Changing Careers: When You’re Taken Down A Few Notches

There are many things to consider when thinking about changing careers. I wrote an entire book about it but today I want to talk about something not in the book: changing careers and the loss of apparent power that goes with it.

I am not talking about changing jobs as you approach the pinnacle of your career moving from one company to the next and staying in finance or marketing or whatever. I am not talking about changing specialities within your industry such as moving from thoracic to plastic surgery. I am talking about moving from the industry in which you’ve spent years, perhaps decades, building a career to an industry that is completely and radically different in which you have zero experience. For the sake of discussion, let’s say you’re a criminal defense lawyer, making great money, winning year after year, and then it hits you. Continuing with our story, you don’t love it anymore and you give up your thriving law practice and start a bean to bar chocolate factory with your life savings. It happens all the time; the CEO who becomes a motorcycle mechanic.

There are volumes of inspirational messages about giving it all up and changing careers after years of success (I define that term at length in the book but here’s a hint: it’s not money and a million followers on Instagram) so we can follow our dreams. None of them, however, talk about swallowing pride, starting over, and enduring relative humiliation.

When I was a hard charging lawyer people returned my calls and now, not so much. When I called courthouses, police departments, other lawyers or pretty much anywhere that my reputation preceded me I was transferred to whomever I was calling or they called me back pronto. That’s just one tiny example. When I was a lawyer winning cases and making lots of money people seemed to respect me, many might have admired my work, and some people were afraid of me. Even now, nearly twelve years in to my chocolate career I could call a buyer at fill in the blank store where we’d like to do business and I am chopped liver to be certain. Back in my other career I often got what I wanted.

During the time I was searching for a new career that inspired me I knew that I would be making less money, a lot less money in my new yet to be determined career. I didn’t really think that much about losing apparent power because nobody told me about that and I guess I was not smart enough to figure it out on my own. I knew the money part was something I could handle. It’s black and white budgeting, straightforward, a spreadsheet.

Feeling small and insignificant after years of feeling important is a winding road of emotion that never really ends. This is also called humility. It is not something we “do” actively but instead it happens to us whether we seek it or not. Most of the time I am grateful for this smallness, consider it a gift and make it a practice. I don’t have it all figured out by any stretch. But some days I see glimpses of my true self when I recognize that it’s in my smallness that I am most connected to humanity and able to see Divinity. There is dignity in smallness that I didn’t see years ago. I am not suggesting that smallness and humility always feel good but the discomfort is outweighed by truth and beauty that I probably missed in the old days.