There is a well-known Chinese proverb that goes ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now”.

So often I hear candidates talk about wanting a career change – some of them in their 50s – but they are hesitant to do so because what they have been doing is all they have ever known.

Everyone wants security. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and security are second only to the physical needs of food and water, and breath.

In our careers, we can often take the ‘safe’ road because it is exactly that – safe. We do things the same way, accept the status quo, work in the same profession or industry. Opportunities might present themselves and we either take them, if they feel familiar and low risk, or refuse them, if our sense of security or safety is challenged. We imagine all of the things that could go wrong, and assume they will ALL happen, instead of focusing on the possibilities.

I spoke with a client recently who is contemplating a change in direction. She is not really sure what she wants, but knows that what she is doing now is not fulfilling her. She has had this feeling for a while, but she kept shaking it off because she wasn’t ‘qualified’ to do anything else. On top of that, she was successful in her chosen field – receiving constant positive feedback from supervisors and clients.

I recalled an article I read called The Elegant Secret to Self-Discipline by David Cain. In it, he says that If we are currently experiencing the result of decisions of our past selves; then the decisions we make today contribute to our future selves. Let’s go back to that Chinese proverb – the decision to plant a tree twenty years ago resulted in a flourishing, big tree. If you plant a new tree today, in twenty years there will be another flourishing tree.

Her ‘safe place’ was the familiar career she had had for the previous 10 years — and even though she didn’t quite know what she wanted to do, I encouraged her to think about the skills she had that were completely transferable – for example, her communication skills, ability to engage with people and expert level networking skills. The more we talked about it the clearer it became. Decisions she made about her career in the past put her where she was now; so too, would decisions made TODAY, affect her future self.

The other aspect to this is that if you start thinking differently, you start to notice things in a different way. Once she started thinking of herself differently, and the skills she had, she knew that she would start to notice other opportunities that would come along, which would give her the opportunity to explore them further.

I am looking forward to seeing where she is in six months’ time!

Have you had a career change? What did you do to make that happen?