11 career change mistakes that will keep you stuck

11 career change mistakes

For the last fifteen years, I have had a front row seat on people’s desire to make a change in their career. Over the course of that time, I have seen the same mistakes show up repeatedly — mistakes that have either kept people stuck or doomed their previous career change efforts to failure. 

Today, I want to share some of those mistakes. 

If you feel like a career change might be lurking on the horizon, go through each of these mistakes and ask yourself, “Am I making this one?”


Believe it or not, discovering that you’re making any of these mistakes is good news. Why? Because if you’re making it, it’s holding you back whether you’re aware of it or not. Once you’re aware of it, you can start doing something about it. 

Mistake #1 – Saying, “I can’t.”

This is probably the biggest, baddest, ugliest career change mistake I see, with the most negative impact of any of them. The reason it’s so impactful is pretty obvious – if you say you can’t, you won’t. Which means you’re stuck with staying stuck.

If you find yourself pondering a career change and hear “I can’t” in response, I encourage you to question that assessment. Look for a second opinion. If you need to, flat out call bullshit on yourself.

Time and again I have seen people realize that they really can make a change. It might take longer than they want, or take a different track to get there, or even lead to a different outcome than they initially envisioned, but change is possible so much more often than people realize.

Mistake #2 – Taking action without inner clarity

Here’s another huge one. So many people come to me after taking the career-bouncing approach to finding their path. “This one looks good. Nope, it’s not. I think I would love this one. Oops. Never mind. Oh, this one is it! Hmmm…yeah, not so much.”

And almost without exception the trouble is that they aren’t able to clearly articulate what would leave them feeling energized and engaged. They aren’t able to say, “This is what makes me tick. This is what I want to experience in my work.”

Without that inner clarity, any career choice is little more than a crap shoot (small wonder so many people are unhappy in their careers

This blog post on finding your energizers is a good first step. 

Mistake #3 – Taking action without clarity of direction

This one is the other side of the coin of the lack of inner clarity. If you have a change you want to make, stop and ask yourself, “Why?”

If you can’t give yourself a good solid answer that is at largely based on what makes you tick (as opposed to external factors like “it’s a growth opportunity / the pay is good / people will be impressed”), any change you make puts you in danger of yet another “oops, that’s not it” experience.

So it’s not just having direction – you can pull any ol’ job out of a hat and find that. It’s having the right direction, one where you can seriously say, “Yeah, I would find it energizing to do that day in and day out for the next ten years.”

Mistake #4 – Jumping out of the frying pan (and into the fire)

When you’re unhappy with your current work, it can be tempting to solve it by jumping ship. If you haven’t gotten that inner clarity to understand what energizes you, there’s a high risk you’ll just be jumping out of one job that doesn’t work for you into another.  

Mistake #5 – Looking at too short a timeframe

I would love to tell you that I have found the magic wand solution for changing careers that will let you do it easily at the flip of a switch, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t exist.

Career change isn’t a just-add-water endeavor. It tends to take time. People who make the big dramatic transition are the exception, not the rule.

If you’re looking for the dramatic change, it’s easy to look at shifting careers and think, “It’s not possible.” And in the short run, that might be true. You might not have the experience, knowledge, connections, or financial foundation to make that immediate change.

But if you take a more realistic longer term view, where you identify what needs to be done and start taking steps, you will often find that change is much more feasible.

Mistake #6 – Being impatient

Impatience can have a negative effect in so many ways. It is a key component leading to many of the other mistakes discussed here.

For example, frequently one of the reasons people end up on career paths they don’t like is that they haven’t done the self-exploration required to have a really clear picture of what kind of work would tap into what lights them up (mistake #2).

Or they jump the gun on making a change because taking action is more comfortable than doing the foundational work they need to do in order to make solid choices (mistake #3).

Or they want to make a change and they want to make it now, and when they can’t, that change feels like it’s not possible (mistake #5).

Mistake #7 – Taking a rigid approach

Another mistake I see is being too rigid on what that career change will look like, and/or how it will unfold.

Staying open to the unfolding (you take steps, and that opens doors and yields insights and ideas you could never have seen from the vantage point of where you started) lets you take full advantage of the possibilities as they unfold, not just the ones you see at the beginning.

Mistake #8 – Lack of preparation

Change – especially big change – is seldom a walk in the park. The more you can prepare in advance for making a change, the less it will feel like a terrifying free fall.

That preparation might entail building a nest egg to cushion the financial challenges of making a change. Or it could be spending time cultivating a network ahead of time in your new field. Or it might look like building your knowledge and expertise by taking classes, or creating your own self-study curriculum.

Mistake #9 – Not building inner support

Navigating your life when things go sideways is challenging even in the best of circumstances. Add the uncertainty and turmoil that a major change can bring, and it gets even more stressful. Developing a solid inner foundation to stand on is vital.

The greater your internal stability, the less potential external circumstances have to throw you, and the easier the inevitable bumps and bruises will be to navigate.

You build that inner foundation through practices like meditation, mindfulness, and learning to question the negative stories you tell about your situation.

Basic well-being blocks like a healthy diet and exercise also play a huge role in developing a solid foundation for change.

Mistake #10 – Not building outer support

Think you’re going to do this alone? Think again. The sooner you start consciously building support networks into your life, the better.

That support takes many different forms. It could include things like emotional support, mentoring support, inspiration support (for example, peers who are doing things in the world you find inspiring), healthy habits support, and logistical support.

Mistake #11 – Not starting now

Last but definitely not least, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is not starting now. Why? Because not starting now often leads to not starting tomorrow, or next month, or next year. And the next thing you know, you’re looking back at the last twenty years and wishing you had made a change earlier. Don’t believe me? I wish I were making it up, but I hear that story all the time.

Starting now doesn’t mean diving into the deep end with full-on change. It means identifying what steps need to be taken and taking them, one by one.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]


Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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