Thinking of changing jobs? Prepare for the emotional blow.

Take intermediate steps to manage the change, expert says

Making a career transition can be emotionally daunting, but some simple strategies can help make it easier, Ron Ashkenas writes for Harvard Business Review

Job changes are especially common in today's economy, notes Ashkenas, a long-time consultant. Ashkenas is in the midst of his own career transition, so he has first-hand knowledge of the emotional challenges of leaving a long-time job.  

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He identifies three main challenges to overcome.

1: A sense of guilt:

Leaving behind colleagues and an organization you admire can feel like "betrayal," he writes. Ashkenas has worked with many clients who felt guilty at the prospect of leaving a job and so decided to stay.

But "you have to be a bit selfish when it comes to decisions about career transitions," he advises. While it is natural to feel a sense of obligation to others, "they shouldn't stop you from making career shifts that are right for you."

2: Grappling with personal identity:

According to Gallup, about half of people in the United States define themselves by what they do, so changing jobs can require shifting your sense of self, too.

But it's tough to redefine your whole identity, so many people maintain elements of their old life in their new career. For instance, Ashkenas cites a physician who retired and set up a telemedicine project focused on underserved communities. Leveraging skills from your old job can help preserve some of your old identity, he writes.

3: Learning new habits:

Much of work life is about your routine—from where you get your coffee every day to how you relate with a tight-knit group of colleagues. Changing jobs can upset those routines. "Everyone gets attached to their personal habits and routines because they provide a certain amount of psychological comfort and relief," Ashkenas explains. 

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Other helpful strategies

Managing the emotional aspects of a career transition becomes easier with planning. Ashkenas suggests thinking "carefully and intentionally about what will satisfy you in your next job or career stage." Knowing what is next—and that you will enjoy it—can help you weather the emotionally difficult transition period.

He also says it is important to think about minor details, such as intermediate steps that can soften the pace of change. For instance, Ashkenas "spent several months as an 'executive in residence' at a business school as a way of testing what it would be like to do something else" (Ashkenas, Harvard Business Review, 3/5). 


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