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

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide


11 career change blocking mistakes to avoid


11 career blocking mistakes

Do you have a career change percolating? Want to make it as fluid and successful (and minimally painful and challenging) as possible? Then today’s post is for you!

For thirteen plus years in my Passion Catalyst work, I have had front row seat on people’s career change efforts. Along the way,I have had a bazillion conversations with aspiring career changers, both my clients and others.

In the process, I have gotten a good picture of how people get in the way of a successful career change. I would like to share a few of the big ones here.

Taking a blind leap

This is probably the biggest mistake I see people in danger of making. They feel frustrated and stuck, and they want to hightail it out of Dodge into something better ASAP. And so they jump ship to something that seems attractive, only to discover too late that they have jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.

Before you commit to any career change, take the time to get a deep understanding of what makes you tick. Figure out what energizes you, and where you shine. A good place to start is identifying your energizers.

Immediate gratification mindset

Here’s the cold hard truth. A successful career change almost never happens with the flip of a switch. There’s no giving your notice on Friday and starting a grand and glorious new career on Monday.

Wanting the immediate gratification of a change to something new is understandable, but it gets in the way when it becomes a guiding desire.

It can lead to mistakenly assessing an opportunity as not possible (what might be impossible immediately is often possible over the course of a couple years). And it can contribute to a feeling that you’re failing when you’re actually making progress (if your definition of success is a dramatic change in the short-term, even good but slow progress towards change in the long-term can feel like failure).

Believing your no

When my clients are at the stage of assessing the feasibility of the potential careers they have identified, I always advise them to question it any time the answer is no.

Sometimes no really is a valid answer, but other times it’s more of a knee-jerk no than a well-supported assessment. An example of this is the scenario I mentioned earlier of someone mistakenly seeing something as impossible when taking a longer-term view would open the door to possibility.

When you look at a potential career and ask, “Is this feasible,” follow any no up by asking, “Is that really true? What assumptions am I making? Are they valid? How could I make it feasible?”

Believing your yes

The flipside of believing your no is flying down the path with an unquestioned belief in your yes. When you decide that an a new career option, spend some time building a case for why it’s a good idea. Will it really work for you? Is there really the potential there you think you see?

Don’t take a pessimistic approach to this. It’s more one of positive curiosity. Think of it as testing the solidness of a rope bridge across a river before you choose to go runnning across it.

Not expecting obstacles

Another really common mistake I see people making is somehow not expecting obstacles to pop up. This can lead them to mistaking a roadblock for the end of the road. “Crap! I guess thisn’t isn’t really doable after all.”

Reframe what obstacles mean. Rather than something that proves that what you’re trying to do isn’t possible, or that you don’t have what it takes, just look at them as a normal part of the landscape you’ll inevitably need to navigate.

Over-expecting obstacles

It’s also an all-too-common mistake for people to fill their path with phantom obstacles. Awareness of the possibility of obstacles can be valuable, but continually assigning a solid sense of reality to obstacles you haven’t even encountered yet is a recipe for trouble.

As you move towards a new career, make it a habit to check in with yourself to see if any limiting imagined reality is slowing you down.

Not creating an inner foundation

OK, you know by now I’m going to weave this one in any chance I get. When people don’t have a solid inner foundation – when they don’t have a grounding practice to slow down the hamster wheel in their minds – it’s easier for doubt, worry, and fear to take over.

Developing some kind of grounding practice, whether it is meditation, Qi Gong, breathing practices, mindfulness, or something else, gives that poor overworked hamster a break and helps you come from a greater sense of peace.

No objective forum for assessment

Somewhere along the line in their career change, people often feel like they’re not making any progress (some of this is that immediate gratification beastie rearing its head again). And when they do, it’s too easy for them to throw up their hands and say, “This isn’t working.”

Having a way to objectively check in can help immensely. It might be as simple as taking a journal and asking questions like, “What steps have I taken? What progress have I made? How am I closer to a successful change than I was? What difficulties am I running into? What can I do about them?”

Not having a plan

Diving in and winging it is a great way to fall flat on your face. When you decide to make a career change, spend some time creating a plan for how you’re going to make that happen. What are the steps? What do you need to learn? What relationships do you need to develop? What’s standing in your way? How will you navigate past that?”

The more you think it through in advance, the fewer surprise you’ll encounter and the better prepared you will be.

Over-attachment to a plan

Some people run into the opposite problem from the free-wheeling no-plan-for-me types. They get so rigidly attached to their plan (and their goals) that it gets in the way of being able to nimbly recognize and capitalize on opportunities and explore alternative routes past obstacles.

Make it a habit to check in with your goals and plans and ask, “What needs to change here?”

Mistaking molehills for mountains

I mentioned this one under “not expecting obstacles,” but it merits its own focus. When you run into the inevitable pothole in the road, resist the urge to create a story that the road is washed out. Let the molehills stay molehills.

When you find yourself responding negatively to a difficulty, ask yourself, “Is this difficulty really as big as I think it is? Is my response proportionate to the actual size of the problem?”

So there you have it. Ten mistakes you can avoid in your career change. Which ones are you in danger of making?

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Career change success: How to improve the odds


Are you making a career change harder or more out of reach than it needs to be? Are you sabotaging your potential for career change success, or your willingness to even try?

Since 2001 in my Passion Catalyst work, I have had a front row seat on people’s career changes. And one of the biggest things I have seen get in people’s way is the notion that career changes need to happen quickly, with the flip of a switch.

Why does that get in the way? Well, note least because it’s often unrealistic. A more accurate view is that career change typically – though not always – happens over time. It can be a months-long (even years-long) process.

The immediate-change obstacle

There are a couple ways that seeing a career change as a flip of the switch becomes an obstacle to career change success. First, it can lead to a false negative in people’s assessment of their potential to make a change. They look at where they are currently and say, “I’d love to, but I can’t.”

And from the limited perspective of their current here-and-now, they might be right. They might not have the experience, or the network, or the money it would take to jump out of one boat into another. Or they might have obligations that stand in the way. And so they decide not to even try.

The other way the immediate-change perspective creates an obstacle is by directly diminishing people’s potential for success if they do jump ship. While it might be gratifying in the short-term to dive out of one career and into another, it can also be more challenging than necessary if you don’t build a foundation for that change.

Immediate or longer-term change: Which is right for you?

If making an immediate change works for you, great! Far be it from me to discourage that.

But just because you know you want to make a wholesale change right doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready for it. To explore whether immediate or longer-term change is the better option for you, ask questions like:

  • Could you get hired today in your new career, based on your current knowledge and experience?
  • Do you have the money to fund time in transition? (e.g., the time a job search would take, or the time it takes to build a new business)
  • Does making the change immediately feel doable, or overwhelming?
  • Is your response to the idea of making a change, “I can’t because ______”? (And are any of the reasons you give valid?)
  • What would support the success of this change (e.g., a network, experience in the new path, training)? Is it currently in place?

Take a dual-track approach to change

When people look at their current situation and decide a career change isn’t possible, I encourage them to question that assessment. Often what they really mean is that a career change isn’t possible “right now.”

If they add time as a variable to the equation, they often find possibilities begin to appear where they saw none. What feels impossible from the perspective of the here-and-now might start to feel more doable in the context of, say, two or three years.

But for time to have a beneficial effect, they can’t just sit and wait. If they don’t want to be at the same place, just two or three years later, they have to incorporate action into the mix.

That’s where the dual-track approach to changing careers comes into play. Let’s say you have identified a new career path, but from the vantage point of the here-and-now it doesn’t look doable.

But then you pull out that trusty question, “I can’t now, but could I with time?”

Let’s say the answer is yes. You are now ready for a dual-track career change.

From there, you start asking still more questions, like:

  • What steps will get me from here (my current situation) to there (a new career)?
  • What is getting in my way? What can I do to reduce or eliminate those obstacles?
  • What do I already have that I can build on (skills, knowledge, experience, connections, etc.)
  • What skills and knowledge do I need to build? Where can I get them?
  • Who do I need to know? What relationships do I need to build? What communities do I need to get involved in?
  • How can I start getting experience (e.g., taking a class, volunteering for a non-profit, etc.)?

Action & accountability

The clarity you’ll get from exploring questions like this is vital. But it means nothing if you don’t take action. Without consistent action, you risk finding yourself several years down the road in the exact same situation – waiting for the time to be “right.”

It’s all too easy to let the demands of life get in the way when you’re working toward an important but not immediately urgent goal. One way to counter that is to create some structure and accountability.

Maybe that is as simple as scheduling time for action each week, and holding yourself accountable for doing it. Or maybe that accountability comes another person, someone you can tell “this is what I plan to do in the next week” and set up a check-in about what you did. It might even be working with someone like me.

However you do it, action and accountability are integral parts of a dual-track approach to changing your career.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide