3 Stages of a Career Transition and How to Navigate Each One

career transition planning
Chase Ruzek

So, you’ve reached the point where you know you need to make a career transition – but where to start? 

Making a career transition can be one of the most challenging things we embark on, especially if we’re determined to find meaningful work that feels connected to our purpose. The challenge lies in the fact that each of us will have to forge our own career path. As much as we can learn from others who have gone before us, we have to play by our own rules.

Advice on how to successfully make a career transition is often unhelpful because there are so many moving parts in every unique situation. Focusing on job search strategies is often the least effective thing one can do if they aren’t crystal clear on what they want. 

The most successful transitions happen when we prioritize what is most important for us at the current stage we’re in. If we skip ahead (e.g. start applying for jobs before we’re clear on what is aligned with our vision and gifts) we waste precious time and energy by decreasing our chance of securing a new role.

Knowing what stage you’re in clarifies what steps you need to prioritize to use your time and energy efficiently.

Below are the three distinct stages we go through and the steps to change your career. Of course, there can be some overlap so take it all with a grain of salt and let this information guide you to the next best step based on your current situation.  

Stage #1 – Unfulfilled → Hopeful

(We don’t know what we want)

In the first stage of a career transition we’re moving from feeling unfulfilled to hopeful. We may have come to the point in our career where the only thing we know is that we DON’T want to keep doing what we currently are. We’re not fulfilled. Maybe we’re burnt out or maybe we’re just bored, but either way, something has to change. 

It could be we’ve had a career in customer service or sales for years knowing it’s not what we’re meant to do long-term, but now we’re trying to figure out an alternative path. Or maybe we’re an overworked software engineer who wants more creative freedom without the workload, but it doesn’t seem possible to make that transition. 

It’s at this stage that I see so many people stop themselves before they even get started. As soon as they start to imagine the possibilities, they identify a reason it’s not going to work. This is the main obstacle we need to move through in the first stage. 

Stage 1 Priority: 

Allow yourself to dream.

Here are a few possibilities: 

  • Create a list of 20+ possibilities for your career path moving forward, and make at least five of them outlandish. Don’t limit yourself. 
  • Try a Future Self visualization (on YouTube or the Insight Timer app)
  • Speak to a neutral third-party who is trained to help you expand your perspective 

You’re ready to move on when: 

The vision feels real. 

Have you written your 5-10 year vision on paper? It’s OK if it’s only 30-40% clear. We’re just looking for it to be clear enough, where something about it resonates within our body.

This is not a mental decision to take a new career path. It’s the feeling and knowing that your vision (however clear or blurry) is a real possibility for your life.

Stage #2 – Stuck → Movement

(The vision is in focus but we don’t know how to get there)

Once we get past the hopelessness that comes with feeling unfulfilled, we can start to breathe life into our desires. The challenge with breathing life into our desires is that the more possibilities we see, the more our fears can get triggered. We have hope, but now we’re dealing with the “real” questions of how to get there or if our plan will work.

In this phase, our mind is preoccupied with the question: “But how??”

Every time you hear that question, remind yourself it’s designed to keep you stuck. You don’t need to know how to achieve something you’ve never done before, because you can’t know. You’ve never done it. All we can ever do is figure it out one step at a time.

This phase is about connecting to our vision from a practical place and facing the fear of taking actions outside our comfort zone. 

Stage 2 Priority: 

Connect the vision to your strengths, skills, and values, and take one concrete action at a time. 

Here are some questions designed to elicit the above. Write as many answers as you can to the above questions and try not to think too much about them until you’re done. 

  1. What comes easier to you than it does to most people? When are you most likely to feel in flow?
  2. What could you teach to others?
  3. Fast forward your life 10 years. You are proud of accomplishing one thing. What is that?

Contemplate the core thread between all of these answers and your vision. Remember that movement is the top priority and ask yourself: 

What is the easiest next step I could take to move me closer to my vision?

Most importantly, forget about whether this action step will “work”. That’s not what this is about. It’s about trusting that if you do more of the small things to move toward what lights you up, you will be presented with opportunities you can’t imagine. 

An action here could even be something like signing up for the dance class that would bring you joy and give you something to look forward to in the middle of the week or hiring a personal trainer as a way to treat and honor yourself. This is about saying YES to what you want, not what you should do. 

You’re ready to move on when: 

You are consistently taking small steps that feel uncomfortable but relieve tension. You’ll know. 🙂

PHASE #3 – Doubt  → Trust

(We’re taking action but unsure if anything is going to work)

Once we clarify our desires and start taking small steps we move into the realm of courage. Of course, with more action comes more fear. It’s actually very easy to fall back into hopelessness at this stage because we can be taking action and still not seeing the results we want. 

This stage is characterized by doubting all that we’ve done up til this point: “Is it really working?”

This is where we have to let go of tactics and begin to trust that we can follow the energy instead of doing things by the book. 

Stage 3 Priority: 

Engage in conversations and your passions (while exercising the patience for synchronicity) 

The reality is that 95% of the time, people get jobs through people. Having more conversations should be the number one priority for most people in their job search (there are exceptions). This doesn’t mean we should reach out to just anybody. We need to focus on the people we genuinely feel drawn to. 

In the meantime, we can focus on our passion and what fascinates us. Let go of how connected this feels to your job search. For example, if you would feel much more lit up by going to a yoga studio or taking voice lessons instead of searching for jobs on Indeed, follow the energy as long as it’s contributing to your well-being. You never know where you will meet people who can connect you to the next opportunity. 

Two signs we’re close to completing a career transition

1. We’re connecting with people who light us up. It doesn’t matter whether this person ends up referring us to a job or we’re staying in constant connection. When we connect with others we resonate with we walk away with a new surge of inspiration and motivation. These are likely the people who will lead us to other people or opportunities now or in the future. Be patient. 

2. The second signal is coming across opportunities and/or companies that light us up. Perhaps we had been contemplating a career in X field and happen to run into someone who does exactly that. Or we see a company come through our Linkedin feed that uses words that are deeply resonant with our mission and values. 

It doesn’t matter whether the company has an opening right now or whether the opportunity leads to a job. It means we’re on the right track – gathering breadcrumbs that will lead us to the final destination (which is never final, btw). 

Steps to Change Careers

Each stage of your career transition requires a different priority for your time and energy to be used most efficiently. The top priorities in each stage are:

  1. Allow yourself to dream until the vision feels real. 
  2. Connect the vision to your strengths, skills, and values until you are taking small, consistent steps toward your vision.  
  3. Prioritize having conversations and following your passions while staying patient.

If you’re making progress within any of these stages, you’re doing the real work needed to make a successful and fulfilling career transition. 


If you want customized help figuring out what to prioritize based on your unique circumstances, feel free to request a free exploratory call where we can assess your situation together and create some actionable steps for you right now. 

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