5 Lessons I learned while making a career change
I am a rule follower. I did what I was told and followed a traditional path. I did well in school, went to university, did well there and went to grad school. I took a slight detour when I didn't pursue an academic career as a professor, but overall, I have been very predictable both in my career and my family life. This is probably because I'm very risk averse - I don't like debt and I need to have a plan or I start to feel panicky.
So it is a HUGE leap that I've decided to quit my very good job and take a risk and start my own consulting company. In some ways it's the worst possible time. I'm 34 years old. I have two young children, a one year old who just started daycare and is still at that stage where they get sick every week, and a 4 year old who just switched Kindergarten schools mid-year. My husband recently moved jobs to work closer to home, taking a significant pay cut.
But it was also time. For 6 years I loved my job, but then I got bored. It wasn't as fun and challenging, and the little problems bothered me, rather than feeling like opportunities. As my team grew from just me to managing 20 people, my role shifted, and I was spending so much time being an administrator, rather than doing the work I loved. Plus, I found out (by accident) that I was being significantly underpaid.
I loved what I did - I had essentially created a consulting team within a research department. I wanted to build the same thing somewhere else, ideally with less bureaucracy. I looked but couldn't find the right fit. People around me kept encouraging me to try it on my own - be an independent consultant. After a huge number of conversations with family and friends, deep soul searching, and a lot of research, I decided to take the risk - start my own consulting company.
I'm not good at asking for help. I'm not good at sharing deep fears. But this was a huge leap and I had no choice but to ask for help. The results were unbelievable.
I shared ideas and plans and people immediately started supporting me. They provided emotional support (related mostly to my fear that we would be broke). They made introductions and connected me to new people. They shared their experiences and offered advice - some of it incredible valuable. They even offered me jobs. The more honest, authentic, and vulnerable I got, the more honest and helpful people were.
The level support was inspiring and often unexpected, especially from colleagues, acquaintances, and people I barely knew.
I learned some really big lessons:
1) Put yourself out there. So many people want to help, but we just don't give them the opportunity.
2) Ask for advice and share your fears. On the really hard days, when I would complain rather than be open to new ideas and sharing how I was feeling, people were much less receptive - supportive sometimes, but not nearly as helpful.
4) A lot of women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s I talked to regretted not taking bigger career risks. I don’t want to look back and regret the same thing.
5) Pay in forward. I shared so much of what I learned with others and tried to inspire, encourage, and support other women and working mothers to figure out what they really wanted, what would make them really happy and to help them take steps forward in making that dream a reality.
Everyone is different and starting a consulting business is probably not the exact right answer for you, but do you know your next career move? Are you ready to take a leap? Don’t let fear stop you from even exploring the possibilities.