It all starts with the question — “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Some people know who they want to become from a very young age. Like those anomalies that say they want to become an astronaut, and actually become an astronaut.
But if you’re anything like me (and the large majority of people out there), you likely cycled through a few different prospective professions as you were asked this question throughout your childhood…and into your college years.
Here’s my evolution of answers to the age-old question (childhood through college):
- Olympic Gymnast
- Interior Designer
- Strength & Conditioning Coach for professional athletes
- Sports Agent
- Professional sports team Legal Counsel
As you can see, Strength & Conditioning Coach was high on my list…step into my gym.
Here’s what I have actually wound up doing to date:
- Strength & Conditioning Intern for amateur athletes
- Strength & Conditioning Intern for professional athletes
- Sports Agency Intern
- Strength & Conditioning Intern for collegiate athletes
- Start-up operations & business development professional across multiple companies and industries: Sports, E-Commerce, Healthcare Consulting — While simultaneously building my credibility as an advisor to C-level executives
- Founder of The Intern Hustle
I tested the waters with some of my childhood aspirations, but I also learned the art of the pivot. I learned how to navigate career change in a purposeful way. (Not the famous pivot you may be thinking of, but let’s take a moment to honor it as well.)
In my pivot from Strength & Conditioning Intern to Sports Agency Intern I learned I had a strong interest in the business side of the sports world. Strong enough for me to tack on a business minor to my exercise science degree and start studying for the LSAT.
And in the months leading up to graduation, I pivoted again. This time taking a chance on a startup company in California instead of following my original plan to pursue law school. I’ve never looked back.
Data from a 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics study claims that the Baby Boomer generation has changed jobs an average of 11.9 times between the ages of 18 and 50. Just watching the career trajectory of my Generation X and Y friends, I can say this trend is climbing.
You too will likely pivot in your career…a number of times. Heck, there’s even a good chance you end up doing something over the span of your career that didn’t exist when you were a child. (I’m still waiting for someone to invent teleportation…)
Because your personal career landscape is bound to change, I’ve rounded up some of my pivot point lessons to share with you. And because you’ll likely pivot more than once in your career, I recommend you bookmark this post and revisit it again in the future.
Relationships are key
Build relationships and nurture them, period. Every career change I have made, whether it be internships or professional life after college, is in large part due to a relationship I built and nurtured along the way.
One of my biggest career pivots came when I was 24 years old. My career was off to a pretty great start, and I never imagined leaving the sports industry. A new friend at the time (who now happens to be my best friend) was a recruiter. She introduced me to an opportunity with a tech startup in the e-commerce space, allowing me to pivot into a new industry where I had no previous experience.
After about eight months, I returned the favor and referred my friend into a position with my company. This move positively impacted her career trajectory as well. In both cases, it was the strength of our relationship that allowed us to vouch for each other and facilitate the pivot.
Referrals are powerful. If you build the right relationships along the way, you never know what doors they can help open for you in the future.
Work ethic transcends industries
If you want the solid referral, you need people to trust in your ability to perform. Never discount a strong work ethic. It is equally respected across all industries and job titles.
I’m convinced that we are largely responsible for creating opportunities for ourselves. This is how you advance in your career. People don’t know what you are capable of until you show them. So show them.
Sometimes this may require a little ‘fake it ‘til you make it’, and that’s OK as long as you are putting in the time to actually learn and advance. This alone is a skill that you can take with you each time you pivot.
Know how to roll up your sleeves and learn the ropes better and faster than the next guy. Never stop learning. Be such a student of your current situation that people can’t help but look to you for the answers. Then watch your resume evolve as new opportunities present themselves — across new specializations, departments and industries.
Don’t be afraid to relocate
Step outside of your current comfort zone and grant yourself the opportunity to experience more of what is out there. Broaden your perspective, your network and your impact.
I never imagined I’d be living in California, but I took a chance on an opportunity out of college and I’ve been happily calling San Francisco my home for the past ten years now. I’ve also built amazing friendships, solid professional relationships and have worked in industries I never would have previously considered for myself.
I’ve yet to personally meet someone who regrets giving a new location a try. I think it is something everyone should do at some point in their lives. And guess what? You can always go back.
Allow yourself to color outside the lines
Yes, I’m a big proponent of the life plan. But your ability to be flexible throughout life is also key. Paint the picture of what you want your career to look like, and then be open minded when life calls for you to color outside the lines a bit.
Sometimes you may be really resistant to messing up your perfect picture. However, speaking from personal experience, it could be the best thing that ever happens to your career.
My openness to leaving the sports world and taking on a position where I supported the CEO of a tech startup is one of the best pivots I’ve made to date. I learned more in that role than most people do in business school. I also learned how to effectively communicate and negotiate with executive leadership and have served as a trusted advisor to many ever since.
What you initially view as a step down in your career, may in fact be a step up. Always keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to try something different.
The struggle is real…for everyone
If you are anxiously trying to navigate a career change, you are not alone. Just about everyone I know has struggled with reinventing themselves at some point in their lives. Living in the tech bubble that is San Francisco and Silicon Valley, I know people who experience this every couple years.
We all go about believing that we should have it all figured out, at all times. The older you get, the more society amplifies this notion. Because shouldn’t you have it all figured out by now?
The answer is no. Life changes and your career will change too. And the perfect answer isn’t always going to present itself. There will be trial and error, and that’s OK. Life isn’t very interesting without the occasional struggle to help you reset. You don’t appreciate the highs without first experiencing the lows.
There’s a reason why just about every other person you meet is doing something entirely different than what they majored in. And that’s because you can’t possibly have it all figured out when you’re in college. You’re just beginning your journey.
My biggest advice to you is this. Get started with internships early. Learn what you do and don’t like. And don’t be afraid of the pivot.
This advice is particularly relevant in today’s professional environment, as well as the willingness to embrace change and forging a new path. There is great value in having a strong foundation in critical thinking skills, and in learning to apply those skill in novel ways.
Thanks for your comment, Joanne. I agree. Critical thinking and the ability to problem solve are skills I always look for when interviewing candidates.