Q: I've spent the last few years trying to do a career change, and no matter what I try, it's just not going well. I'm thinking of hanging it up and going back to my original profession. How do I position this failure when I'm back in the job market?
A: Be kind to yourself and take a more balanced view of the path you've been on.
The inner game
Failure is a harsh word, and not one you'd probably use with a friend. You'd do well to recast your view of your recent experience so that you can use it as a source of positive growth.
With that in mind, reflect on the change you've sought. Looking back, what triggered your interest? Was it a calling for something new or a move away from the path you'd been on? Be as clear as you can about the benefits you hoped to realize. No perceived benefit is too minor for consideration, because you may find that even items that seem petty will bring the picture into a clearer focus.
Now consider how well the new stacks up when rated against the expected benefits. If in fact it falls short, perhaps there'll be some relief in letting go of your new direction. If it still seems like something you'd like to have succeed, take this opportunity for one more look at whether you've done all you can to make a go of it.
Because, let's face it, each new direction we pursue requires a complex set of actions. There is, of course, the practical, skills-based aspect. If you want to move from business to teaching (or vice versa), start your own business, etc., you need to be qualified to deliver the service you're offering. But then, the harder part begins: You need to convince others that you're qualified. There is a sales aspect to career change that cannot be overlooked, and it's my experience that this is often many people's undoing.
The outer game
At this point, let's assume that you've decided to return to your original path. Craft a story that links the various aspects of your life and career into a coherent — if nonlinear — whole. As you take your understanding of why each step occurred, you'll be able to make an effective case that your career side trips have led to an enrichment of your effectiveness in your first career area.
Let's further assume that you didn't burn bridges when you made your move. It's time to actively engage with people in your network, letting them know about your current interests. Don't be afraid to ask for help, be it as a thinking partner, a source of an introduction, or a reference. However, be sure to match your request to the level of relationship you have so that you don't put your contact on the defensive.
Be intentional, creating and working a plan to move forward, regardless of your path. It'll give you a sense of success and help build momentum.
The last word
Treat the return to your original field as just another adventure, and let your enthusiasm help you move forward.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.