience built up, be sure to keep the momentum going and start to tell the people in the side-gig that you want to shift. They can be an important gateway to other jobs and key networks.

Take action:

Get inspired, by listening to your values and your story.

Activate the final part of BOLD (Breathe, Observe, Listen, Decide) by deciding to take action that is aligned with those values.

Pursue your purpose by seeking to reinvent yourself, communicating your sense of purpose.

Create fulfillment by consciously choosing each day to seek out fulfilling work.

How empowering is it to say YES! Rather than waiting for tenure, waiting for a side-gig to look profitable and risk-free, waiting to complete a degree.

Instead of being frozen by fear, embarrassment, risk and the ensuing discomfort, you can say an enthusiastic “yes” to experiencing discomfort so you can have a meaningful career and life!

Feel the fear but do the thing you know will bring you value anyway!

The important ways to ensure your pivot is successful:

1. Purpose – identify what you care about

2. Pinpoint a direction

3. Prioritize and strategize with short- and long-term plans and benchmarks

4. Persist in making small steps

5. Power-up your networks by communicating your intentions

6. Persevere in the face of risks

And enjoy the new you!

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