Choosing a New Career–How Big a Career Change Do You Want?

Henry Ford is often quoted as having said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse!,” indicating that customers only know about incremental, not breakthrough solutions. 

Both kinds of solutions are actually valuable--the question is which degree of change do you need when seeking a solution.  Both kinds of change are relevant in terms of careers as well.  The question is, what kind of career change are you looking for?  How big?  Incremental or breakthrough?  A next step or a shift in directions?

When choosing a career some people think they want something new but really would be very happy to take a slight step sideways.  They may think they need to make a big change, when a small one might be enough.

For instance, a clinic nurse might want to switch to a hospital setting — a small, incremental career change (some might say merely a job change).  Or the nurse might seek management responsibilities for nursing staff in a hospital department.  That would be a much bigger change still within nursing, and not as radical as, for example, switching to becoming a high school math teacher or opening a bakery or going back to school to become a computer programmer.

I bring this up because in my career classes, there are often people who tell me they are so angry with their careers, their jobs, their bosses or so burnt out, stressed, or so unchallenged that they need a new career.  All of these are certainly signs something needs to change.  But sometimes in the course of going through my program, they realize that the change they need does not have to be as radical as they had imagined.

So how can you tell which kind of change or solution is right for your career? 

One quick way is to ask yourself:  What’s actually making you unhappy about your current position?

If it’s your boss or your pay or not being appreciated or not learning anything new — then you most likely just need a change of job or need to make changes in your current job, but not a new career. 

If on the other hand, what you are unhappy about is that your career isn’t allowing you to use your artiistic abilities or requires you to work alone on a computer all day–then a more radical solution is needed, perhaps a new career.

On the other side of that coin, you can ask what would make you really happy? 

You can also look at your career or lifework mission statement if you have one and see if that needs changing.  If so, that might indicate a breakthrough is needed.  If that statement is still great, but you hate your work life, it’s more about the particulars of your job.


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Career coaching help also available — just email me for info.

© 2009 Leonard Lang. Feel free to reprint or pass on this article as long as you include the copyright notice and the link to



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