Career Insights: When to jump

It's ok to switch your major, it's ok to change your interests, and it's ok to go down a totally different career path. Kiera O'Donnell offers refreshing advice for those in a mid-college crisis and reminds us to pursue what we are most passionate about.

This is part of a  series of columns from the Student Professional Development Center offering industry insights and career guidance.

By: Kiera O’Donnell, Career Advising Fellow

I changed my entire life plan during my junior year of college and I’m here to tell you that I’m doing just fine.

Kiera O’Donnell, career services advising fellow

I decided when I was 12 years old that I wanted to be a speech pathologist and maintained that belief until the end of the second semester of my sophomore year. It was at that point that I had a complete emotional breakdown, terrified because I hated all of my communications disorders classes.

Nothing against speech language pathologists, but I realized it was not the path for me. I was completely lost and called my mom multiple times a day because I was so scared that I had failed at becoming what I wanted to be.

Finally, through talking with her and my mentors, I allowed myself to believe what everyone was telling me: You are not a failure just because your original plan didn’t work. I made my original plan as a 6th grader seeing a speech pathologist in action for the first time ever, and at the time my backup plan was playing professional basketball. Clearly, I was not aware of all of the options that were out there. I eventually found myself in the field of higher education, and I truly could not imagine my life in any other way.

I just finished a book called “When to Jump” by Mike Lewis. Lewis was a venture capitalist at Bain Capital before quitting his job to join the professional squash circuit. He founded a global community of people, also called When to Jump, which has reached millions. His book includes the stories of over 40 people who made jumps and followed their passions into a new career. These stories include:

  • Jeff Arch, the former karate school owner who followed his passion for writing and ended up writing the screenplay for Sleepless in Seattle
  • Brian Spaly, the former private equity investor who followed his passion for fashion and founded his own men’s clothing brand (Bonobos)
  • Barbara Harris, a former PR executive with Sun Oil Company (better known as Sunoco) who became an ordained minister and was later elected as the first female Bishop in the Episcopal Church and the larger worldwide Anglican Communion.

Lewis splits each of these stories between what he calls “The 4 Phases of Jumping” and provides key takeaways for each phase. I’ve included some that I found especially helpful.

Phase 1: Listen to the Little Voice [in your head]

  • That little voice in your head is your true voice
  • You may already know what your priorities are, but you may be trying to block them out
  • Tell people about what the little voice is saying, it can keep that passion alive
  • No one is in a better position to make decisions for you than YOU

Phase 2: Make a Plan

  • A good jump usually doesn’t mean going off the diving board, it sometimes means starting in the shallow end and continuing to take the next step (Adam Braun)
  • You should be making multiple smaller practical decisions in advance of your bigger decisions
  • Money is important! If you are making a jump towards something less financially secure, make sure you include this in your financial planning
  • Find a small project you can do on the side to explore what that kind of work is like, sometimes reading about something and actually doing it is different!
  • There is no perfect time for a jump, but it can become too late!

Phase 3: Let Yourself Be Lucky

  • When speaking about your jump, use the word “when” not “if”
  • Give yourself a date to jump, otherwise, you can constantly try to make changes and never actually go
  • Try to do just one thing towards making a jump and see what happens
  • Luck is out there, but you have to actually try to experience it

Phase 4: Don’t Look Back

  • You will come out stronger for trying, you will learn, grow and experience in ways you couldn’t without making a jump
  • You will need discipline, you need to be the kind of person who is willing to commit to a jump and all the work that comes along with it
  • Regret from inaction often feels worse than regret from action
  • Embrace fear and failure, they are part of the process
  • Last but not least, don’t be afraid to pursue happiness

If you think you need to make a change, your first step should always be to take a moment to yourself. Think about where those feelings are coming from and how long you’ve been feeling them. Do some soul searching and research to better understand what changes you may be considering. Consider taking some career personality assessments with us in the SPDC. We are happy to help you if you’re feeling unsettled. Finally, always remember: a change of heart is not a reason to panic, it is an opportunity to pursue something new!