Much has been written about today’s Millennial workers who enter their professional career expecting to change jobs and even professions multiple times throughout their working years. From this perspective, more than a few years in the same role feels like stagnation, or even punishment. The opportunity to make a drastic career change doesn’t feel so daunting if you expected to do it in the first place.
But, what if you’re not a Millennial who’s quite comfortable in an environment of rapid change? What if, like me, you looked to your professional career as a safe harbor of stability rather than a multi-chaptered book of adventure? When an opportunity to change presents itself, even the most promising chance of a great outcome can feel like a Thelma & Louise moment. How can a person with this mindset navigate the fears and uncertainties in order to embrace the adventure of change?
Five and a half years ago, I faced just such a moment. I was happily working as a criminal prosecutor — the only career I had ever wanted. I had been at it for over a decade, during which time I had achieved a level of mastery that comes from a lot of “live-fire” experience. Whether it was in the courtroom with a jury, in a conference room with a witness, or in my office with law enforcement investigators, I knew the rules of the game, the lay of the foul lines and the unique angles of the outfield wall. In short, I enjoyed the confidence of being an expert at doing my job.
On top of that, I LOVED my job. As I explained on the TEDxDayton stage, my role as a prosecutor was more than a good job or even a fulfilling mission for me (thought it was certainly that!) — it was an identity that defined me as a person. As a result, changing careers was quite literally the furthest thing from my mind as the calendar flipped to 2012.
Then, one February morning, my court-reporter friend came up to me after court with surprising news: she had a friend who wanted to talk to me about working for him at a large, private sector corporation. Opportunity had come into my comfort zone and knocked … and I laughed. Literally.
“Why?” I asked. “Do they prosecute crime? Because that’s what I do.” The thought of making a radical career change in my late 30’s seemed absurd to me. Yet, after two months and nearly a dozen meetings, a radical career change is exactly what I ended up doing.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Believe it or not, the chance to make more money was not why I agreed to leave the comfort of my expertise behind and venture into a totally foreign world of executive business management. In fact, during the two months that I weighed the prospect of making this move, I didn’t know what the new position paid. Frankly, I never asked. I didn’t want to know. If I was going to seriously consider changing my career plan, I wanted to do so free from the distorting effect that comes with the allure of a higher income. I had already found what Jim Collins recently described during his appearance on The Learning Leader Show as my “personal hedgehog:” the intersection of that for which I was passionate about, wired for and capable of earning a living with. I loved my job, I was good at my job, and I was perfectly happy with what I was paid for doing my job. This was not something to risk merely for some extra coins in my pocket, especially to enter a new field with no guarantee that I would enjoy it or even be any good at it.