Instead of the Great Depression of the 1930s, we face the “the Great Resignation” of the 2020s, with millions of workers pivoting into new careers, adding part-time gigs, or learning new skills. Two years of pandemic reflection and a focus on wellness, plus the ubiquity of online tools, and favorable market trends have presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a career pivot. Recent labor market data shows near-record levels of job openings and a historically high “quits rate,” signs that the labor market is tight even if it is beginning to cool in some areas. The data also show record median wage growth for those switching jobs. It’s a new normal for those in industries buffeted by labor shortages, where workers have bargaining power and confidence unseen in more than a generation.
During the pandemic, I felt inspired to volunteer at my local hospital and get another degree, which required a pivot in the way of additional education and training. I did this part-time on the weekends, and online. Like many who pivot successfully, my new side gig was a complementary addition to my current job, as it was rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and ironically, gave me an edge as an investor since being closer to the patient is ground zero for healthcare innovation. Said another way, working with patients to help them be their best selves puts me in flow. As you think about a major career change or seek to add a side gig, start with the basic question: What puts you in flow?
I didn’t need a pandemic to make a career pivot, but upon reflection, there are a few tactics that ensured the process was anchored in success and good health, versus stress.
- A pivot mindset is fluid, not binary. A career change should be seen as a new beginning or addition to your life, versus acknowledgement of failure. Be clear about your motivations (acquire new skills, change in geography, economics, higher well-being) around this change or addition. If you are unhappy in your current career, you should look for an off-ramp and construct the transition carefully, so it’s sequenced and durable.
- A pivot is an investment. What change can you afford (personally and professionally)? Leaving your job to join Cirque du Soleil sounds amazing, but is likely a bridge or tightrope too far. A career pivot involves new skills, training, time commitment, new contacts, and funds. The closer the pivot is to your current experience, the easier the pivot. Twenty years ago, I transitioned from the emergency room into corporate America (Merck), applying for a clinical corporate role (marketing) while using an M.B.A. (new skill) to help my brand and confidence. You may be setting up a pivot while working your day job, or getting tuition reimbursement. Treat the pivot like an important transaction; do the research, debate the options, and go at it with gusto.
- Identify pivot accelerants and sponsors. Training and experience (accelerants) earn you the right to apply but it’s a human (sponsor) who will put you in a new role and land. When I started to transition from corporate America into private equity (PE), I spoke to an investor contact every week for a year, and journaled the progress. I treated the transition like an internship, reading investment textbooks, and even set up an advanced training session with a top firm’s PE aces. The sponsors and internship advanced my career and personal returns by years. Make sure to set realistic goals, time commitments, top contacts, and engage all shareholders (your family) who are affected by the process. My husband often mused, “How long do you plan to be a PE volunteer intern?” The oxymoron wasn’t lost on me.
- Health is a form of wealth. When making a career change or adding to your current workload, remember health is a form of compensation. Consider the commute, child and senior care policies, healthy culture, and day-to-day wellness. After salary and title, ask yourself: Will this job be healthy for me and my family?
Many enjoy the art of learning something new, deriving new streams of income, and growing as a person throughout life. According to the most recent data available from the CDC, average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.6 years, and the average American will have around 12 jobs in their lifetime. It’s fair to say you will make a career pivot or 10, so find a way to enjoy the journey.
Meghan FitzGerald is an adjunct professor with the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, private equity investor, emergency department volunteer, and author of “Ascending Davos: A Career Journey from the Emergency Room to the Board Room.” She lives in Aquinnah, and can be found on twitter @ MMAmeg.