Making decisions about changing careers or jobs is often very hard. We need to consider many important factors. But science can help us!
When contemplating a change in your professional life there are many ways of achieving your desired outcomes. These outcomes are usually what prompt your desire for change. For example, you may want to feel some passion for your work that you don’t right now. You might want to have more time to pursue hobbies or spend with loved ones. Maybe you simply want to spend your days doing something that is more (or less!) challenging than your current work.
However, the process of getting to those desired outcomes is usually less certain and linear than would be ideal. The unpredictability of a professional change can be unsettling if it’s executed in a haphazard or disorganized way. However, if you think of the change process in scientific terms, it may be help you achieve your desired outcomes. In other words, think about tackling a professional change much like a scientist would tackle an empirical question.
What scientists can teach us about career change decisions
Scientists use the experimental method (a.k.a. the scientific method). They come up with a hypothesis to explain something. Then they craft experiments to test their theory, and finally evaluate their theory in light of the data. Depending on the conclusions, there may be follow-up questions. These are then approached in the same experimental fashion as the original question.
Similarly, you might be wise to test your theory that a different job would help you achieve your desired outcomes (feeling differently, having more free time, etc.). These tests are rarely occur in the form of large, one-time changes. Rather, these tests are small side projects and weekend activities and volunteer events.
You may find yourself wondering if you could somehow find an opportunity for a more substantial position doing one of these activities (or working for one of the organizations or collaborating with someone you meet while doing these projects). If so, test out the possibility and evaluate the outcomes. Many times your initial experiment will only lead to more questions as you begin to explore a real possibility of a career change.
Shoot first, ask questions later
In her book on reinventing your career, Herminia Ibarra argues that career changes need not be confined to our traditional “reflect then act” mentality. Rather, she supports this notion of experimenting with many possibilities then reflecting on the changes. In other words, “act then reflect;” test out new alternatives and then evaluate their viability for you.
This mentality challenges the notion that there is one perfect job or position for you. Rather, it suggests that there are many possibilities to achieve your desired outcome at different points in your life. Thus, the experimental method can be used to test out and decide which career options would be best for you.
(Reposted with permission from http://www.drmelissaaiello.com/blog.html.)
Ibarra, Herminia (2003). Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
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