Time for a change? Meet quereinsteiger
Have you ever thought about a radical career change? We explore the rising phenomenon of the lateral career change, the impact of COVID-19 on professional goals and how to successfully make that quantum career leap.
In every job, there comes a tipping point that calls for a complete re-evaluation of where we are and where we’re going. It’s not uncommon to feel as though we have outgrown a career or workplace the same way we outgrow phases, places, clothes and relationships.
Athlete and social entrepreneur Samantha Gash is no stranger to this feeling. Working long, unpredictable hours as a corporate lawyer, Gash began to gravitate towards her passion for endurance running, social impact and philanthropy work. “I didn’t know how they would fit together as they didn’t make up a conventional career,” says Gash. “But I knew deep down they aligned with my values of contribution, connection and community.”
And so she began her journey from lawyer to entrepreneur and activist. Since swapping business suits and briefs for sneakers and social activism, Gash has taken on ultramarathons, fundraising initiatives and ambassadorships for the likes of World Vision and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and recently launched Her Trails, a new holistic training program aimed at strengthening physical and mental resilience.
Gash’s story may be unique, but the premise is not a rare phenomenon, and there is a name for someone who makes a dramatic pivot in their career — quereinsteiger, or quereinsteigerin for women. Much like the Swedish word lagom or the Danish work hygge, there is no true English definition for this German word. It roughly translates to “lateral entrant” and derives from the German word quer — referring to going against the grain and making a bold, unconventional move.
Until recently, this mindset was largely rejected. People were encouraged to stick to the conventional linear career path from day one to retirement. In Germany, the average worker holds the same job for around 11 years. But now the German government is working to destigmatise career change, with an official web page dedicated to career change tips and interviews.
Locally, we have the Career Transition Assistance program, a federal plan that aims to provide support, retraining and upskilling to help mature-aged workers (those 45 years and older) pivot in their careers. There are eligibility requirements for the program, such as participating in other programs including jobactive, New Employment Services Trial (NEST), Online Employment Services (OES) or Volunteer Online Employment Services Trial (VOEST).
So how do we know we’re ready for a complete career makeover, and how do we get started? “When you reflect deeply enough and realise your time on this planet is of your choosing, the answer became very simple,” Gash says. Your journey starts here.
The midlife career crisis
Once upon a time, it was standard to stay at the same company for 20, 30, even 40 years. But today, it’s rare for us to retire with a gold watch from a company we’ve been at for decades. Many of us pursue alternate career paths throughout our working lives. In fact, new data shows that the average Aussie goes through five to seven career changes in their lifetime.
“It’s natural to become curious and want to start fresh,” says psychologist, psychotherapist and founder of Pinwheel Psychology, Samantha Symes. “We work for a long time, and we get to that point of boredom and frustration. And this leads people to think creatively and ask themselves, ‘What else can I be doing?’”
Age and experience brings a wealth of perspective, change and growth. As we get older our values and desires shift, causing us to crave more flexibility, higher pay, a new challenge and more inspiration from our jobs. And some of us simply question whether we are getting the most out of our potential and if there is something else out there that would bring us more joy or motivation.
Podcaster and journalist Jacqui Ooi, who interviews women from all career backgrounds on her podcast What She Did Next, has found that each woman has her own unique career change story. “For some women, it’s been a big life moment like a health issue or becoming a parent that’s shifted their priorities around work,” she explains. “For others, it’s the realisation that the work they’ve been doing no longer aligns with their values … There are also women who simply enjoy the new. They like starting again, building something, challenging themselves to see what else they are capable of. That desire to keep learning and growing can take them in different career directions.”
According to 2016 LinkedIn data, women have job-hopped at an rate increasingly higher than men since 1986. And when it comes to changing careers entirely, women generally have a better idea of exactly what kind of work they want. “It’s more about problem-solving to fit with their lifestyle,” Symes explains. “They think, ‘Now that I’ve had a family, what job will have flexible hours? What job can I create in the time I have, that will support me, that I can grow as my family needs me less?’”
Symes notes that many women “are almost forced to think differently about their working life.” It may be an outdated notion, but the fact is women are much more likely than men to take time off work or leave their jobs entirely to find a more flexible career path once they have a family.
Symes went through a lateral career change herself, making the switch from the work-hard, play-hard life of sales and recruitment to psychology and career coaching. “I really wanted something that I could do as I got older,” says Symes. “I saw a lot of clients who were in their 40s and early 50s when I was quite young, and they were struggling because the workforce can be quite ageist.”
We’re part of an ageing workforce, with the number of workers aged 60 to 74 steadily on the rise over the past decade — so it’s never too late to change careers. Take the late Ruth Flowers (aka Mamy Rock), for example. She nipped elderly stereotypes in the bud when she came out of a 10-year retirement to become a DJ at 68 years old. By 72 she was performing in nightclubs around the world. As journalist and social activist Gloria Steinem said, “The model of success is not linear.”
Pivoting through a pandemic
The pandemic may have closed a lot of doors to both everyday life and your career, but it also opened the door to flexible work and pushed many people to reconsider what is truly important to them. According to The Great COVID Career Reset, a study conducted by Women’s Agenda and Monarch Institute in late 2020, 77 per cent of women surveyed said the pandemic made them rethink their career goals and 80 per cent said they are rethinking what’s important to them when it comes to their career.
Home cook and recipe creator Jessica Nguyen gained a cult following on Instagram after her chilli oil recipe went viral in mid-2020. Nguyen was made redundant from her marketing job in Melbourne in March 2020 and joined the 600,000 Australians who lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic.
Rather than look for a job where there were none, she shifted her focus to a life-long passion — food. Nguyen begun sharing her recipes to her Instagram stories in cook-along tutorial videos that quickly amassed tens of thousands of views.
“It was something that I had sporadically done as a hobby and just as a fun thing on the weekends, but I just started doing it more because it was the only thing I could do that gave me joy,” says Nguyen. “So it was the perfect storm between me not having a job, sharing a whole lot of recipes online, everyone being in lockdown, not knowing how to cook and needing some kind of resource to cook dinner and bring a bit of joy to their lockdown.”
Fast-forward to 18 months later, and cooking at home is Nguyen’s full-time job. Between creating new recipes to share with her followers and collaborating with brands, Nguyen has launched her now famous chilli oil on the market via her website. What began as a pipe dream resulted in a career filled with new challenges, motivation and creativity. “It was kind of fateful because I got pushed and forced into doing it, when I wouldn’t really have just made that leap,” Nguyen says.
The uncertainty of job security during the pandemic saw many of us look for alternative pathways and learn new skills. The Great COVID Reset Study found that 48 per cent of women upskilled during lockdown, starting online courses and university degrees. This was perhaps as much a response to the threat of unemployment due to the pandemic as well as ever-evolving technology we use every day.
“Making a shift in your career can fill you with excitement, anxiety, overwhelm and even paralysis,” says Gash. “But pivoting careers has the potential to open more doors than shut — including keeping the door open to return to your previous job if you so desire down the track. Be brave in seeking out a mentor in the field you wish to work in to gain as much insight as possible. This will make your pivot based on solid information rather than hypotheticals.”
Taking the leap of faith
The old saying “Look before you leap” remains true when it comes to your career. Making decisions based on your emotions and impulses is not the best approach, and it’s important to consider the non-negotiables you are looking for in your next role. Start by writing down what benefits you are looking for — better work–life balance, flexible working conditions, a base pay rate — and consider whether you would be willing to commit to additional study if needed. The next step? Research and networking.
Getting first-hand stories from people in the field you are interested in is extremely important. They can help you figure out if the industry is the right fit for you and your lifestyle. “You need to talk to people who have some experience of the sector or industry you’re considering,” Ooi says. “A job that might seem really appealing in your mind could look very different in reality … Don’t go in with rose-coloured glasses. Make sure you do your homework and try to get a sense of what your day-to-day might look like in your new career.”
Perhaps one of the biggest roadblocks to success and happiness within our jobs is self-doubt, manifesting as imposter syndrome and leading many of us to question our capabilities — especially women working in male-dominated environments. Feeling like a fish out of water is normal in any capacity. But it’s important to remember not only what led you to this career change in the first place, but also the skills you have in your toolbox that you can use to excel in new roles.
“There are so many jobs with transferrable skills that may not seem obvious on paper,” says Ooi. “I’ve spoken to a woman on the podcast who left her career in real estate to become a scientist. She actually found that the marketing and design skills she’d developed in her real estate role also helped her in communicating her research.”
Actor Denzel Washington was on the ball when he tweeted: “There are people less qualified than you, doing the things you want to do, simply because they decide to believe in themselves.” Overcoming self-doubt is essential to succeed in your career change.
As for the opinions and doubts of others, your own determination and resilience must speak louder. “Sometimes there can be naysayers among your own friends and family who don’t understand your desire to change careers. That can be hard to navigate,” says Ooi. “You need to have a pretty strong sense of self-belief to push past that and follow what you really want for yourself.”
Since taking the leap that led her from structured parameters to the ever-evolving landscape of entrepreneurship, Gash has learned to regain control of her mindset and defeat self-doubt. Her top tips?
- Balance your need to forecast ahead with the importance of surrendering to the moment. Being mindful allows us to mitigate comparison and build our self-esteem.
- Remember your capacity for growth expands through failures and mistakes far more than from smooth sailing. Struggling can actually be a great strategy for personal and professional expansion.
- Your fears and self-doubt are often based on an outdated narrative you keep telling yourself. It’s up to you to rewrite the narrative.
And who knows? Your new career and the journey you take towards it may teach you a valuable life lesson or two. “I’ve become incredibly resourceful,” Gash reflects. “I’ve learned to fend for myself, back myself and endure through uncertainty.” It is this uncertainty that you can use to propel you towards your next big step.
“Do what scares you the most,” says Nguyen. “Because that’s where you grow the most … If you get the opportunity, just take it. That will lead to more doors and different opportunities and then you will just end up on the path that you wanted to be on.” C’est la vie.
Think you’re ready for a career change? Here are 5 steps you can take to get your journey started.
- Take some time to reflect: “Give yourself a timeframe as opposed to making the decision purely based on emotions,” Gash says. Consider your hobbies, values, passions and transferable skills, and the pros and cons of changing career.
- Be curious: Do your research to find out what skills, experience and qualifications you need to change into your new career field of choice. Taking the Job Outlook Career Quiz can be a good place to start, and you may also want to seek guidance and advice from a professional career counsellor.
- Set realistic goals: Know your limits and boundaries and be willing to apply these to all aspects of your new potential job. There is no point switching careers into a role that doesn’t meet your expectations or requirements and may result in unhappiness and added stress.
- Use your network: Reach out to friends, relatives and mutual friends to discover if they know anyone with a similar career to the one you desire. This will help you learn more and gain some first-hand insight.
- Find a mentor: Mentors are important to have at all ages and stages of your career. Find someone you admire, reach out and see if they would be open to meeting for a coffee and a chat to share some advice and wisdom. And remember — a mentor doesn’t have to be older than you!