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I’ve always thought it absurd that people were expected to make a decision early on about a career and then stick with it forever. True, some people have clear goals and pursue them throughout their lives. But others go from experience to experience, not always sure where it is leading them, but trusting that there is a next step. For these people, there is no one goal in life.
— Carol Pomerantz, career counselor
Ahh! How simple it was in grade school when you daydreamed about the various jobs you’d have when you grew up. Perhaps you fantasized about being an astronaut or a nurse, maybe even a painter, lawyer or train conductor. Sadly, though, you may find that your career expectations have been whittled down to one, and maybe not even the one you really wanted.
Over the years, you got caught up in making that one career happen by going to the right schools and working for the right companies. Now, some 10 or 20 years later, the unpredictable workplace, the encroachment of technology and your own insatiable spirit remind you that change is imminent. You ignore it and put up roadblocks: "I have a family now," "I can’t afford to change jobs," "I’m too old." In other words, you settle.
"When you have invested so much time in one career and society says you’ve made it, there is a fear of failure," says organizational consultant Marti D. Smye, Ph.D. "People crave change, but are afraid of leaving behind the familiar and each day feel more boxed in by life. Change may be scary, but just putting in time or being bored in your career is deadly to the soul."
Many seem to agree. In fact, a 1998 American Management Association survey of more than 4,500 executives found that 71% had held two or more positions in the 1990s. Of those, 39% had held three or more positions. Managers 35 and under showed the most mobility, with 90% of them having had more than one job (the average number was three).
Let’s face it, we’ll all go through at least one career overhaul in our lifetime. Some will go happily while others will be wrangled into submission. Smye, who wrote Is It Too Late to Run Away and Join the Circus?, says the successful career changer must be information-oriented and self-responsible, with good people skills. The important things are your willingness to accept change, the support system you’ve developed and your focus on making your dream a reality. In the end, your determination and sacrifices will lead to new levels of satisfaction in this crazy thing called work.
PREPARE FOR CHANGE
Through derring-do, pluck or accident, Stephen James learned these things early on. "I became a ‘roads scholar’ — a black guy who grew up in the South Bronx, went to Harvard and got a Ph.D.," he says of the winding road that led him to a professorship at Lehman College, part