Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Changing Careers May Be The Right Choice

I got a call recently from someone who admitted that he was really unhappy; he no longer liked what he was doing.  I suggested to him that it might be time to change careers.  His reaction was that if he changed careers he would have to take a cut in salary (he was making a substantial income) and that his family might think he was a failure. He also didn’t have a “Plan B” and had no idea what to do. 

Here is what I told him.

First and foremost, some of the most happy and successful people I know are in their second or third careers.  Beyond that, he had to change his attitude.

To try and to not succeed is not failure.  Failure is not to try at all.

One of the hardest things to do in life is to decide that you don’t like what you are doing.  That revelation, for most people, comes slowly.  For others, one day it hits them like a locomotive.  But in either case, deciding to change professions is a difficult decision, especially if one is established and making a good living.  Starting over may require considerable sacrifice and difficulty. But everyone should develop a “Plan B”.

There is no shame in changing careers. In fact, in this day and age of “rent an employee” mentality at companies, it may be a necessary step.

Sometimes changing careers is a natural evolution – I went from advertising account person to advertising recruiter.  That transition was brewing for many years and I have not regretted this move for one second.  And it wasn’t as if I didn’t like being an account person, but I was bored with it, frustrated and wanted to work for myself.

I wasn’t miserable, just unhappy.  It took me a long time to admit to myself that I was not happy and did not have to do what was expected of me my entire life.  That realization was difficult.  After all, my dad had a very successful ad agency and was well known in the business.  I had followed in his path (notice I did not say footsteps).  But the path, for me, had come to an end.  I had been very successful, started and ran a well-known small agency, but I was finished.  When I announced that I was going into recruiting, those who knew me well thought the change was perfect.  It was an easy transition once I had made up my mind to do it.

Most people have no plan B and have no clue as to what to do next.  But it is a mistake to keep doing the same thing over and over if it is not working.  I think that is accepted as the definition of insanity.  It may be necessary for people to seek outside help.  Coaching, career counseling or even career aptitude testing are all possibilities. (I would recommend Johnson & O’Connor Research Foundation – I have actually had people share their test results with me and they are both true and impressive.)

I told the person who called me that there was no reason to be miserable in life.  In fact, as a recruiter, I told him that I had seen dozens, perhaps hundreds of people who decided to do what they wanted rather than what was expected.  And they became not only happier, but far more successful socially and often financially. 

I can think of one man who was in his early fifties, who had been let go multiple times.  He sold his too large house in Wilton, Connecticut and moved to one of the Carolinas.  He used the proceeds of his house to buy a smaller home on a golf course and then open a bookstore.  And despite the problems faced by independent book sellers because of Amazon and the like, he is making more money than ever, and is far happier.  I also remember a woman who was an account executive at an ad agency who decided to go into magazine sales.  Her friends at her agency told her that media sales people were flunked-out ad agency people, which of course is nonsense (be careful, your friends will get you into more trouble than your enemies because they mean well)  She made the change.  She has loved sales.  And today she is a publisher of a major publication and is a big deal in her category.

It is often difficult to change directions.  But if one is determined, one can do it and be successful – and happy.  

Go for the brass ring,


  1. Paul, what a wise and generous post!! Couldn't agree more!

  2. Great perspective. Two great reads for anyone seeking career transition: Halftime by Bob Buford and From Success to Significance by Lloyd Reeb

  3. Right on the money - especially for people working in the advertising industry. It has has been completely disrupted by technology and suffers from a broken business model.

  4. After almost 20 years in straight-up Account Management at large agencies, running national accounts and global brands, I was bored to death. Was in a senior management position; had a fancy title; and was making good money, but my earlier very satisfying work had just become “work”. So I started thinking about what else I might do for the rest of my life at the age of 45 and explored two options: 1) Since I already had an MBA, go back to school for my Ph.D. and teach Marketing at University level, or 2) Dust off my old LSAT scores and go to Law School. But then, after a bit of further research and serious thinking, I finally realized that at the end of my continued education I would be a 50 year-old “rookie” Associate Professor or Junior Partner making no money. So that was the end of that. But with the encouragement of others who knew me well, I decided to stay in the agency business but change hats and pursue new business development opportunities exclusively. This was before agencies had CMOs and the field seemed to be wide open for me. Fast-forward and here I am today still doing new biz under the aegis of my own consultancy, and I love it. Every day is different. I’m never bored. I work on my own terms. And life is good. Change and uncertainty are always scary, but so what! That’s part of the excitement of life to me. Which reminds me of the old Sesame Street game Bert and Ernie used to play, “What Happens Next?” Kids loved it, and I still do.

    1. Anon, that is a great story and is very much like the way I got onto advertising recruiting.

    2. I hope your story and mine (you probably know who) helps others to take the leap into the unknown. Because most regrets we have later in life concern things we might have done but didn't have the moxie to do.

    3. Nicely put Paul. Life is indeed way too short.

  5. Wise thoughts as always from the wise one.


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