5 myths about careers

Photo of road signs warning of danger - No entry, and Keep out: Career myths aheadAs a career coach, I help people at all stages of their working lives…

From school students planning their first steps, to executives negotiating career transition. Very different groups, with very different experiences – and yet time and again, I see similar beliefs.

Beliefs about what careers look like, how they work – and what’s involved or realistic in finding a fulfilling job.

Often it’s these beliefs themselves that can hold people back – for no good reason. So if you’re considering your own future, it’s worth checking in…

Which of these career myths have you bought into? 

Career Myth #1: It’s for the rest of your life

This is the Godfather of all career myths – the one that holds the most people back in their career decisions. And no wonder. If you believe that the decision you make now – wherever now is – will determine the rest of your life, then it becomes a HUGE decision. Get it wrong and you may ruin your life!

I’m happy to tell you that whatever decision you make will not follow you all your days. Not only can you always change your mind and change careers – being open to change will be absolutely crucial to your long-term career success. Careers are no longer a ‘for life’ commitment.

Career Myth #2: It’s safer to stay where you are  

This is one of the most dangerous myths… precisely because it sounds so cautious – which is sensible, right?

When we shared space with sabre-toothed tigers, it made sense to sit tight at the first sign of trouble; he who moved first, likely got eaten. Unfortunately our brain hasn’t caught up with the changing times – and in your career, sitting still does not help you.

The truth? Staying put has significant risks all of its own. If you’re unhappy in your work but you sit tight anyway, you’re absolutely at risk – of becoming disengaged and miserable, damaging your health and relationships, sabotaging your career, and perhaps worst of all, looking back one day, with total regret.

Safety is only ever an illusion – ‘safe’ jobs get restructured and out-sourced every day. Change is both constant and inevitable – something to remember when your brain’s warning you not to rock the boat. My suggestion? List the risks of taking positive action, versus the consequences of doing nothing at all, and then decide from there…

Career Myth #3: You’ve wasted your time

So, you studied accountancy and don’t want to work with numbers, or you’re ditching a course / job / career that didn’t work out… Chances are, you’re thinking, what a total waste of time! All those facts you’ll never use, all that time and effort, down the tube. If you’re thinking this, I beg to differ.

Everything you do, you learn from it. Maybe you’ve learnt that something’s not for you – in which case, you just saved yourself years of unhappiness in the wrong place. You almost certainly gained transferable skills, which can often help you change careers.

And don’t write off the value of what you’ve learnt just yet; very often the ‘useless’ skills we pick up in one life turn out to be very useful in our next… in ways we often don’t appreciate for years. Think of it as an extra tool in your toolbox.

Career Myth #4: You’re too old to change

I’ve heard this from clients in their 50s, 60s and 70s. I’ve also heard it from a 21 year old. If that tells you anything at all, it’s that age has nothing to do with it. Fear? Everything.

As with most things in life, careers are all about attitude – and if you believe that you’re too old to change, you probably are… but not because of the date you showed up. What you choose to believe is entirely up to you, so choose carefully.

The truth? Your brain’s able to re-wire and grow til you die – so yes, you can change. How hard will it be? Depends where you want to go… and how committed you are. Check out the reality of the areas you want to move into, find people who’ve made the move before you, and then start looking for ways to start moving across…

Finally, remember it’s not all or nothing. If you feel it’s too late to study medicine, you can still work in health. Open your mind, do your research – get creative.

Career Myth #5: You need to take a big, dramatic leap

So, on really bad days, you fantasise about telling the boss exactly where to stick it – and dream of completely re-inventing your life. The problem? When the dust settles, the adrenaline disappears… and that giant leap feels impossibly scary. You can lose years, see-sawing between these extremes: Chuck it all in / Do nothing.

Successful career change is typically not about dare-devil leaps, but baby steps – manageable goals that keep moving you forwards. Research, network, test the waters, evaluate – step by step.

Wherever you are now, what can you do – today – that will take you just a little closer to where you want to be? Pick something small, easy and absolutely do-able.

Now do it – and keep going!

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