Why uncertainty is necessary for a career switch

Don't be afraid of the unknown.

When you're entering the workforce for the first time, it's natural to be nervous about your career and uncertain of how things will turn out. But what about later in life, when you're ready for a change or career switch? You may have years of experience under your belt, but that may not do much to quell your anxiety about what the future holds.

However unsettling it may be, uncertainty is necessary for a career switch. This is especially true for an encore career, or a career change made later in life that combines personal meaning with social purpose. "Encore careers are commonly sparked by something on the work front -- a layoff, the approach of retirement, an itch to reinvent," says Marci Alboher, author of "The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life." She adds, "Just as often, an encore is shaped by what's happening outside of work -- an empty nest, the loss of a parent, the end of a marriage, a new romance, an illness or a move from the suburbs to the city."

If you feel like you're alone with your uncertainty about a career switch later in life, think again. "Research shows that roughly 9 million people are already in encore careers, and another 31 million are keen to move in the same direction," Alboher says. "Although they come from different places, large numbers of people in their encore years are looking for the same thing: making a living while making a difference."

Coming to terms with uncertainty
Your discomfort may stem from wanting a change but not having a clear path to take to make change happen. This doesn't mean that you have to stay stuck, though. "You are part of a huge club," Alboher says. "In the domain of work, nearly all of us, whether we work for ourselves or for organizations, now feel a nearly constant sense of transition and uncertainty. If you're going to remain in the workplace, it's a given that you'll be tweaking your career again and again as you and the circumstances around you continue to evolve. And as part of the first generation with both the time and ability to craft a meaningful encore, you have plenty of compatriots."

Just as you would for any other uncertain part of your life, it's essential to reach out to others for advice. At the very least, sharing your career frustrations will force you to put into words what you don't like, which can be a good starting point for figuring out what you would like in a career.

Using uncertainty to your advantage
Once you've admitted that you're looking for something different, the uncertainty in your life will give way to the changes you open yourself up to. "No two encore careers are the same, but nearly every one begins with a period of exploration," Alboher says. "Your exploration is a time to get used to a new version of yourself, one that is still evolving, one that doesn't know what's next. It's about going public with your desire to make a change. It's about opening your eyes and ears to new possibilities. It's about asking questions, asking for help."

Alboher recommends a number of different ways to open up your life to change:

  • Take your time, and give yourself space to reflect on the past and what you want in the future.
  • Meet with a career coach or join a group for people trying to make a career move.
  • Let people in your network know that you're looking for a new position and offer specifics.
  • Ultimately, trust your instincts.

Whether you choose the time to make a career switch or it chooses you, you'll likely have mixed feelings about the change. "All career transitions include a mix of things you can control and things you can't," Alboher says. "You may not have much say in the timing or the outcome. But you can initiate the process of self-discovery. You can work to be open to change. And you can control the decisions you make when options present themselves."

Uncertainty may be the last thing you want when making a career switch. But it can actually be what helps you discover a career you may never have considered before and the catalyst that gets you started.