You spend about 90,000 hours working in your lifetime, so it’s worth doing what you love.
Career-change expert Mike Lewis shares the secrets to a successful switch with Liz Graham – and reveals it can all start today!
As the holidays end and the work year creaks into gear, is your gnawing sense of dread about going back to the daily grind putting you off your Sunday fun?
You’re not alone. More than half of Australians are only somewhat satisfied with their job, or not at all, according to a recent survey.
But there’s some good news in all this: You can start your career jump from your li-lo, today – because the first step in any switch is simply being honest with yourself. That’s the key message from career-change expert Mike Lewis, author of the book When To Jump: If The Job You Have Isn’t The Life You Want.
“It all starts with curiosity, with asking yourself, ‘If I had my way, if time and money weren’t an issue, what work would I be doing?’” he says.
Lewis, 29, made his own career leap four years ago, from venture capitalist to professional squash player (yes, you read that right), and along the way collected stories from hundreds of others changing jobs. After a year-and-a-half of playing squash full-time, he made another career jump and founded the multimedia When To Jump community in 2016, which has grown into publishing, podcasts and global speaking events (San Francisco-based Lewis is in Sydney next month).
In his book, Lewis shares more than 40 career-jump stories, including his own, and lays out his theory that there are four phases of a “jump curve”. There’s the initial idea (what he calls “listening to the little voice”), the planning phase, the actual jump and then not looking back.
While following this framework can’t guarantee success, Lewis maintains that doing so will stop you from having any regrets about making a career change.
“I’ve learnt there’s a smart way to try for a dream, a certain discipline around responsible planning,” he says. “Doing this makes the jump worthwhile.”
WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?
Some people have a clear notion of what their dream career looks like, but that doesn’t make a job switch any easier. While Lewis didn’t have had a partner, children and mortgage to influence his initial decision, he was still insecure about taking the leap. “Fear of the unknown was definitely my biggest barrier, and I think it’s the biggest fear for most people,” he says. “You know what you’re giving up – income, benefits, routine – but you don’t know what you’re getting into.”
But the fear is worse than the reality, he says. “When I look back [at my squash career], what’s most important is what came out of the unknown. It often ends up as the most rewarding part.” The other main fears that delay people from changing careers are failure, financial instability, and judgement from your peers. While detailed planning (see right) can offer protection from the first two, the social pressure is usually non-existent and any judgement is actually self-imposed. “There’s no race you’re running, it feels like that but it’s not true,” Lewis says.
Tell someone: “No jump is ever made alone,” Lewis says. The first person he told was relatively impartial – a friend’s father. “He was an objective observer in my life, so he wouldn’t tell me to go for something unreasonable.”
You don’t necessarily need to know the person, either – it could just be someone already working in your dream industry. And it may even lead to ongoing mentoring.
“Getting career guidance from people you don’t personally know is one of the bigger surprises I had on my jump, and many others had it, too,” Lewis says. “Sharing your honest hopes with someone makes them want to help you.”
Plan and plan some more:
This is the “unsexy” but essential step of careering jumping, Lewis says.
First is financial planning:
“You’ve got to figure out how to save money for your switch. Just putting aside $5 a day gets you almost $2000 a year,” he adds.
Then there’s creating a safety net by still doing your current job well. “You need peace of mind that if your jump doesn’t work, you’ve got something to come back to – so don’t burn bridges.”
Finally, there’s “pre-jump practice”, where you shadow a person in your new industry, and write a business plan if needed.
Take a little jump before a big one: One of the misconceptions about career jumping is that it’s “all or nothing”, Lewis says. “Jumping can start in the nights and weekends, outside of your regular work. These little jumps make the big one smaller. You can make goals by the week, month or year, rather than saying, ‘Well, one day I’m going to be a firefighter.’”
Finally, there’s the million-dollar question: When do you know it’s the right time to make the big jump? “This is the point where you can imagine the worse possible scenario of chasing your dream, and know that it’s still better than not jumping,” Lewis says.
“For me, that was breaking a leg or losing all my matches, then running out of money, and I still preferred that to my job. That’s when you can jump.”
Want to become the boss? Start here
If you’re keen to move up the career ladder rather than jump onto a new one, skill up with these key tips from current business leaders
1 HAVE PURPOSE
“One of the most important skills for a CEO is finding and maintaining a sense of purpose,” says Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and Thrive Global wellbeing site.
2 EMPOWER EMPLOYEES
“Rather than focusing exclusively on salary or perks, make your organisation the best possible launch pad for amazing careers,” says Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn.
3 KEEP LEARNING
“You need to become an infinite learner to make yourself more adaptable,” says Hoffman. “You can’t rely solely on your previous expertise, no matter effective it’s been until now.”
4 EMBRACE SOCIAL MEDIA
“If there’s a channel where employees, customers, competitors, and stakeholders are, shouldn’t you make an effort to be there, too?” Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, says.
When To Jump: If The Job You Have Isn’t The Life You Want by Mike Lewis ($32.99, Hachette Australia) is out now.