Sarah Devereaux spent 14 years moving through training, program development and executive roles at Google. Today, she leads marketing and customer success for Murmur, a platform that helps teams co-create policies, processes and work agreements that clarify their ways of working. She also offers leadership coaching and advisory services as the founder of Third Coast Coaching. Originally from the great state of Michigan, Sarah now lives in Colorado with her family. She is passionate about protecting the environment, lifting diverse perspectives, and battling burnout.
When I was laid off from Google in October 2020, I panicked. Even though our finances were fine, and I'd been talking about leaving for years, I initially freaked out. It was a big change, and it felt out of my control – like it was being done to me instead of something I was choosing for myself. I felt off-balance, insecure, and rejected, even though deep down it was what I really wanted.
Humans are, to some extent, creatures of habit. Way back, when hunter gatherers roamed the hills of Silicon Valley instead of tech executives, our habits were key to our survival. We recognized patterns in our environment that kept us sheltered and fed. We built stability and security through our communities. Maintaining the status quo was literally a matter of life and death.
So, it's not surprising that when we're faced with a major life change, like leaving a job, that we perceive it as a threat. And when we're under threat, we generally don't make the best decisions. The good news is that even though humans tend to resist change, we're actually pretty good at it. Once we get ourselves to accept the situation, we typically rise to the challenge in spectacular fashion.
When it comes to career transitions, emotions and insecurities often run high. It's important to breathe, center, and listen before jumping into action. The steps below can help.
Be patient, don't panic.
When change is upon us, our instinct is to act. Whether you've realized it's time to leave a job or someone else has realized it for you, it's normal to feel the need to do something to regain control. Don't do that. It's a horrible idea. Be patient and resist the urge to jump into something else right away. Give the situation time to develop – to breathe. Let yourself transition out of the "threat zone" before you decide what's next. Even if it feels like a slam dunk, the first option is rarely the best.
Acknowledge your feelings.
Transitions are emotional, regardless of the cause. Even positive changes can bring up feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, and nervous excitement. It's important to acknowledge your feelings for what they are, not bury them. If you're angry after being laid off, be angry. If you're nervous about stepping into a bigger role, be nervous. Give yourself a moment to feel what you're feeling. But, it's equally important to know when to set your emotions aside so you don't become subjected to them, and can look at the situation with a clear head and an open heart.
Redefine what success means to you.
We often measure our success against outside expectations. Between parents, friends, colleagues, and social media, it can feel like our decisions and accomplishments are under constant scrutiny (we're all supposed to be VPs with two startups under our belts and a Tesla in the garage by the time we're 29, right?). There's this idealized image out there of what "success" looks like that almost dares us to want something different. And if we take the dare – if we're happy with less – then there must be something wrong with us (there's not, for what it's worth). Career transitions are a great time to shed the external standards and redefine what success looks like for you. Throw out the rule book and get to work writing your own.
Assess the (actual) trade-offs.
Just about everyone has commitments and restrictions to consider when making a career change (if you don't, congratulations! Please tell us how you did it.). It might be making the mortgage payment or keeping up with school tuition for the kids. Or maybe it's staying close to aging parents or finding a job that won't require a spouse or partner to change jobs, too. Whatever is on your list, it's important to know what your non-negotiables are so you know what you're working with when it comes to trade-offs (and there will always be trade-offs).
Adopt a learning mindset.
Far too many of us look at a career transition as a destination instead of a journey. We often think our next move needs to be the "right" move (whatever that means). But really, our next move just needs to teach us something that will help us make the move after that, and then the move after that. A career, just like life, should be a series of learning moments that build to a level of professional wisdom that's often missing from our accomplishment-obsessed culture. If you make a move and discover in six months that it's not for you, resist the temptation to label it a failure. A short stint doesn't mean you failed. It means you learned. Embrace that, and then go learn something else.
Every great learning moment starts with a great question.