Leaving your job or changing careers can be scary. I often hear professionals who are miserable in their careers say, “I’ve spent 5 (or 10 or 20) years doing this. I don’t want to throw that away by leaving.” I get it.
I went from practicing law as a patent litigator at a big firm to running my own small business as a time management strategist. On paper, that may look like a major left turn and waste of an expensive degree. The truth is, I use my experience in law to shape and inform everything I do in my business now—plus, I’m much happier.
I encourage you not to let your past investments prevent you from pivoting into a different role that you might enjoy way more—particularly because those past investments in education and career will be relevant assets to you. Leaving does not make them a waste.
Your past is your credibility—and your edge
For something to be a waste, it must not serve you in any way. If your previous experience, education, or skills have helped shape who you are, how you show up, or are used in any capacity, they were vital pieces on your career journey. These things will continue to serve you—even if you don’t yet understand how.
What you’ve learned in your current role gives you a unique perspective that can become a superpower in your next role/business—even if it’s completely different. In fact, it’s often the pivots that don’t look related that give you the greatest edge.
For example, Huda Kattan was a finance professional before she left her career to become a beauty blogger. As she grew and developed her business, her financial background helped her create a beauty brand that’s been valued at $1.25 billion.
Can you imagine what would have happened if Kattan had played it safe and stayed in her finance career? Rather than following her creative instinct, she could have let the worry of throwing away experience, education, and sweat equity stifle her dream. Instead, she pursued a passion and used her finance background as a competitive edge.
“Leaving one career for another doesn’t mean you’ve lost time. You were simply amassing the skills you needed for success in that next adventure.”
Leaving one career for another doesn’t mean you’ve lost time. You were simply amassing the skills you needed for success in that next adventure. The best part is those skills can translate in unforeseen ways when you pivot, often in a way that helps you stand out from the crowd of people doing something similar—which becomes your competitive edge.
My attorney background and big law experience helped me in my time management business. My law background grants me the credibility and trust of other professional women when I teach time management. It’s one thing for me to teach time management strategies—and another for me to say, “this time management method helped me ditch my overwhelm and draw boundaries as a patent litigator in big law.” I understand the pressures and the pain points in a way that someone who’s only worked in the entrepreneurial space can’t. It gives me my edge in the space.
In addition, in big law, I got very comfortable not knowing the answer to every legal problem and learned to trust my ability to figure out the law and find a solution. When I became a business owner, I needed to become familiar with finances, marketing, sales, and so many other facets of business that had been completely off my radar before. I was able to dive in, trusting my ability to figure it out—a skill I honed as a patent litigator.
Moreover, my legal experience has given me invaluable clarity about the business I want to build. When I entered the entrepreneur world, it was a non-negotiable for me to maintain control of my hours and manage my work around raising two small kids. I’ve maintained an awareness of the time I’m committing to with every decision. This awareness helps me reign in my shiny object syndrome (something that afflicts all business owners) and keeps me focused on my ultimate goal—a profitable, rewarding business that works for my life.
If my legal background can help me in a niche business like time management, yours will help you in whatever you pursue. You may not know how it’ll serve you yet but get ready to be surprised.
Don’t fixate on the past, focus on the future
When you’re looking at making a career change, don’t fixate on the past and what you’ve invested. Look forward. How much time do you have left in your working life? Twenty more years? Thirty? If you’re unhappy 10 years in, why condemn yourself to another 20-30 years of that unhappiness just because of what you’ve done in the past?
When you make a career change, there is a sunk cost component—you already spent the time and the money, and you can’t get it back. That’s going to be the case regardless of whether you stay or jump, so why not opt for happiness going forward? What if you needed those experiences to lead you to the pivot that would give you the most fulfilling life? What if there wasn’t another way to get to that future place other than the path you took?
Making the decision to change careers
Sometimes a pivot is just a change in role. Other times, you’re leaving a job for something completely different. Either way, move toward the option that feels more expansive and doesn’t leave you feeling trapped. No one wants to live for retirement—especially when arrival isn’t guaranteed.
Don’t let your past prevent you from leaving a job you don’t love for something that your future self would find wonderful and fulfilling.
Kelly Nolan is an attorney-turned-time management strategist and mom. Using realistic time management strategies, she helps modern working professionals manage everything on their plate with less stress and more calm clarity. If you’d like to receive three strategies to get 20 minutes of breathing space in your day, click here.
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