Thinking about a career change? Lessons from sport can help


Photo by Ryan Riggins on Unsplash

Are you at a point in your career where you feel you are facing a wall and are perhaps not enjoying what you do?
Do you ever wonder what you could do to breakthrough to find something more fulfilling that you can excel at? One way to do it is through a combination of stepping out of our comfort zones to face new horizons, adopting a mind-set that says we can rather than we can’t, and using and growing current skills and capabilities to launch into a new direction (transferable skills).

My awareness of such a 3-pronged approach has been triggered as a result of seeing parallels in sport. Let’s explore each of the 3 in turn.

It seems as if many of us have been caught up in the excitement of the recent Winter Olympics with polished wooden floors being substituted for ice as we take on our own curling experiments at home! While enjoying the skills, hard work and expertise of athletes from many nations and disciplines from figure skating to slope style, super G to skeleton I was taken by how many athletes had previously been focusing on very different sports. The three Nigerian women in the bobsleigh team had all previously competed at track and field events (one competed in the 100m hurdles in London 2012), Lizzie Yarnold (back to back skeleton gold medal winner) was previously a heptathlete, and then you have Czech athlete, Ester Ledecker, a snowboarder (who later won the snowboard giant slalom), who had a go on borrowed skis at the Super G to see how fast she could go and won the Gold medal!! All set their sights on new horizons.

Step 1 – New Horizons

So, the first step is to consider what might be possible for you that lights you up when you think of it. It takes some detection work on your part, considering things that you enjoy, times when time has flown for you, speaking to people that you know in different fields about what they do and what they enjoy about it.

You can find out more about this in my previous blog. It is about being prepared to leave some of what you know behind for the promise of what you can become. It may mean stepping out of your comfort zone knowing that the initial stretch will lead to a broader comfort zone in the future.

Lizzie Yarnold shares that she tried many activities over the years and once believed that she was better suited to a sport involving horses than the skeleton. Keep looking until you find your career equivalent to Lizzie’s skeleton.

Step 2 – ‘Can do’ mind set.

As I watched the credits at the end of the England v Scotland 6-Nations Rugby game last Saturday, there was a great set of statistics and a quote related to Shane Williams. Williams achieved 87 caps for Wales and scored 58 tries and was the first Welshman to be named IRB player of the year in 2008. He might never have achieved this outstanding career if he had listened when told that he was ‘too small to play rugby’ at 5 ft 7 in tall. Fortunately, despite playing football for a time, he made the switch that would change his sporting career.

Sometimes it is other people telling us what we are suited or not suited for that steers our direction, and not always in the best way. At others, it is that inner voice that plagues us from time to time. Yours may well be telling you that your new horizon is beyond you, that you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for too long already, you’ll never be able to make the change. Well – it’s time to take the feet out from under your inner voice!

See previous blog for more information on helping to remove mind-set blockers. For a quick fix, make a note of the automatic negative thoughts you are having, look at them objectively, and then consider what an equally valid but positive performance enhancing thought might be instead and then act from that perspective.

Step 3 – Use and grow skills and capabilities (transferable skills)

Billy Morgan (bronze medallist in men’s snowboarding big air in Pyeongchang) and Lizzie Yarnold, took learning, skills and capabilities from previous sports (acrobatic gymnastics and heptathlon respectively) and put them to use in new sports that led to Olympic medals.
You will likely already have some skills from your career to date that would be equally applicable and useful to you in other careers. In addition, it can be helpful to consider what more you could build capability in to help you transition to a different career. Even if you can’t see how that might be possible within your current role, you could potentially find a way outside of work to build capability and skills that will support you. Need networking, influencing and relationship skills in order to transition to a new career? Consider chairing a club that you are part of or put yourself forward as a volunteer for an organisation that you believe in that requires interaction with members of the public to fulfil your duties. When you have a sense of some new horizon possibilities, work out what skills and capabilities might help you get there and then look for ways to build them.

We may not all have the potential to be Olympic Athletes, but there is a career out there for everyone that enables them to feel fulfilled. Give yourself a new horizon and focus on mind-set and transferable skills to see what might be possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *