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Big or Small, A Career Pivot is Within Reach

“This past year has shown me that life is too short to be stuck behind a computer for 40 hours a week,” says Emily Mailman, BS’20, as she reflects on her decision to leave her job as a natural resource specialist and embark on a new career as a sea kayak guide in Seward, Alaska.

IU career expert Erin Erwin, BS’02, MS’04, applauds Mailman’s approach and courage to make a change. “Emily identified her career values, took a risk, and is allowing new opportunities to pave the way for her professional future,” says Erwin, senior associate director of career education at IU’s Walter Center for Career Achievement.

To those who are inspired by Mailman’s career move but are hesitant to make a pivot of their own, Erwin offers some guidance.

Know—and Follow—Your Values

Everyone has a unique set of happiness drivers that reflect their preferred work focus, environment, and relationships, as well as intrinsic factors like wanting to contribute to the greater good or feel a sense of accomplishment. Erwin suggests developing a “happiness list” to identify these drivers and guide your search.

Normalize Fear

Career changes can be incredibly intimidating. Rather than trying to eliminate fear, Erwin says, try normalizing it as part of the process. Mailman found a woman in her professional network to do just that. “I felt very lucky to have a connection who was already in this field,” Mailman says. “She validated all my concerns while reassuring me that what I was feeling was normal. This interaction reminded me that others have taken career leaps and ended up alright.”

Take Action

Fear can also be addressed by reframing your perspective. When considering a career change, focusing too much on the ultimate goal or too far into the future can create an endless stream of “what if” questions, which could hinder your progress.

Erwin suggests taking on a more immediate goal—what can be done next? This may include having an informational interview with someone in the field, conducting research, or volunteering to gain a new skill.

“At the end of the day, there are no risk- free career moves,” says Erwin. “However, risk can be mitigated by examining work values, recognizing that fear is part of the process, and taking a series of small and intentional actions that get you incrementally closer to the goal.”

Written By

Lacy Nowling Whitaker

Lacy, a Bloomington native, earned two degrees from IU Bloomington (BA'08, MA'14) and is the Director of Content with the IU Alumni Association.

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