Do you desire to make a substantial career shift but find yourself paralyzed with inaction? Does the risk seem too big to surmount? You doubt your courage and fret over lost opportunities.
The German philosopher Goethe once said, “Leap and the net will appear.” As someone who made several leaps, (leaving my executive position to live in France and, later, leaving a twenty-five-year career in government to become an entrepreneur) I believe the more accurate quote should be: “Weave the net, leap, work like crazy, and the net will appear.”
Weave the net. Whether you have a clear goal for your future, or a general sense that you want to take your career in a different direction, start now to weave your net before leaping. In my experience, that net weaves together three threads:
- Confidence; and
Financial. Everyone has their own comfort zone around financial risk based on family needs, educational expenses, the ability to recover if the net doesn’t appear, and their current level of financial freedom. It may take planning and time to prepare financially. When I left the government, my husband and I had enough savings so we wouldn’t starve while the business grew. And we reduced debt, which minimized financial risk. Quantify your financial needs to identify the level that feels comfortable. A big change will never be without risk, but you can plan financially and work toward it.
Accomplishment. A track record of accomplishment makes risk-taking more palatable. Practice attempting things you didn’t think you could ever do. Rather than, “I can’t do that” try, “How can I do that?” The more you overcome small challenges, the more secure you will become with the bigger ones. I didn’t believe I could run a marathon, but with considerable training I crossed the finish line. Your challenges may be volunteering to lead a team that feels just out of reach; or applying for the top position; or going back to school. Start building a history of accomplishment.
Confidence. Confidence grows with every accomplishment. Build confidence in your ability to work hard and conquer fear to achieve small goals. With experience, develop confidence in your technical ability and your judgment. When I started my business, I was confident I could get a job if necessary, and I was confident that my hard work and preparation would ultimately lead to success in the new business. Don’t be misled by bravado or false confidence from ego. Plenty of people have leapt and there was no net. Instead, you want deep internal confidence where you know that with hard work, preparation, and perseverance, you will achieve your goal.
Leap. How do you know when the time is right to take the leap? Develop criteria or indicators for yourself. What needs to be in place for the risk to be reasonable? How much money is saved? Where are you in your life? Keep preparing, and you will know when the time is right. As I prepared to leave the U.S. Department of Transportation to start my company, I struggled with the timing. I left when my office and staff were in a strong position; I had positioned my new business; and our finances were reasonably in order. When the time was right, I knew it.
Work like crazy. Don’t leap unless you are prepared to work like crazy meaning the mental, physical, and emotional work that goes into a major career shift. You must put in the hours and the emotional effort to sustain yourself and maintain confidence. For me, every day challenges me to grow or collapse; learn or implode; be exhilarated or exhausted, and sometimes both.
Whether it is starting a company, applying for the top job, or living in another country, you can weave the net, leap, work like crazy and live your dream. Because, to live your dream—well, there’s simply nothing like it in the world.