It’s no great secret that at some point in your career, you’ll make a significant pivot. Especially as workplace expectations and cultures shift with generations, pivots have become increasingly commonplace and frequent: According to a survey by LinkedIn in May 2018, Gen Z is three times more likely to change jobs than baby boomers, who average two jobs in the last 10 years.
“This indicates that Gen Z is on the hunt for the right job that aligns with their values,” the report stated.
And yet, everyone wants to feel happy and fulfilled at work. Stories about people leaving their desk jobs to pursue their passions are common — as are stories of people being unhappy at work but unsure of where to go next.
“People look to pivot for many different reasons, no matter how old they are,” said Rosemary Barnhart, a career planning and employment consultant in Olympia who has been guiding people through career changes and woes for more than 30 years. “People outgrow their jobs, or they get frustrated with changes in management, or they just want something different. A lot of people have some idea of what it is they want to do, but they don’t know how to make the change or how to get there.”
For many, connections are key. Andy Taylor worked in the service industry for 13 years, telling himself — but failing to follow through — every year that it would be his last.
“I was fortunate enough to have a friend who was a Realtor, and it seemed like an industry I could learn while keeping my night job,” Taylor said. “I worked full-time in real estate and full-time at the restaurant for six months. I remember the amazing feeling of satisfaction when I closed my first real estate transaction and made more than I had in the previous three months of waiting tables.”
It’s common to stay at a job because it’s stable, even if it’s not very satisfying. Leaving that stability can be difficult, especially when someone doesn’t have a clear plan about where to go next.
For Owen Robinson, a career in tech shifted to one in nonprofit work when he decided the safety of the field wasn’t worth his unhappiness in the position.
“I did (search engine optimization) at a tech company in Seattle for nearly six years,” he said. “It wasn’t exciting, but (tech) can be pretty (comfortable) and safe.”
Coming from a family of people who worked mostly in nonprofits, Robinson knew he wanted to make a change, looking into socially responsible job positions for months before hearing back from one and making the switch.
Since, Robinson pivoted back to tech briefly, and now works for the City of Tacoma in a training and development role. For those like him who don’t have a linear path or a clear image of their career goals, Robinson said not to worry.
“Figure out what your needs are — what you’ll accept and what is a deal-breaker,” he said. “And don’t get stuck thinking that someone won’t be interested in helping. I asked for a lot of help and got it. Reach out to recruiters on LinkedIn, to hiring managers — do some sleuthing and ask some questions. Make a plan, get some help, and try to move forward.”
Barnhart agreed that figuring out your own needs — really reflecting on your values, what you’ve liked about previous jobs, and where your skills could be most impactful — is the most important step to take when considering a pivot.
“Taking a look inside and doing some self-evaluation needs to happen before you start looking at jobs,” she said. “That’s often the biggest challenge when making a pivot: looking honestly at yourself and seeing yourself beyond where you are.”
Sometimes, though, the picture is the exact opposite: Someone has a job she is passionate about — is fulfilling a childhood dream, even — but the lack of stability that pairs with her creative profession leads it to be ultimately unsustainable.
This was the case for Shakti Sotomayor, who grew up wanting to be a professional chef and started fulfilling that dream when she went to culinary school in 2013. A year later, she was invited to cook for a summer at La Bouitte, a now three-Michelin star restaurant in the French Alps.
But, she said, “I was reaching I point where I could no longer rely on nonregular income and lack of benefits. (Around) 2015, I recognized that cooking was a passion for me, and to do for the people I love, and adding the pressures of making it a career has made me start to resent it.”
Sotomayor pivoted to looking for something in finance or marketing and said she stumbled upon her new career path by accident, working as a social media manager, copywriter, and now content strategist.
“There can be a lot of guilt associated with realizing you may have chosen the wrong career path, and then anxiety about the road ahead,” Sotomayor said, reflecting on her own nontraditional career path. “My biggest piece of advice would be to clearly understand what you need from a job to make yourself feel secure, and then choose a path that will help you get there. There is no shame in wanting to be comfortable financially and have job security. It’s OK to keep doing what you love while keeping your work separate.”
Chad Chapman similarly worked as a commercial fisherman for 10 years — a job he loved, but one that was exhausting and difficult, he said.
“Take whatever combination of challenging activities, then do them for 16 to 22 hours a day,” he said. “Commercial fishing is the toughest, deadliest, and most unpredictable occupation you can imagine.”
Chapman started looking into a more typical career path, earning a degree in computer science to work his way into the software industry. He loves his new career, he said, though he still misses fishing.
“The process isn’t perfect, and the pain is very real,” Chapman said, even though he wouldn’t go back and change the way he navigated the pivot. “The best time to start developing your future and getting through that pain is a month ago. The second-best time is right now.”
While some pivots include careful planning, networking, and happy accidents, others are made out of complete necessity: The rug is pulled out from under someone’s feet, and the next move has less to do with choice and more with circumstance.
Tim Mezen owned his own construction business for six years, losing it in 2010, when he stopped making a profit. He found himself in a dire situation.
“I was inches from (being) homeless and destitute,” Mezen said. “I had no work, my truck was repossessed, my house was taken by the bank. I had always been a hobbyist photographer — never thought I would be able to make a living at it. But it was in those moments that I came up with a 10-year plan, and that plan was to become a photographer and make a living, and a life of that. I was seeking happy.”
Mezen has found success and joy in the path he was forced to take in the aftermath of one business failure: He said he loves the challenge and the process of teaching himself new skills, and, if given a chance, wouldn’t make his transition differently.
His is a story that suggests that, despite the value of careful planning, networking, sessions with a career coach, and introspection, sometimes things work out — especially when passion and willingness to hustle are involved. In capturing this spirit, Mezen referenced a well-known quote by American naturalist John Burroughs as his advice to anyone who feels stuck and wants to make a change: “Leap, and the net will appear.”