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Embracing the Psychological Journey of Career Change

19/02/2024 2024/02

Research shows that most people change careers at least once in their lifetime, and the average person makes their way through 3-7 career changes before retirement. While a shift can lead to a higher income and a greater sense of fulfillment, it can also change one’s psychological well-being, either for better or worse. If you are in the midst of a career change yourself, read on to discover how to protect your mental health in the initial stages of the big switch.

When the Change is Voluntary

Transitioning to a career that suits your values, wants, and needs more can be a powerful way to reduce work stress and burnout. Jeff Bezos, for instance, was doing well in his career in Computer Science on Wall Street, and he shone in various financial firms before dedicating himself to what he thought was a groundbreaking business idea: e-commerce and Amazon, which he launched at 31. Julia Child, meanwhile, worked in advertising and secret intelligence before publishing her first cookbook and launching her career as a chef. There are many instances of people who have made the shift because of a calling or a need to dedicate their lives to their true passion. In these cases, the shift has been for good, as it has enabled these and many more individuals to lead a life of greater authenticity.

What the Studies Say

Science backs the above statements, indicating that changes at many stages in life can have positive effects on one’s mental health. A study undertaken at California State University-San Bernardino found, for instance, that older jobseekers who embark on career changes often have positive emotional outlooks. This is especially true if they have financial resources to rely on during their career change and if they have financial support. Often, a career change involves further study. For instance, someone who has always been an employee who decides to become an entrepreneur will most likely need to complete a course in their chosen area of interest. This is especially true for those wishing to learn to launch agencies or fulfill other jobs that are reliant on technology. Today, technology is vital for streamlining operations and processes, conducting market research, and building an SEO-rich website. All these skills can be picked up easily through online or in-person courses, but individuals need the time and money required to pursue further degrees, diplomas, or certificates. Intentionality is also vital; those who actively seek change to pursue careers that satisfy their passion are more likely to enjoy psychological gains from the switch.

Dealing with an Involuntary Career Switch

Sometimes, career changes are involuntary. This may be the case if one’s role becomes “obsolete,” or if one cannot continue to work in a chosen field owing to health reasons (take the case of a hairdresser who is allergic to products and cannot continue to work in a salon). Or of a person whose company downsizes its staff or no longer has a need for the department they have formed part of for years. Those who are called upon to make a switch involuntarily may face negative feelings and sensations, including isolation, depression, and a sense of loss of control. Studies have shown that support from friends and family is a powerful motivation to move forward. So, too, is support from one’s current job and from institutions (for instance, receiving disability insurance if relevant, while one is seeking out a new job or apprenticeship). 

The Importance of Therapy

It is vital for those struggling during a period of transition to find support from a mental health professional. Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help reframe negative thoughts and emotions into positive ones and help keep you motivated during this challenging time. It can also help you concentrate on proactively pursuing strategies that can lead you to a much more lucrative and/or meaningful job than your current or previous job. Therapy can help you see this time of transition as a goldmine when it comes to aligning your purpose and passion. Holistic methods such as mindful meditation, nature walks, and physical activity, meanwhile, can all help boost “happy hormones” and curb stress-related symptoms that trigger anxiety and depression.

If you’re making a career change, then in the long run, it is cause for celebration. Finding a new purpose is challenging yet exciting. It allows you to tap into long-held ambitions or discover new talents and abilities. If you are struggling during this crucial time, seek professional help. Doing so can help keep you centered on preparing yourself for what could be the most exciting phase of your life.

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