How to support yourself psychologically when undergoing a big career change

Published Aug. 25, 2020

It’s seldom easy to change careers. But while switching lanes can be mentally taxing, a radical career move can also be empowering and character-defining — especially with the right support and mindset.

How to support yourself psychologically when undergoing a big career change

No-one wants to be unhappy at work, but many of us are — as many as 50%, according to recent data. You might be burnt out, unchallenged, or disengaged in your current role, all of which is tough on your mental and physical wellbeing.

So you decide to change careers — to really mix it up, and go in search of entirely new challenges and opportunities for personal and professional development. But you quickly learn there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Not only are you holding down a full-time job, you’re also trying to make big life decisions and choose your next move while juggling it all.

In short, replotting your career trajectory is hard.

But as the old saying goes: where there’s a will, there’s a way. And the best way to reach where you want to be is taking it one step at a time.

Not only will taking the time to plan, execute, and even enjoy your career change increase your chances of success, it’ll also keep you psychologically supported throughout. The result? A happier, more fulfilled professional life — the kind you’ve been working towards the whole time.

Understanding yourself — and your emotions — during a career change. When’s the right time?

When you start considering a career change, you may be coming from a low place. Chances are, your “day job” leaves you uninspired and worn out, so you’ll need to dig deep into your enthusiasm reservoirs — often in the evenings and at the weekend — to explore pastures new.

You might second guess yourself, too.

Maybe you feel fortunate to have a job at all, especially during a time of market uncertainty. Or maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “better the devil I know.” — making a change and leaving your comfort zone can be scary, especially if you’ve been doing the same job for a long time.

But gut instinct is a powerful tool — it’s not as impulsive and emotional as we may think. It’s often nuanced, cultivated and finely-tuned thanks to experience. So if you feel that it’s time for a career change, it probably is.

Need more proof to back up your gut feel? That’s understandable. The following traits and behaviors are sure signs, too.

You feel physically unwell

Chronic stress can have a real effect on your body, including headaches, fatigue, and even chest pain. Listen to your body (and, of course, a doctor).

After all, staying in a job that makes you unhappy can have real negative effects on your mental and physical health:

You avoid talking about your job

It’s a topic that comes up at many dinner and drinks parties, but if you bristle every time someone asks, “what do you do?”, it’s probably time to make a change.

Not only will avoiding talking about work put you in an uncomfortable position, being unhappy at work can hurt your relationships, too. 81% of employees in the U.S. stated that the stress from their job affects their relationships with friends and family.

You dread going to work every day

The “Sunday scaries” are real: 81% of workers experience elevated anxiety on Sunday in anticipation of Monday. But if you feel that anxiety every day, listen to that feeling and try to figure out where it comes from. Are you ready to pursue a different path?

You can’t stop thinking about work

Funnily enough, an inability to disconnect from your 9 to 5 can also indicate you’re ready for something new.

Getting into bed at night still angsting over that email? Or waking up at 4am with your ‘to do’ list on your mind? These aren’t necessarily signs of passion and dedication, they could signal deep-rooted lack of satisfaction instead.

Taking on a career change: the emotions involved, both good and bad

Committing to a career change is a significant step, but it’s just the first of many you’ll need to take to find your next ideal role.

As you move through your journey, don’t be surprised if you encounter ups and down. After all, work is a huge part of our daily lives, so it makes sense that making a big change will have an emotional impact.

You may feel a sense of guilt at leaving your old role. If you’ve been with your current employer for several years (or decades!) it can feel like a betrayal or a breakup. If you do feel guilty, remember that this job change is about your career path and wellbeing — nobody else’s.

As Ron Ashkenas wrote for the Harvard Business Review:

“You have to be a bit selfish when it comes to decisions about career transitions. It’s natural to care about others or to feel indebted to people and institutions that have been helpful to you. But they shouldn’t stop you from making career shifts that are right for you.”

Change can be unsettling, too — that’s why so many people stay in careers that make them unhappy. But research indicates that the fear of change is one of the most career-limiting moves you can make.

A career change may also make you question your sense of self. According to Gallup research, 55% of people in the U.S. define themselves by their job. When work is a major part of your identity, a big change can make you feel lost and unsure.

With all of that in mind, how do you keep yourself level-headed as you make your career transition?

Supporting yourself during a career change — how to stay motivated, positive, and on-track

Reflect on your definition of success

How do you define a successful career?

You may have a certain salary or title in mind, but consider more intangible ways you can measure success and satisfaction at work, too. Psychologist and author Wendy Ulrich explains, “People find meaning when they see a clear connection between what they highly value and what they spend time doing.”

Research shows that people who are engaged with their jobs and colleagues are happier and work harder. That engagement comes from feeling like our work matters and contributes to something meaningful.

If you define success in your new career based on meaning, rather than an executive title or a corner office, you may just find what you’ve been searching for.

Remember to take breaks and care for yourself

When you’re trying to fit job hunting in alongside already full-time responsibilities, you’re bound to get tired out. And while funneling every spare waking moment into your career change may feel like the only way to get ahead, this could be a false economy.

It’s better to take things at a comfortable pace.

So what if it takes 9 months to change careers, rather than 9 weeks? Sprinting through a crash course will only result in you turning up to interviews frazzled and fraught — not the way you want to embark on a new career, right?

Create time to rest and reflect. This’ll help you make sense of all the new opportunities you’re exploring, while being much-needed down time, too.

You might want to prioritize:

  • Getting a good night’s sleep
  • Taking a long walk during lunch
  • Calling a friend
  • Working out
  • Meditating
  • Journaling

Everyone’s list is different; just focus on the things that help you feel less stressed. When you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to handle your job transition sustainably, rather than burning out early on.

Remind yourself of who you are (beyond your career)

When your job or career changes, it makes sense that your self-image will change, as well. Your job should be an empowering part of your life — but it shouldn’t be your entire identity.

Compile a list of the things you value and enjoy, from hobbies to relationships, and make sure to nurture those parts of you. Don’t lose your sense of self during a tumultuous time.

In turn, knowing who you are can also help you find the best new job for you.

Know that you are not alone

Believe it or not, 49% of people have made a dramatic career shift.

People have been in your shoes before. More importantly, they’ve gotten through it and found a rewarding role that makes them feel good mentally and physically. (It might also be comforting to know that most people don’t regret changing careers.)

And this is where a support network will be invaluable to you, too. Whether it’s friends and family, or a trained professional, you’ll need someone to talk to while you figure things out.

Figure your partner or best friend already has enough on their plate? Then turn to a mentor.

Building a relationship with a mentor can be a huge asset for professional growth. When you choose a good mentor based on your needs and goals, you have someone with experience on your side who can help you grow in your career — and keep you feeling great every step of the way.

At MentorCruise, we offer mentorships in over 450 skills across a variety of industries and backgrounds. The mentors we work with have given mentees real, actionable career advice and the confidence boost they need to get closer to their goals.

Remember, psychologically supporting yourself often comes down to leaning on the right people — so head over to MentorCruise today, and we’ll help find the right mentor for you.