I’ve changed my career path already 3-4 times in my life, depending on who you ask – and every time, there was a “valid” reason behind doing so. I’m here to say: normalize changing career paths at any point in your life for any reason. On this episode, I break down the top 5 reasons to change career paths and offer you 3 questions to answer if you’re considering making a big leap.
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Priscilla Esquivel-Weninger: And so, it wasn’t until years later that I realized, oh, I actually don’t want to do policy work, I actually don’t want to work in government or do work for a think tank or anything like that, and I realized that when I was in my early twenties. I mean, I could have decided to look at that as a failure, but I didn’t. I was just like, cool, I think it’s time for me to pivot now.
Priscilla: Welcome to the Early Career Moves podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I am your host, Priscilla Esquivel-Weninger, proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
Priscilla: Hey, everyone, how’s everyone doing? By the time you hear this, it’ll be the end of April, and right now it is April, it’s April in Austin, April, 2021, and it’s just hard to believe that the podcast is already at its 20th episode. It’s been so fun to be able to share all of the guest stories with you so far and I’m just excited to continue to see the podcasts grow, but time has really been flying by. It’s really hard to believe that we’re nearly at that half year mark in 2021, and I know that COVID and the pandemic and everything, it’s muddled my concept of time completely. I don’t know if it’s done that for you too, but I think a lot of 2020, I felt like time was going by super slowly, but now, I feel like things are just speeding up, and I live in Texas, so things are reopening a lot and have been reopening for a while. There’s definitely this tension around like, am I ready for this? But anyway, I am really excited to be with you guys for the 20th episode. I’m talking about a topic that I care very deeply about today, which is basically the concept that you are allowed to change your mind about your career path at any point in your life and should feel empowered to do so, and even to just explore it.
I’ll start with talking about what are the top five reasons that I believe are great valid reasons to consider changing your career, and then I will also end with offering you three questions that I think are really helpful if you’re at a place in your career where you’re thinking about making a big shift, and as I tell you this story, I’m coming from a place of someone who did make significant career shifts in my twenties and someone who graduated college not really knowing exactly how I would use my degree. So, I think that this episode will really appeal to folks who either had a similar experience where you chose a degree in college but it didn’t directly lead to a specific career path or maybe you were not sure about which career path to choose, or you’re just someone who has gone one direction and is now considering taking a different direction. So, that’s the audience for this episode. If you’re someone who has always known what you wanted to do and you are now living that dream or making it happen, that is amazing, congrats, you really lucked out in the career department, but I would venture to say that most of us do have to do a lot of work around figuring out where to land, and it’s not black or white, it’s not okay, I got it or I didn’t get it. I think it’s very much an iterative process for a lot of us as we explore career paths and figure out what is the next best step and what is the best fit for me, and what worked for me yesterday may not work for me today, and that’s fine. So, that’s what this episode’s about, that’s the spirit of this episode, so let’s get into it.
Okay, so my first valid reason for changing your career path is that you had limited information when you made early career decisions such as what to major in, what to do for your first job, or how to use your degree, and this reason applies to a lot of us that are first-generation college grads, first-generation Americans and bipoc communities. Why is that? Because again, we had limited information when we were making career decisions, we didn’t necessarily have parents guiding us or guardians guiding us or older siblings guiding us or anyone who maybe understood the system, and so if this is you, I want you to really sit in that for a second, like think back to who you were when you were an 18-year-old, 17-year-old applying to college, choosing your major, choosing your internships, or maybe you didn’t do internships because you didn’t realize you were supposed to do internships or you took jobs because you had to make money somehow and taking an unpaid internship was sort of out of the question, and then as you came up against your first job career search, maybe you just chose something randomly, right? Or maybe someone told you something about the career path that you chose, or maybe you went to an event and something sounded cool, and so you went with it, right? That is sort of what happened to me. I was an architecture major for the first year of college. I wanted to be an architect because my tia in Mexico is an architect and I look up to her, and I thought that sounds like an awesome career, I want to do that. Okay, cool, so I did it the whole first year of the coursework in architecture, I did a summer program at Harvard GSD, which was amazing in architecture. It was amazing because I realized I actually did not want to be an architect at all. I realized that was not the career path for me, and it was time for me to choose my major my sophomore year, so I came back to school my sophomore year and I had to choose a major, and it was around the time that Obama was getting really big in, like, politics and everything, and so I was just like, well, let me be a Poli Sci major. Political Science was a really strong department at Wellesley where I went to school, and so I was like, okay, sure, sounds good, and so that’s how I chose my major, right? Like, it was a very haphazard way for me to choose a major, but it ended up actually being like a domino effect in the sense that that was how I ended up doing a summer internship in DC and working in policy, and then I decided to get my master’s in Public Policy after college, and then kind of went through this whole little path where I was thinking in my head like, oh, I’ll just do Education Policy, and that was just an idea, like I didn’t know anyone who did this job, my parents didn’t do it, I didn’t really know what it meant. It just sounded cool and it was interesting, and so I went down that path, and so it wasn’t until years later that I realized, oh, I actually don’t want to do policy work, I actually don’t want to work in government or do work for a think tank or anything like that, and I realized that when I was in my early twenties, I mean, I could have decided to look at that as a failure, but I did it. I was just like, cool, I think it’s time for me to pivot now, and so the point here is really just that a lot of us made haphazard decisions in college around what to major in, where to intern, what to do for our first job, and if this is resonating with you, I feel you, like that was me. I was in that boat where I was just sorta like, I don’t know, this sounds cool, and like, my parents were like, okay, sounds cool, right? But it was not a well-informed decision where I understood all of my options, where I understood all of the pros and cons and what it would lead to, what it wouldn’t lead to. That was not available to me. I just think it’s so valid that if you didn’t really have information when it came to making those decisions, it makes total sense that a few years later, you decide to do something different.
Okay, so reason two that I think is super valid for wanting to change your career paths is you need to make more money, periodt, okay, period with a T, like, this is so important to level with yourself, and if this is something that’s come up for you, I think that it’s just really important to be honest with yourself about the role that the financial incentive piece plays in your career choice. I’ll talk again a little bit about my own personal experience. I worked in nonprofit, I was a school teacher, I pursued a career path up until my late twenties, that was really not around making money, like that was just not my motivator at the time. I think that my motivator was around making a difference, seeing systemic change for students and for kids, and making a difference in education was really what got me fired up, it got me excited. I was excited to get out of bed every day when I was a teacher, when I worked for a school system, that is on 100, like, that is the truth. I was so motivated by that, but there came a time when the balance started to become unequal. What I mean by that is that joy, that rewarding, fulfilling feeling that I got from working in mission-aligned work started to lessen over time as I started to realize that living paycheck to paycheck and being very much underpaid for how hard I was working was just not cute anymore for my finances, okay? So, I made a very strategic decision in my late twenties to pivot out of the nonprofit sector and move into the private sector, and I’m not going to front – money was a big part of that. I started to look at how much I had saved over time in my retirement, it was not a number that I was excited about at all, and so I felt like, wow, I really have fallen behind my peers when it comes to saving for retirement, when it comes to being able to buy a house and make a lot of these financial moves that are important to me as a first generation American, as someone who does not have a significant financial safety net to fall back on, and as someone who is increasingly aware of just the role that I need to play to create generational wealth if I decide to have a family for my kids, and when I was in my early twenties, I didn’t think about that stuff. I just didn’t, and I think that I was in a position of incredible privilege because I didn’t have significant student loans to worry about, and so I was able to pursue career paths that were very fulfilling for me personally, but ultimately, I was neglecting a whole part of the equation, which was planning for financial freedom and caring about financial freedom, period. So, I think that if you’re in this situation where you need to make more money and you’re realizing that that is starting to stress you out, worry, you’re not feeling good about that area in your career or in your life, I think it is a totally total valid decision to change career paths, to find something that does satisfy that and does help you pay off debt faster, build wealth to just be able to achieve financial freedom. I think that’s a really important part and component of changing careers, and I will say another part of this is transparency. I think for a long time, I just honestly didn’t even know the amount of money my peers were making. I think when I graduated college, I knew that friends that were pursuing private sector jobs would be making a lot more than me, but at the beginning, like I said, I just didn’t think too much about it, and I had this mindset around ‘I’ll just figure it out later,’ but I just think that, again, I was operating under very limited information, and I think that if this is you and you didn’t really think about the financial impact, it’s totally fair to want to revisit that and it’s totally fair to want to switch gears.
Okay, the third reason that I think is so valid for wanting to change career paths is if you realize that you are either underemployed or you are not using your strengths at work, they’re not being leveraged or showcased at all. Being underemployed basically means that you were hired for a job that you are overqualified for and you could be operating at a much higher level, and this could have to do with either the actual job description of the role, so the day-to-day tasks, the day-to-day responsibilities, and that could be either demotivating or create a situation where you’re just not feeling challenged, you’re not feeling very fulfilled, energized, and maybe the day goes by a little slower because it’s just kind of like, okay, yeah, I know how to do this. You’re going through the motions and it’s not exciting because you’re underemployed, and so I think that a lot of the times in bipoc communities, this can happen because sometimes we’re being targeted or talked to about roles that are way below what we can actually do and provide, and so we really need to watch for that. I think that it’s okay if you are in a situation where you just need to get a job, like, you just need to make money. Maybe you got laid off, something happened and, like, do what you need to do right? Like, I will never knock that. Do what you need to do. I think it’s just really important though, when you are being strategic and thinking long-term, ultimately, you want to be in a role that matches where you’re at. You want to think about a role that you’re even a little “underqualified for.” We’ve all seen the statistics, men tend to apply for jobs where they meet 60% of the requirements for the job, and then women feel the need to check every single box and if they don’t check every single box in their mind, they don’t apply, and so that’s what this is about. This is about making sure that the job that you’re in now is really challenging you and that you’re growing and learning, and you’re getting something out of it to take to the next place where you land, and if you’ve plateaued or you’re just going through the motions, or you’re groaning, not looking forward to anything, it might have to do with the fact that you’re underemployed right now, and I actually think that this is a sneaky one. This is one that you have to do a lot of self-reflection around to really ask yourself if you’re operating at 80%, 90%, 100%, or are you just kind of cruising? There is a time and place for cruising. There is nothing wrong with cruising in your job, so please don’t hear that, right? Like, that is not what I’m saying. I think that it’s a beautiful thing to get to a place in your role, in your job where you’re like, Hey, I kind of get this, I’m doing well and enjoying that, but you got to enjoy it, right? Like, if you’ve been cruising for a little too long and you’re just not getting any joy out of it, and you’re dealing with things that feel very tedious and more of a headache to you, then maybe it’s time to rethink the kind of work that you’re doing and what your role is.
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SOLO EPISODE CONTINUED
Like I mentioned on my last solo episode, take the strengthsfinder test, know your strengths, know the things that get you to light up, get you excited. Our strengths often are what give us so much energy and give us life, and so know what your strengths are and do the self-reflection work of asking yourself: Am I using my strengths at work? Am I actually showing up at the level that I know that I can show up as? And if the answer’s no, you’re not alone. This happens to a lot of us. It happened to me, and don’t make it a moment about shame. This is not about shame. This is about knowing your worth. It’s about knowing that you deserve not just ‘good enough’ or just ‘okay,’ but something really amazing, and something really amazing is waiting for you on the other side of that.
Okay, the fourth reason is you are burnt out mentally, physically, and or emotionally, and this is really important. I think that this happens to a lot of us where we have just been running, running, running for so long in a job in a career, giving so much of ourselves and getting to a point where we’re neglecting ourselves, we’re not taking care of ourselves, and it’s just such a bad situation. When I think about this reason, I think a lot about teachers because I was a teacher for two years, I know how hard the career path is and how undervalued it is, and yet just the incredible amount of physical work involved with being a teacher, the emotional toll that it can take on teachers, and also just the mental pressure and just how high stakes it can be. I didn’t teach for a long time and I would never compare what I did for two years to what veteran teachers go through, but I know so many incredible educators that leave the teaching profession because the burnout is real and it’s so hard to constantly be carrying those burdens, and so I think that it’s a totally fair thing, and again, there’s no shame around it. It is fine to switch gears and to do something that is not so taxing on you, like, at the end of the day, you are providing services, labor in exchange for money and benefits. Yes, I am simplifying things, but there’s always people that post about, if you die tomorrow, your role would be filled next week and people would keep it moving, like, that’s just the truth, and so I never want my listeners to feel like, okay, this podcast is about how your career is the most important thing. It’s not, it’s not. I really believe family and relationships, friendships are the most important thing, because that’s what life is about in my opinion, right? Like, yes, have an amazing career, do something, like, that’s so fun and challenging, but like, the reason that I care so much about careers is because we spend so much of our lives doing this and there is so much fulfillment and impact that we can have through the career piece but like, it’s not everything, it’s not worth your sanity, your mental, physical, emotional health, and so if you’re at that breaking point, it’s really time to ask yourself if it’s really worth it. In my opinion, it’s never worth those things. I just want you to hear that I think that is just such an important valid reason for you to be like, this isn’t for me, like, I can’t give this much of myself.
The last reason that I have for you for wanting to shift career paths is just because you feel like it. Yes, I just walked through some reasons that I told you are valid for wanting to change your career paths, but the truth is, you wanting to do it is good enough and it’s worth doing. I think life is way too short and it’s very natural as a human being to at some point, want to try something different or want to just see what else is out there. I mean, it’s almost like dating a little bit, right? Like, some people do find their forever person in middle school or high school. That’s amazing, but some of us do have to date lots of different people, and it’s the same thing with careers. Sometimes, we have to try on different things to figure out what really fits, right? That is the point of this episode. I want to encourage you to not feel shame or not feel scared to change your mind about your career because if you are someone who randomly chose your major, didn’t know how to use your degree, and that domino effect has run its course, or you realize that I’m underemployed,
I’m not using my strength, this isn’t actually, like, interesting or intellectually captivating for me at all, or you’re someone who says, “I need to make more money. I need to pay my bills. I love this initially, but now it’s really not cutting it for me,” or you’re someone who’s like, “I need more work-life balance. I need more personal time.” That’s worth it to me more now. There are just so many reasons why you might want to shift gears, and I really want us to normalize doing that and making that a normal part of the discussion because there is nothing wrong with being like, this ain’t it, like, this really ain’t it anymore. What’s out there?
I told you that I would leave you with three questions to ask yourself if you’re at the point where you’re thinking about shifting career paths, and so here they are.
Number one, am I learning, being developed and, or growing? Number two, do I feel at least neutral every day when I wake up and it’s time to go to work as in not negative, not like a negative feeling, I feel neutral, or I actually feel positively, and then number three, if in five years I wake up and I’m still doing this, will I be okay with that.
Okay, that’s all I have for you today has been so great to talk about this topic. In my head, we’re, like, having coffee somewhere and I’m sharing these ideas with you, but I would love it if you could screenshot the podcast, tag ECM Podcast and share, like, a nugget, what did you like about this podcast? What are your thoughts? And I would love to reshare your content, but yeah, let’s normalize changing our minds about our careers.
Have a great rest of your week.