The MPW Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What’s your best piece of advice for someone looking to change career paths? is written by Sharon Ritchey, chief operating officer of AXA US.
Growing up, we’re often told: Be true to yourself. While these are words to live by, too often people (in my opinion, more so women) don’t feel that way in their professional lives. People might think that they have to fit a certain mold in order to get the job they want or in order to get ahead. You might think you have to follow a certain path based on your major in college or previous work experiences. While there are some basic norms of convention you will be expected to follow, it is exhausting and counterproductive to hide an integral part of yourself and not follow your passions as they evolve and even if they differ from the “normal” path.
As we grow and change as people – and the world around us changes – new interests and opportunities arise. In college, one path may look interesting, but all that could change once you start working and realize the career you’ve chose isn’t the right fit. I graduated with a degree in marketing, but began my career working in financial services for a large bank. When my role was terminated, I was moved into a marketing position. This seemed like a perfect fit, as it returned me to my original career path. Although I’m grateful for the learning experience, after a year, I realized that marketing wasn’t for me.
Sometimes finding out what you don’t like and what doesn’t work can be more important than finding what does work. I thought I would stay in finance and banking because that’s the field where I got my first job, but in 2007, an insurance firm, The Hartford, approached me and I was intrigued with the opportunity to build on the skills I learned in finance.
Now at an insurance and financial services firm, AXA US, I am able to combine my experience from both the financial and insurance industries.
Staying true to myself helped me find new opportunities and create a career path I am happy with, but there’s a lot more to it, too:
Be curious, ask a lot of questions and expand your networks. Generally, people network with people similar to them (gender, race) and with similar interests. While this can be beneficial for building a strong support network, it is limiting as far as your exposure to new opportunities and to a broader group of people. Nobody will approach you about a job if they don’t know you’re looking for new opportunities.
Don’t be shy. People like when others take an interest in their work and can be useful sources of information.
Being open and flexible to all possibilities is essential. Be willing to take risks and expand your potential. When you realize that where you are is not where you want to be, it can be scary to make a career change. However, those twists and turns and different paths provide a wealth of experience and lead to a more fulfilling career – and life. You are the sum of your experiences and that unique combination will make you the perfect asset to the right company. Keep networking and searching until you find out what that might be.