My career has not followed a linear path. After two weeks of medical school, I left to instead pursue a marketing career, walking away from years of educational investment. A few years later, I moved from San Francisco to London, creating another detour in my career. Then, after ten years in the corporate world, I left my marketing career behind to launch my own business, forcing me to rebuild my professional identity from scratch as a career consultant, professional speaker and podcast host.
During each of these transitions, aside from the practical challenges that inevitably come up when you’re making a career change, my own mental hang-ups became some of the biggest obstacles to making the very changes that could improve my life and career.
Here are four beliefs I had to drop in order to step off the beaten path of a traditional, linear career and find work that I found truly meaningful.
Belief #1: “I have to finish what I started.”
During those times in my career when I was about to land that next promotion, secure that upcoming end-of-year bonus or finish up an exciting project, I found it much more difficult to walk away and pursue another professional endeavor. When you’re only a few months away from crossing a major milestone, dropping everything you’ve invested to get that far is very difficult.
One reason why corporate incentives exist is to keep you loyal to your company. That means if you leave your role behind, you’ll inevitably leave something on the table that you worked hard to achieve. Accepting that you have to let go of what you started allows you to make room for other endeavors.
Belief #2: “Starting over equals failure.”
The career changes I’ve made in my life have involved some degree of starting over. Whether learning the ropes in a new sector, restarting my life in a new country or figuring out how to build my own business. Starting over has sometimes left me feeling a bit like a “failure” in my career, like I wasn’t tough enough to stick things out or finish what I started.
However, starting over is often necessary to pursue a new path in your career. But seeing it as a failure will inevitably shake your self-confidence at a time when you need it most. Accepting that starting over is often the best thing you can do for your career will help you unapologetically market yourself and your ambitions to your new target employer.
Belief #3: “I need to stay on track with my peer group.”
As much as I try to avoid comparing myself to others, it’s hard to completely ignore the movements of others in your peer group, especially those status updates that come through on LinkedIn whenever someone gets promoted or lands a fancy new job. When I first started my own business, I had NO title, so seeing my former colleagues being promoted into those senior roles I was once aspiring to land was sometimes difficult to stomach, even though I knew deep down that their success was completely unrelated to my own unique professional journey.
When you change careers, you end up being a more non-traditional professional, so you have to find a way to stop measuring your self-worth using traditional metrics like fancy job titles or climbing the corporate ladder. Once you understand that your career happiness is driven more by the work you do rather than by the titles you earn, it frees you to pursue work that truly matters to you.
Belief #4: “My salary must always go up.”
While money has rarely been the number one factor that’s driven my career decisions, seeing my salary take a hit has always been far from ideal. Many of the career changes I’ve made have involved some sort of short-term salary sacrifice. For example, when I started my own business, I earned much less than I did in the corporate world during that first year of building my business.
One of the most common fears I hear from career changers is having to compromise on salary in order to pursue a new career path. On the one hand, seeing your salary continually go up is a validation that what you’re doing is “worth it,” but on the other, it can trap you in one linear career path in order to avoid seeing your salary dip. However, if you’re willing to make a few lifestyle changes and temporary sacrifices to your salary, that can become the exact investment needed to open the doors to doing work that ultimately makes you happier.
Joseph Liu is a professional speaker, podcast host and career consultant.