Learning Insights: Navigating Through a Career Transition

Contributor: Jeremy Stowe, Director General, Government of Canada and Public Sector Skills, Canada School of Public Service

Published: August 10, 2020


"The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice."     
– Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, Dune: House Harkonnen

Even a new driver can steer a car slowly through a curve the first time without much training behind the wheel. Yet navigating an average turn requires more of the car's tires and suspension than other routine maneuvers. A small mishap, coupled with too much speed, can easily result in a loss of control and a trip into the ditch.  

When approaching a bend in the road, the general rules of driving are to brake to the desired speed, adjust the steering wheel smoothly through the direction of the turn and, most importantly, accelerate once the car has passed the apex of the curve. Oh, and always avoid using the emergency brake.

Accelerating down a new path

Starting a new job is much like the transition of following a turn in the road. You ease into it slowly, change mental directions from where you were to where you are now, and accelerate down a new path. The art of accelerating into a different and often higher-level position requires the same ability to embrace change and recognize learning as an investment that will help you navigate through your current and future successes. The modern work environment is now a place of constant change and disruption. Potential career paths are becoming far less linear, and the ability to learn and adapt is trending to the forefront in hiring practices. The future of work will be defined in the future, but the preparation and learning needed to adjust to new bends in the road must be constant.

Steps to a successful transition

Change can be difficult. During a time of transition, certain skill sets, knowledge and assumptions may no longer hold true. This is not a sign that your previous education, experiences and competencies are insufficient. Rather, it means that there is no better time to be curious and open to fresh ideas, cultures and methods.

Do not avoid the unfamiliar. Instead, lean in and seek out information, opinions and opportunities. Be interested and ready for what is around the next corner.

Author William Bridges, Ph.D., was an expert on change and transitions. He created a simple model to describe the steps of a transition:

  1. Recognize that the status quo has changed and say goodbye to what was (slow down).
  2. Expect discomfort and accept that when you start the change there will be many questions, but few answers (accelerate with confidence through the turn).
  3. Remember the past and welcome the future (accept the new road and direction).

It's important to remember that there will be some similarities and lots of differences between your previous job and your new one. All the skills and knowledge you currently possess are an important resource, but in your new position, your skills and resources have yet to be developed. Embrace the new and the uncomfortable and learn from them.

Lean into learning

The optimist who is reading this right now is thinking about opportunities to enrol in training, share insights with others, and learn more during their career transition. The pessimist is thinking that this sounds good in theory, but they do not have the time to both incorporate these ideas and adjust to a new job.

To both types of readers, do not slow down. A transition provides a chance to accelerate your learning. The time to be curious, learn from others, participate in professional development, and seek new knowledge is now—not when you think you will be less busy. You will not be less busy.

Embrace the curve and accelerate through it as part of managing your career transition, and remember that learning is an investment in yourself and your success.

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