Career Change at 25: The Untold Story

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2019 Guide for Young Professionals Making a Career Change at 25

How do you know whether you’re on the right career track?

Much like going on a first date, you can quickly tell whether things are clicking or not. If there’s no tug to dive deeper into your field and you’re not having fun or enjoy doing it in your free time, you’re likely on the wrong road. Working harder won’t transform your core nature or your interests. Sure, you can learn whatever you set your sights on but that’s probably what got you here in the first place.

It’s a little known fact that two-thirds of college grads studied a field that doesn’t fit their natural talents. Many jump into grad school hoping this will fix the problem, a road most traveled by 20-something college grads. I’ve met hundreds of newly minted lawyers and MBA’s who discovered soon after an expensive graduate education that they aren’t cut out for their “second” career choice either.

Here are some things to think about before you launch a career change at 25 or so . . .

career change at 25

Six Things For Young Professionals To Consider Before Switching Careers at 25 (27 and 28 too) 

1. Small Job Hops Rarely Solve It. Before you take the leap, figure out whether you’re in the wrong career field or in the wrong job (or role) within the right field. The reason that switching careers at 25 is less common than switching careers at 30 is the hope that things might still work out with the initial career choice. Most young professionals make several job hops within their college major area hoping to find a better fit. For instance, lots of business majors will bounce from one company to the next wearing the accounting hat and eventually come to a moment of truth: “Not only do I hate accounting, I don’t like anything to do with business administration!”

If you’re not cut out for the career path that your teenage-self “thought” you wanted, it won’t matter where you go; you won’t find your talent sweet spot by job hopping to different companies within the wrong field.

2. Your Natural Talents Are a Better Compass Than Your Interests. A smart way to begin switching careers is by knowing what makes you tick, biologically speaking. Your natural talents are propensities or “potentials” for what you’re good at and are what attract you to like certain activities and subject areas more than others. Your innate talents create a leaning or appetite for certain activities and underly “why you like what you like.”

Your gifts and abilities are like an internal compass that help you to navigate and narrow the career world down to the stuff that comes naturally. The most common reason that we loose interest in our career path is when we a pursue a field of study that seems interesting at first glance but isn’t rooted in our natural talents.  

3. Choose Carefully, Don’t Marry A Blind Date. You’re not alone in being unsure of your direction, the majority of college educated professionals are in your shoes. It’s nearly impossible not to make quick and dirty career decisions in our early 20s, our higher education system is nudging us to unwittingly guess our future. There is no formal process, we’re expected to wing it. Most mid-career professionals laugh about this, recalling that their younger never got around to doing the careful work of “choosing” a career. One young scientist put it this way, “I got caught up in the romance of it all and essentially married a blind date, and now I have to get up every morning and face a job that I don’t love.”

Your mid-twenties are a very good time to “decide to choose.” If you wait for happenstance to steer your life, things will indeed happen  . . . but your chances of getting what you really want are much better when you’re more intentional about it.  

4. Deferring to Your Future Self Doesn’t Work. You may be counting on your future “30-year-old-self” to figure this all out. This widespread, mysterious career choice problem is too complex to work itself out, you have to grab the bull by the horns. We often set our 30th birthday as a landmark for gauging our accomplishments. I work with a lot of 28 year-olds who are feeling a bit panicked, they had hoped to have their life all figured out and be well on the road to success. Let me bust your bubble. Many people in their early to mid- 30s feel exactly the way you do right now.

Another untold story: most of my 40- and 50-something clients privately reveal that they still haven’t figured out what they really want to do with their life. Uh-hum, these are your grumpy managers in the workplace, and possibly your parents. The best way forward is to design your future.

5. Your Caveman May Hoodwink You. A little too worried about money, status or success? Those things are cool to have but they are mainly evolutionary hangovers that your primal brain uses to hoodwink you into attracting the best possible mate. For many guys and gals, high-paying careers are essentially the human equivalent of a colorful peacock tail. That’s Mother Nature’s plan, she doesn’t care at all how happy you are over the long run. The happiness you gain from these tribal signals isn’t negligible, social status is essentially a “story” that we choose to form our identity. This is not a bad thing, we all have some ego. However, although you may be proud of the social standing your credentials bring, there’s a hidden problem here that you won’t realize until you have to get up and go to work everyday to do something you don’t care a hoot about.

Hundreds of unhappy young doctors and lawyers have told me that their social prestige makes them feel torn, they really like their success story, but this isn’t enough to overcome their mind-numbing, visceral experience of constant boredom and emotional pain caused by a natural talent mismatch with the majority of their daily job tasks. 

Try this: concentrate on figuring out what you’ll enjoy developing a mastery in, moment by moment, throughout the day. Choose the experience of “doing” the actual work and play down your prestige story. Aim for being a natural at what you do, and then choose a problem to solve that you consider meaningful.

Go for this powerful combination: engaging your natural talents + purpose that moves you to make a difference + workplace culture that puts you in your natural element = you are a badass.  

6. Think Twice Before You Go to Grad School. Postpone going to grad school until you really, really know why. No kidding, most people are making the same mistake twice and end up with two degrees that don’t fit who they are. Collecting credentials has become an arms race, grad schools are packed with 20-somethings who are betting that their ticket to a great career is a sexy master’s degree. The majority of my clients find me after they have attained an advanced degree, asking, “How did I screw this up so bad, twice?

More importantly, classroom situations rarely expose you to the realities of daily life in a career field. Lots of people love learning a subject but that rarely guarantees a talent fit with the actual job. Learn from the wisdom and mistakes of all the unhappy doctors, lawyers and business executives who landed in the future they thought they wanted, and then had to face the consequences unforeseen by blindly trusting the tribal success norm that “more credentials are always better.” Find out for yourself, talk to a few.

Going back to school rarely solves the problem of a bad career fit. If you don’t know what you’re best at, grad school is way too expensive to use as a test-drive.

Learn how to uncover your potential and career direction:

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ~Abraham Lincoln

Anthony Spadafore of Pathfinders specializes in helping young professionals with designing, choosing, and switching careers. He is the coauthor of Now What?, a top-selling career change book for changing your career at 25.

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