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Considering a career shift? Here’s how to approach it strategically

October 26, 2022, 9:41 AM UTC
Serena Williams thanks the fans after her last tennis match on Sep. 2.

Superstar tennis player Serena Williams recently announced that she is shifting her time from sports to venture capitalism. While Williams still has the power to loom large in the sports world, she highlighted that her new role will allow her to have more time and flexibility to be with her family, a choice that PEW points out many women have been making in the past few years amid the pandemic and Great Resignation.

Women are starting to feel empowered to make bold career shifts that benefit both their personal and professional lives, but many are still navigating this new territory. In 2019, a study conducted by InHerSight revealed that 73% of women are interested in changing careers and many interested in changing industries completely. In 2022, a Deloitte Global study confirmed these ongoing trends by noting that more women are looking for a new role in 2022 than 2021, with more than half of the 5,000 women surveyed across 10 countries noting that they hope to leave their employer within the next two years.

My 15+ years of work and research have revealed that women are aspiring to make bolder moves but struggling to translate those aspirations into action. As I discuss in Begin Boldly, this aspiration-to-action gap is due to numerous factors including “grappling with self-doubt and endless analysis of work-case scenarios and outcomes.” These factors can contribute to women favoring the comfort of the known over the uncertainty of a career shift.

However, bold and brilliant careers aren’t made by playing it safe. Here are three tips on how to approach a career shift strategically:

Crystalize a motivation that matters

Answer the question: “What is my why?” In other words, “What is my motivation for making a career shift?” Figure out what is important to you and crystallize a motivation that really matters. Serena clearly spoke to her desire to spend more time with family. Remember: If it doesn’t really matter, it won’t really motivate.

The harsh reality: Doubt and fear are unavoidable when making career shifts. The question isn’t whether we will feel these emotions but how we will recognize them and make progress despite them.

One of the best tactics for getting through times of doubt is to refocus on your why. If you have crafted a motivation that matters, it will help you overcome roadblocks to making career shifts. Motivation maintains momentum.

Consider the potential consequences of inaction

Instead of only asking “What happens if I make a career shift?” also ask “What happens if I don’t?”.

Inaction comes at a high price that we often overlook. The way that our human brains are wired, it is more common for us to assess the pros and cons associated with an action rather than associated with inaction.

However, when assessing an opportunity, this is an error that skews our behaviors to view a career shift as riskier than it is without appreciating the cost of not making a bold move.

When approaching a career shift, ensure that you are assessing the rewards and costs of both action and inaction.

Ask yourself:

What is the potential reward of making this career shift? What is the potential reward of not making this career shift? Which one is the reward I want to reap?

What’s the cost of making this career shift? What’s the cost of not making this career shift? Which price am I willing to pay?

On the other side of opportunity, there is opportunity cost. Time is not infinite, and all decisions have trade-offs. Everything to which you say yes will have an opportunity cost. Understanding this allows for better decision-making. What might you need to say no to if you pursue this opportunity? What might you no longer have time for? What other opportunities will you have to forgo? What aren’t you leaving room for? Understanding and accepting the trade-offs is essential to smart and strategic risk-taking.

Compile your endgame plan

When working with clients contemplating a career shift, I stress that taking a career risk is not about minimizing the chance of negative outcome or loss. Instead, it’s about proactively preparing for a range of outcomes.

Rather than trying to reduce the risk of failure, you would be better off putting your energy into creating a plan for failure. If you’ve never failed, you aren’t taking bold-enough career risks.

Women who have successfully taken risks have a few philosophies they rely on. One is to always have a backup plan. If the risk doesn’t work out, they have ideas on how they can course correct, whether it’s switching companies or going back to their previous position or tapping into their savings and support network. They consider what they can do to improve the situation if their shift doesn’t go well.

If you plan ahead for all possible outcomes, you are taking an intelligent risk! Should you lose ground or take steps back, that’s okay. If you have prepared for it and have a contingency plan, you will still make progress that you wouldn’t have made if you were playing it safe.

A top tennis player has a strategy for every game she plays and her career game is no different. Like Serena, taking a strategic approach to a career shift can help you close the gap between your aspirations and your actions and build a bold and brilliant career on your own terms. The ball is in your court.

Christie Hunter Arscott is an award-winning advisor, speaker, and author of the book Begin Boldly: How Women Can Reimagine Risk, Embrace Uncertainty, and Launch A Brilliant Career. Christie is a leading expert on how we can harness the power of intentional risk-taking to create more dynamic and vibrant careers and organizations. A Rhodes Scholar, Christie has been named by Thinkers50 as one of the top management thinkers likely to shape the future of business.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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