How to Know When It’s Time for a Career Change

This post is by Aaron P. Arnold,  CEO of  MusicIsMyBusiness.

In sports, “pivoting” is one of the most important staples of an athlete’s game. In basketball, for example, it allows the player, once he/she has picked up their dribble, to still maneuver and see all the angles.

In your career, knowing when to pivot is equally important — but arguably more complicated. Off the court, how do you see all the angles? What’s the single factor that will lead you to change your life and your career? Over the years, I’ve developed my own process for knowing when it’s time to make a big change, which I call the “The 90-Day Rule.” And I apply this working theory to my life every day.

Simply put, the 90-day rule says that if you are unhappy or miserable for more than 90 consecutive days, then it’s time to make a move (i.e. pivot).

That’s three full months of being unhappy. Or if you think about it in business terms, that’s one-fourth of the year — or one entire quarter of being stressed and unhappy. It makes no sense to go another 90 days; it’s time to pivot, see all the angles, and assess your next move.

Once you’ve hit that 90-day mark, here are a few key next steps you’ll need to execute:

  1. Muster your courage — the time is now. Ninety days have passed. Why waste another minute, hour, or day in the situation that’s making you unhappy? Muster up the courage or faith you need, and begin to plot your next move ASAP. For example, I realized it was time to pivot when I no longer cared about a job that was paying me good money. And the disdain I had for going to work everyday made me sick…literally. Stress and unhappiness does indeed kill the mind, body and soul.
  2. Put bills and money aside. You must determine what makes you truly happy. Ask yourself, “If I had no monetary responsibilities, what would I do for FREE?” It might be clichéd, but this is the most honest way to figure out your true passion. Once you have determined what that is, settle on the path you need to take to get there and pull the trigger (i.e, execute).  Remember, there’s never a “perfect” time to take (or create) a great opportunity. The chance to pivot and change your life and the lives of others could be standing right in front of you for only a small window of time.
  3. It’s OK to be the underdog. Once you’ve made your choice, don’t expect the heavens to open up so that amazing opportunities just drop into your lap without the groundwork being laid first. Be persistent, but exercise patience — never lose faith. The world may seem against you; people from afar and people closest to you may discourage or even doubt you. However, this generally means that your next move is not just good, but great. People often fear what they won’t do or do not understand.
  4. Trust your body, mind and heart. Much like those wilderness guys you see on TV in extreme situations, you too must use your survival instincts in this new environment. Trust in yourself, trust your heart as you maneuver, and enjoy the ride.
  5. Teamwork makes your dream work. Yes, it is a cliché, but the simplicity of it holds much power. Build your network of support.  Put people around you (mentors, mentees and colleagues) and create a “mastermind” group or support network. This group will be integral to your survival and success as you pivot.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

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  • John

    Timing,preparation,and financial wiggle room are without a doubt are the base factors in such massive life changing maneuvers.

  • Mark Dover

    Beware – I was making 100k/yr and was unhappy (I thought), so I quit, moved and now make 30k and hate every minute of every day. I have spent my 401, sold most things of any value and truly wish death would come quickly & painlessly. Keep your job & don’t listen to these pie in the sky dreamers. I now know what it means to be unhappy.

  • Samantha Jones

    I totally agree with everything that this article is saying. I have been a musician all of my life, and that is what I knew that I was suppose to be doing with my life because it came with such ease, and it was were I was most happy because I could totally be myself, the real me. But as life has it, bills piled up and I went to school to be a nurse. I’ve done fairly well with nursing for the past 9 years, but I also am now stuck in a rut of every day life, children, and bills. I am very unhappy now, and I want to get back to doing what made me happy which in fact was creating music. Of course, it made my family much more proud to say “My daughter is a nurse”, but eventually I found out that nothing that you do is ever going to be good enough for people, so you might as well do what make YOU happy. Life is to short ,and unfortunately we only have a small window of opportunity to follow our dreams…I’m not sure how I am going to get back to doing me, but I’m sure I’ll find my way back to what I truly love…that is music!
    Good luck!

  • Pingback: How to Know When it’s Time to Change Careers | Jimmy vs World!

  • Dina

    I read your article regarding “When It’s Time for a Career Change” hoping to be given some good ideas, because I have been trying to do just that for the last 9+ months. I have been working primarily in the legal field as a paralegal/word processor/secretary, etc. for the last 17 years or so. I have an excellent resume, computer, organizational, communication and more skills, along with great references.

    I recently moved from Los Angeles back home to New York and decided I wanted a career change. My first choice was to incorporate two areas I have extensive knowledge of – the entertainment industry – and utilize all of my legal skills acquired, which are basically very similar other than the people work in a different industry. I have found that all high-level executives and attorneys who are at the top of their field expect the same things from an assistant, i.e., a hard-working, detail-oriented, highly skilled, multi tasking professional who works well under pressure while maintaining composure. I decided I would like to work either as a producer’s assistant, or in a production office, entertainment company, etc.

    For the last nine months or more, I have subscribed to many job sites of all types, including two that are specific to jobs in the entertainment industry. I literally have submitted hundreds of resumes along with cover letters containing some of my background and my desire to change careers and why I would be a good candidate. To my dismay, I have not received any inquiries or requests for an interview. Needless to say, I am extremely disappointed and frustrated. I have even submitted myself for positions that are well below my expertise and salary, just so I could get “my foot in the door”, but to no avail.

    The conclusion I have come to is that it is nearly impossible to break in to a new field, because it seems to me that each industry perceives their field to be so different from any other, that they won’t even “think outside the box”. Most employers would rather hire an entry level college student than a seasoned, experienced professional, just because their experience has been in a different field.

  • KS

    A couple of thoughts.
    1) I really like the 90 day rule. Although it’s also important to look at what specifically is making me unhappy in that situation- it can also be something that might be able to be addressed.
    2) I”m long over the 90 day rule in my work (try ten years – with extenuating circumstances too complicated to go into here). However, I’ve tried to make the change before with varying results. I am on the verge of finally successfully doing it within the next few months though.
    3) Not thinking about the money is naive. As someone who has taken that leap without a net, it wasn’t a good idea. There needs to be a practicality Plan B to support/sustain Dream A until it can be self-sustaining. Unless you plan to live in a tent and live off the land. That said, back to the 90-day rule, it’s a signal that a change has to be made, so one way or another get out of the rut and listen to it.
    But we’d all love to be painters, musicians, life coaches, sports stars, actors, writers, and poets. I’m in a creative field as well and have to do other work to support it. Not as difficult to make it work as the ones listed above, but there still needs to be an income.
    4). One interesting angle is I’ve been reading Robert Kiyosaki’s stuff (Rich Dad, Poor Dad, The Cashflow Quadrant, etc) and it presents a different angle on how to set up ways to support yourself without explicitly trading your time (read: life force) for money. He’s pretty general and doesn’t tell you how to do it, but his principles are good. He’s also got a book called “Before You Quit Your Job,” which I haven’t read but can guess what it says…

  • K..Rose

    Be mindful of this “pivot”. It is a ‘training’ time, it can be grueling, mind altering and so keep momentos of the goals you have made, the love you have in your life and make sure you have a plan – before leaving the game you’re participating as an employee. Be gracious and thankful and most important have an empowerment plan.

    It is a “wall” in running – a film analogy reference is a british film: “Run Fat Boy Run” – it is a comedy of letting go of something, taking things for granted and then making a decision to turn it around and “pivot” for the game of his life. He puts on sweat suit, challenges his direct competition and well – no spoiler alert – see the film before the pivot you may take.

    You need to pause, gain control of the ball and then, find your team mate, pivot and pass or take the move to the next level.

    What is most important, if your life value is
    direct fulfillment and happiness through your career alone – to know the diet, exercise and runner’s rule – there is a plateau we reach ‘the wall”-a physical or mental one – like the mountain, as humans in development of mind, new business, relationships and other travels – you can choose, but have a plan before doing so.
    Life is a journey and you need currency to travel.