Leaving your job or embarking on a career change can be a daunting endeavor. Many professionals who find themselves unhappy in their current careers often express sentiments like, “I’ve invested 5 (or 10 or 20) years into this. I don’t want to discard all that time by starting anew.” This is a valid concern, and it’s an apprehension that resonates with many.
I can personally relate to these feelings of apprehension, having transitioned from a career in patent litigation at a major law firm to running my own small business as a time management strategist. On the surface, this shift might appear to be a dramatic departure and a potential waste of a costly education. However, the truth is that my legal background continues to shape and inform everything I do in my current business, and I’m now much happier.
I encourage you not to allow the investments you’ve made in the past to deter you from pivoting into a new role that may bring you far greater satisfaction—especially because these past investments in education and career are valuable assets that can still serve you. Leaving your current path does not render these investments meaningless.
Your past experiences, education, and skills are integral to your credibility and represent a competitive advantage. To be deemed a waste, something must offer no benefit whatsoever. If your previous experiences, educational background, or skill sets have played a role in shaping your character, your approach to challenges, or have been applied in any capacity, they were pivotal components of your career journey. These elements will continue to serve you, even if you don’t yet fully comprehend how.
What you’ve learned in your current role endows you with a unique perspective that can evolve into a superpower in your future role or business, even if it’s entirely distinct. In fact, it’s often the pivots that seem unrelated that provide the most substantial edge.
For instance, consider the case of Huda Kattan, who initially pursued a career in finance before making the transition to become a beauty blogger. As she nurtured and expanded her business, her financial background proved to be an invaluable asset in building a beauty brand that is now valued at $1.25 billion. Imagine what might have occurred had Kattan chosen to play it safe and remain in her finance career. Rather than embracing her creative instincts, she could have been held back by the fear of squandering her prior experience, education, and the effort she had invested. Instead, she followed her passion and leveraged her finance background as a unique competitive edge.
Changing careers or roles does not equate to time lost. It signifies the accumulation of the skills necessary for success in your next adventure. The beauty of this process is that these skills can often translate in unexpected ways when you pivot, frequently enabling you to stand out from the crowd of individuals pursuing similar paths. This distinctiveness becomes your competitive edge.
My own legal background and experience in a major law firm have proven instrumental in my time management business. My legal background enhances my credibility and fosters trust among professional women when I impart time management lessons. It’s one thing to teach time management strategies, but it carries greater weight when I can say, “This time management method helped me overcome overwhelm and establish boundaries as a patent litigator in a major law firm.” I comprehend the pressures and pain points in a manner that someone who has exclusively worked in the entrepreneurial sphere might not. This is the unique edge I bring to the field.
Furthermore, my legal background has provided me with the invaluable trait of clarity regarding the kind of business I wish to build. When I embarked on my journey as an entrepreneur, it was non-negotiable for me to maintain control over my working hours and harmonize my work with raising my two young children. I was consistently mindful of the time I was committing to with each decision. This awareness helps me rein in my propensity for chasing shiny objects—a common challenge for business owners—and keeps me focused on my ultimate goal: building a profitable, fulfilling business that aligns with my life.
If my legal background can serve me in a niche business like time management, then your background will similarly be an asset in whatever you choose to pursue. You may not yet comprehend how it will serve you, but be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.
When contemplating a career change, avoid fixating on the past and the investments you’ve made. Instead, focus on the future. Consider how much time you have left in your working life—perhaps another 20 or 30 years. If you’ve been unhappy for the past 10 years, why condemn yourself to another 20-30 years of unhappiness merely due to your prior investments?
Making a career change inevitably involves a sunk cost component—you’ve already devoted time and resources, and that cannot be reclaimed. This is a factor that remains irrespective of whether you decide to persevere in your current role or pivot. Therefore, why not prioritize your future happiness? What if those previous experiences were a crucial part of your journey, leading you precisely to the pivot that will yield the most rewarding life? What if there was no alternative path to reach your desired future other than the one you’ve traversed?
Sometimes, a career pivot represents a shift in roles within the same field, while at other times, it may entail leaving a job for an entirely different career. In either scenario, opt for the choice that feels expansive, one that doesn’t imprison you. Nobody aspires to merely exist until retirement, especially when there’s no guarantee of reaching that point.
Don’t let your past deter you from leaving a job that doesn’t bring you joy in favor of a future endeavor that could offer you immense happiness and fulfillment.