Career changes and a 30-year-old pair of shoes

As a serial career-changer, I love seeing how more friends and colleagues are being less apologetic about wanting to shift their career trajectory, and in some cases, their entire professional identity. A friend of mine is going through this at the moment and it’s exciting to see how her way of life is changing all by applying her existing and new skills in a new direction.

It got me thinking of someone I used to work with a couple of years ago. As someone who considered himself a traditionalist, he always had a few things to say about the “materialistic society we live in today” and how the declining quality of products reflects this. He was older than me and assumed that my generation was responsible for this, and began to give me an example using his 30-year old pair of shoes.

“I’ve had these shoes longer than you’ve been alive and they’re in top condition,” he said. “Never had a problem with them. I get them re-soled every couple of years, update them with new laces every now and then, and the tongues been mended whenever it starts digging into my foot.”

He didn’t realise the irony in his example: they weren’t really the same pair of shoes he had bought all those years ago. They had tweaks made to them over the years that meant the shoes he wore now differ from previous versions, including the first. Are these considered the same pair of shoes?

As a sucker for a deliciously appropriate analogy, I like seeing career changes like his pair of shoes. You might intend on having the pair of shoes for a long time, but over the years, the sole gets tired so you have a new one fitted. You want to jazz up your look by swapping the laces to a new colour. The tongue digs into the front of your foot and doesn’t fit as well as it did so you have it tweaked. The shoes look different from when you started out but have been improved to meet your current needs and wants.

Same goes for our careers. We might have a clear vision of what we want, totally committing ourselves to it, but over time a tweak here and a shift there results in your path meeting your new needs and wants, but being completely different to the one you started on.

If you’re in two minds about changing careers in the new year, try to see your entire career – past, present and future – as this pair of shoes. Just because you’re wanting to head into a new direction, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re giving up on all you’ve accomplished so far. The skills and experience you’ve picked up can still be applied in different ways; even the unexpected, seemingly-irrelevant ones give you a unique perspective at problem-solving in a new, unrelated field. In my HR career, I still tap into my experience and skills in art, design, writing and customer service (not so much from my finance years, I try to avoid that at all costs (semi-pun absolutely intended)).

Changing career isn’t about chucking your old shoes out to buy new ones; sometimes all it takes is a couple of tweaks and fixes and a few new accessories to retain the elements that are important to you now, as you walk onto your new path.

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