“Growing up is a trap,” says Dr. Robbins in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. ”When they tell you to shut up, they mean stop talking. When they tell you to grow up, they mean stop growing.” People identify so much with that idea they’ve made it a meme.
But really, growing up is the best. You get to eat cereal whenever you want. No one tells you when to go to bed. You have money to pay for stuff. You get to drive cars. (Fast ones if that “have money” thing goes well.) There are a million reasons growing up can be a wonderful experience, but culture’s desire to avoid it does say something interesting about what we believe.
Often, we believe that being an adult means you have to be boring. You have to play it safe. Adventures are for people in their 20s who have tattoos
bands you’ve never heard of. Once you’ve settled into a career, the exciting years are over. Unless you really hate your job and desperately need to make a change.
You and Your Team
When you’re feeling stuck.
But what if you’re 10, 15, or 20 years down a career path and want to try something new? Not because you’re miserable, but just because you’re curious? Not because you’ve had a career crisis, but because you know you don’t need one to try something new? Not because you’ve failed at your current job, but because you wonder if you could succeed at a new one?
I’ve spent the last 16 years trying to answer these questions.
While I was working with big companies like The Home Depot, Bose, and Staples, I started to wonder why people like you and I, at companies like these, don’t seem to think we can change our careers midstream. To dig deeper into how we look at changing jobs, I created an online assessment at CareerSavingsAccount.com. People who took it consistently reported that they couldn’t make a mid-career change because:
- They’re too old.
- A career change would turn their whole life upside down.
- They don’t know the perfect thing to do next.
- They’re too far down their current career path to change.
- They won’t be good at the new career.
That first concern is easy to address. People in their 20s tell me they can’t chase a career dream because they don’t have enough experience yet. Then they get the experience, enter their 30s and 40s, and tell me they’re too old to chase a career dream. The truth is, there’s no perfect age to try a career change – and no imperfect one, either.
But what about concerns 2-5? The solution to all four is actually the same. If you want to move to a new career, you have to be a tourist first.
The problem is that if we’ve had a little success in our careers or a little stability, we get comfortable. We might have the itch to try something new, but we want that new thing to deliver instantly the same exact amount of comfort we’re enjoying in the old thing. And here’s the bad news: it won’t. Trying something new is always uncomfortable at first. It’s supposed to be.
We think we should be immediate experts and the minute we realize we’re not, the minute the discomfort shows up, we think we’ve made the wrong decision. What if instead of running back to our previous career in those moments, or not even trying in the first place, we acted like tourists?
Tourists start small. Tourists don’t move to Paris forever, they visit it. For a week or two. They don’t turn their whole lives upside down overnight. They start with one simple idea, “I’d like to see France” and then they build from there. Instead of turning your career upside down, what if you just tried to learn one new skill? Develop a side hustle, maintaining your current career while beta-testing one new skill you’re interested in learning. For me that meant blogging in the morning before I went in to my corporate job.
Tourists aren’t afraid to ask for help. When you travel abroad, you ask strangers for advice. You ask them to snap a photo of you, because selfie sticks are horrible. You ask where a museum is. You’re not embarrassed to reach out for help. What if the first step in your career change was simply asking someone for advice? Find someone doing something you’re curious about and ask for a book recommendation. Take a friend who is 10 years ahead of you on a path you want to travel out for coffee. Ask for help.
Tourists don’t feel bad about being amateurs. The first time I went to Paris I stayed in the “Peace and Love” hostel. I put my backpack in the shared luggage space. My Walkman (I am so old) promptly got stolen with one of my favorite mix tapes in it. Know what I did the second time I traveled abroad? I paid for a locker. I wasn’t a great traveler at first because I had never done it. I was a tourist, not an expert. You won’t be an expert at your new career idea either. It will take time. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Be OK with being an amateur.
A little over 18 months ago, I left my dream job. I wrote a book about the experience called Do Over so that I could help other people with their transitions. It wasn’t easy, it didn’t happen overnight, and I still get scared about the road ahead.
But 15 years into my journey into corporate America, I realized something: we all get passports. We all have permission to be tourists. Growing up doesn’t mean giving up. Indeed, I think it means just the opposite.
I think it means getting up.
I think it means seeing your career, no matter how far into you are, for what it really is — an adventure. It’s never too late to declare a do over. Just start by being a tourist.