• jennyburrow

7 Habits of Successful Career Changers

Updated: Jan 14

It’s been said many times that a career change is a marathon rather than a sprint.

I'll admit I’m not even sure I fully agree with the marathon metaphor as that gives the idea of everyone running the same course, with the same finish line.

I like to view a career change more as an expedition. Imagine yourself as Christopher Columbus, setting off sailing into the unknown, with the belief that there is something exciting out there for you.

Anyway, the point is that a successful career change isn’t a quick-fix, box-ticking exercise. It takes time, and in most cases you’re working out your path and your destination as you go.

So how do you stay motivated, keep making progress, and ultimately get to your promised land of a career you love?

From my own experience, and the experiences of my clients and friends, I’ve pulled together seven key habits that have allowed them to keep going and create a successful career change.

1. They make time for it

This might sound like an obvious one, but if something is a priority to you, you need to block out dedicated time to work on it.

It can be so easy to let work get in the way, and to make excuses. Particularly with something like a career change, where it can feel a bit unclear as to what you “should” be working on to move forwards with it, and can sometimes feel a bit scary to think about.

But if you really want to make a successful career change and feel happier at work, you need to make it a priority.

When do you feel at your best, your most creative, your most awake?

If you’re an early bird, can you block in some time before work a couple of days a week, so that you’re giving yourself the best chance of creating clarity and ideas, rather than trying to do it at the end of the day when your mind is crowded and tired?

If you’re a night owl, could you dedicate one evening a week to working on your career change?

If you're like me and you’re not really a night owl or an early bird, how about dedicating some time on a weekend to it? I've got one client who loves setting aside a couple of hours on a Sunday morning to get comfortable, enjoy a good coffee, and work on her career change.

Just a couple of hours a week, consistently over time, will make a massive difference.

The other thing successful career changers make time for is dreaming without restriction. They allow themselves regular, dedicated time where they let go of all the rules and allow themselves to be creative and dream of all sorts of possibilities, without judgement.

You have to open up your possibilities before you can narrow them down.

2. They write stuff down!

This might seem like a slightly ridiculous one, or something too small to mention, but it’s a really key one in my book!

Getting all the jumble of stuff going round and round in your head down onto paper (or perhaps spoken into a transcription app if you’re more of a verbal thinker) is a game changer.

It gives your prefrontal cortex some breathing space, and allows you to look at it all from a different perspective.

In the same way that your voice sounds different inside your head to on a recording (i.e. outside your head), your thoughts will sound/feel/read differently on paper compared to in your head.

And as we’ve already discussed, a successful career change is not a short journey, so it’s really important to capture your discoveries and ideas as you go.

Having one place where you note down every seemingly random idea that comes into your head means that after a while you can look over those ideas and start to see the connections between them.

As you get clearer on your values, strengths, transferable skills, etc., having them all collated together in one place can give you a real boost of confidence, and gives you something to “score” potential new career opportunities against.

3. They lead with curiosity

When you’re thinking about a career change you’ll probably read a lot of advice about “following your passion”. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t find that very helpful. I had one client who found it incredibly frustrating because he didn’t really feel like he had a particular passion.

I find it much more helpful to focus on following your curiosity.

Curiosity is so important in a career change, or any life change. Something as “simple” as paying attention to what grabs your attention can lead to a whole host of new ideas and potential paths.

If you’re out on a walk, notice what draws your attention and take a photo of it or write it down (that old one again!). Build up a “curiosity collection” then look back over it and see what themes jump out. Notice what you notice!

Curious conversations are also a really key part of a career change, and can help you move forwards in leaps. Start with people you know, be curious about their career journeys and what they actually do for work. You never know where that can lead.

Curiosity and learning go hand in hand. Learning new things, whether than be subject matter or about yourself, is a great way to stretch and grow your comfort zone without it feeling too scary.

It’s very rare to make a career change without leaving your current comfort zone, so finding ways to grow it that are actually enjoyable will really help you!

4. They keep taking action

You’ll hear me banging on about taking action a lot.

Action creates confidence, motivation and momentum, not the other way around.

When you’re thinking about a career change it’s quite normal to believe that you have to have it all figured out and “feel ready” before you can start to take action. That’s really just not the case.

Without taking regular, small action steps you risk either staying stuck exactly where you are, or making a leap into something that you still don’t enjoy and feeling even more stuck.

Now let me be clear about what I mean by “taking action”. I do NOT mean quitting your job and signing up for a two year masters course 5 minutes after deciding you want a career change.

I mean turning ideas into small, fast, low-risk experiments. Those ideas will remain ideas unless you do something with them, or you can end up following the wrong one if you don’t test it out first.

If there is a particular industry or job role that has sparked your curiosity, what action could you take to learn more?

Examples of small, fast, low-risk actions are attending a meet-up or class (virtual or in person), talking to friends about your idea, reaching out to connect with someone in that field, or actually doing the thing itself to help someone (for example if you’re interested in copywriting, who do you know who you could do a small bit of copywriting for, just to test that you do enjoy it?)

There are so many ways you can take action to explore your ideas and test your assumptions, before you commit to any one thing.

5. They keep going when it’s hard

I don’t want to put you off pursuing a career change because finding work that lights you up is soooo worth it and I believe everyone deserves that, but I’m going to be truthful and say it’s not an easy journey.

There will be dead ends, two-steps-forward-one-step-back moments, moments of disappointment when you realise the idea you’ve been testing isn’t right for you, confidence gremlins and all sorts!

But the thing that sets successful career changers apart from those who end up staying stuck and frustrated for the rest of their career is THEY KEEP GOING.

They pick themselves up, dust themselves off, reflect, learn, and take that next small step.

And do you know what’s really rewarding about keeping going when it’s hard?

Looking back and seeing how far you’ve come and how much you’ve grown.

I know that sounds cheesy but I know that it’s the hard points of this journey, the low points on the rollercoaster, that have made me a much more confident, and happy, person.

The personal changes are as rewarding, if not more, than the career changes I’ve made.

6. They look after themselves and take time out

This is very firmly linked to the previous habit of keeping going when it’s hard.

We are not robots.

If you’re going to be able to keep going when it’s hard, then you need to learn how to look after yourself.

What do you need when you’ve had a hard, frustrating day?

I’m not talking about numbing out binge-watching Netflix. What lifts you up? For me it’s a walk in the fresh air, a relaxing bath, or some time reading a good fiction book.

Building in habits like a daily walk, and reading and meditating before bed, has really kept me going through some tough times, including lockdowns.

Being able to talk to other people who were on a similar journey was (and still is) also invaluable, so find your tribe and your support team!

It’s also so important to not let your career change dominate your whole life. I know I started this article saying it’s important to block out time to focus on it, but I chose my wording carefully.

Having blocks of time where you focus on it is important, but it’s equally important to have blocks of time where you purposefully don’t think about it!

Keep making time for hobbies, for friends, for relaxing (Netflix can be included if it’s for enjoyment!).

If you’re having a particularly down period with your career change, allow yourself to take a whole week, or two, away from it.

Remind yourself of, and enjoy, all the good stuff you already have in your life.

7. They have fun with it!

It’s true that there will always be hard moments and stretching times in your career change.

But you can make it so much easier for yourself if you focus on keeping it fun and enjoying the journey.

There’s a quote I heard from the car industry (I’m not very good with car brands so don’t actually know who said it!) that I think captures this idea perfectly:

“For speed, add lightness”

Successful career changers try to hold their career change lightly.

Getting bogged down in the seriousness of it, in all the doubts and difficulties, will slow you down.

When something starts to feel like a struggle, how could you make it more enjoyable? If you’re procrastinating on your next step, how could you make it fun?

One of my clients was procrastinating over writing a test chapter for a book idea she’d had. She realised she didn’t want to start because she was worried about making a mistake in the beautiful notebook she’d set aside for it, and she didn’t want to use her laptop because it made her think of work.

When I challenged her to make it fun, she went out and bought some plain white card and some coloured pens and gave herself permission to make it messy and colourful. She also thought about where in her house it would feel most enjoyable to write. And then she got on and did it!


So there you go, seven habits for you to experiment with adopting to help you move forwards with creating a career you love.

As with any new habit, start small and build it up!


Been feeling frustrated and unfulfilled at work for a while now?

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