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Changing career paths: The pursuit of a job, a career or Ikigai?

There are boring and stressful days at work, no way to argue with that. Does it mean you hate your job? I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. Yet I’d ask you how you generally feel about the work you do. Is it a source of satisfaction? Does it fulfill your potential? Is it aligned with your values and strengths? In case you have answered ‘no’ to all of the above, it might be time for change.


It is likely not the first time you hear the term Ikigai, a Japanese word meaning a reason for being. This concept has been around since the mid-60s, though its popularity has been expanding in the past decade as well as the interpretation of the concept itself. Nowadays, Ikigai is not only about work (or career), but rather connected to one’s needs, passion and dreams.


So, when thinking about changing career paths, wouldn’t this be an opportunity to find our own Ikigai? We could go a bit further and distinguish between career and job. According to Elizabeth Gilbert, career is something you enjoy and are willing to put extra efforts into, whereas a job is an activity to support yourself financially without being associated to joy or fulfillment.


Ikigai arises from a deeper level as a combination of a profession, a vocation, a passion and a mission. In other words, what you are good at, what you love, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. My intention is not to put more pressure on something that is already challenging. Changing career paths does not happen every day. It involves self-reflection, exploration, stepping outside your comfort zone, courage, the right amount of planning and decision-making. While going through this intense process, wouldn’t be great to change to something that has meaning and purpose?


Let us look at the following 5 strategies to guide you through a career change and hopefully connect to your Ikigai.


1. Do your research: It is clear by now that you do not want to stay any longer in your current job or company. Before initiating your research, make sure you know what you dislike about that job and that are tasks or activities that you enjoy doing. Here we always come back to your values and interests. Knowing what you value the most, it is already a great indicator. Otherwise, it is likely that you end up in a similar job or industry that does not fulfill your potential or expectations. Afterwards, it is time to do some brainstorming on your career options. You can perform this initial brainstorming by yourself, listing down all alternatives you can think of that might be a good fit for your values and skills. You can also start researching online for ideas and then match these with potential job offers. Your research should not be limited to the online world. Get creative and find mentors, people you can shadow to learn more about other job experiences and industries during this exploration phase.


2. Grow your network: Research is important to give you a better idea of the opportunities out there. However, connection is a much stronger ally when it comes to change career paths and learn more about how to do it. Growing your network is not only about adding more people, but also diversifying your connections. When changing jobs or industries, look for people who have been through a similar transition process with whom you can exchange and bring out a few takeaways. In addition, connect to people whose jobs or roles you are potentially interested in. This gives you the opportunity to find out if this is really your cup of tea, as well as to introduce yourself and build a rapport that otherwise would be more difficult. Even if you feel an imposter at first as you are navigating uncharted waters, keep going. Meeting new people outside your usual circle can be a true source of inspiration and motivation to the journey awaiting you.


3. Develop new skills: No one is born for a specific job. Yes, there are people who exhibit a natural talent for certain arts or activities, but it is not like they don’t have to practice to become great at what they do. Thinking about starting a new job in a different role or industry can awaken our inner critic, making us doubt ourselves and our talents. Remember what you have learned so far form your current and previous experiences, make a list – if needed – of your learnings, achievements, strengths. They will not vanish when you move to a different job or role. They are part of who you are and they will always have a space in your life. Additionally, you can prepare yourself by upskilling which can be achieved in many ways. You can attend trainings, read books and articles, shadow someone to observe their work firsthand. And do not forget about soft skills. Self-awareness and self-confidence for instance are key elements for both your personal and your professional growth which can be further strengthen with guidance from a coach.


4. Craft your narrative: What is the common thread across your work-life experiences? Can you turn it into an appealing narrative? We all have a professional past that may not match our next job pursuit. Nonetheless, we all have our own story to tell. Perhaps you must rebrand yourself to make the future career path fit which can be a fun activity. Think about your uniqueness (or USP – unique selling point), your strengths, what makes you a great candidate for that job or position. This is also valid if you want to start your own business. In case you are looking for investors, building a team, selling your products or services. Everyone loves a story, especially one that reflects who you are and what you bring to the table. Go ahead and tell your story, connecting the dots and making the bridge between what you once did and what you want to do.


5. Trust your gut: Why is my gut important? – you may be wondering. Sometimes the logical decision is not necessarily the best one, the one who fits your needs and values. There is usually a tendency to play it safe when it comes to changing jobs or careers which is completely understandable. You have your current job for a reason, even if you do not like it and feel unsatisfied. Maybe that promotion is the right call as it comes with that great salary increase, though changing field of expertise is indeed what you are craving for. Or perhaps you do not have the skills to that manager role you heard about, although you always dreamed of managing a team. Starting your own business sounds scary as you are not a marketing or finance expert, though all you want is to be your own boss. Trust your inner intuition, let it be your compass in such important life decisions. You do not need to have everything figured out, instead trust that you will get there at your own pace as long as you are staying true to yourself.


Whatever your next step is, just take it. Everyone has their unique journey, everyone does it at their own pace. However hard is feels like, the energy, joy and fulfillment it brings to pursue a purposeful work – and life – is absolutely rewarding. We call it career change, though it is much about your life as it is about your career. Do this change for you, to honor who you are and you might be surprised by the feeling of Ikigai.



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