The short break between school and work passed by quickly, filled with a move down to Portland and several more climbing trips since the Challenge for Charity Rainier climb in June. It was a good thing, I thought. After 18 months in the MBA program, I was starting to miss work and eager to explore my new career choice as a civilian.
But changing careers means starting over. From near the bottom. It means doing the grunt work again, the kind of work new people inherit to prove themselves capable of doing more. It means your years in your old career don’t count, you’re the new guy without directly transferrable hard skills. What’s worse, your prior life gets in the way. It gave you a way of working and speaking that you’ll have to put aside. You’re a stranger in a strange land, speaking a different language of three-letter acronyms and grasping for something to grok.
You’ll need a guide. Someone who’s made the journey before and can help you with the translation. Maybe you’ll even know the right questions to ask. A good guide can tell you answers to questions you didn’t know you had. Don’t take them or their advice for granted. You don’t know as much as you think you do, even if you were a fast burner at your old job.
Get ready for pain. The pain of long nights of studying and over-preparing, trying to do it all. But you can’t pull all-nighters like you used to. Let’s not mention the growing pile of responsibilities outside of work. You’ll need to make painful choices on what’s important to you at each moment. You’ll be wrong some of the time, and suffer the consequences. Suffer quietly, and maybe it’ll get better. Or maybe you’ll find yourself on the edge of the cliff, facing burnout, wondering why the hell you changed careers in the first place. You wake up at 3AM in a cold sweat, unable to go back to sleep because you’re not doing enough at work. You can’t fit in the pants that you bought for your first day. I bet your buddies who stayed in your old career all got promoted and are taking exotic vacations.
But one day, you’ll wake up and suddenly you’ll get “it.” Things that used to take six hours now only takes three. When did you get so good at that? People you used to turn to for questions are now asking you. You must be doing something right. Every day is still painful, but you can see solutions now, and you’re winning more than you’re losing. There’s even a new guy on the team and you’re coaching them, just like how you coached direct reports at your old job. They think they know it all, but they’ll learn…just like you did.