Career Development: It’s Not for Wimps

This article was originally posted by ASTD in honor of 2012 Career Week.

In honor of its annual Career Week, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) partnered with Bev Kaye and me to conduct a survey designed to surface a variety of career-related issues.

One dimension focused on collecting stories from members about the scariest but best career moves they’d ever made. This really captured the imaginations of those who responded but also those who’ve reviewed the findings since.

Although the sample size was relative small (less than 100 courageous professionals who share their experiences facing fear and trepidation to achieve something better), the results are powerful nonetheless.

A simple analysis of themes allows us to summarize key ideas from the data collected.


  • Changing field or industry  26%
  • Relocating   11%
  • Seeking further education  10%
  • Taking on a new role/responsibilities  10%
  • Changing sectors  7%
  • Going freelance or starting own business  7%
  • Leaving a job with no alternative employment  7%
  • Leaving a long-term position  6%
  • Taking a position with less pay, benefits or security  4%
  • Taking initiative with networking or interviews  4%
  • Turning down an opportunity  4%
  • Becoming a teacher  2%
  • Joining the military  2%
  • TOTAL  100%

Who would have guessed that changing one’s field or industry would be the top scariest move to make?Stunningly, it’s twice as scary as making a physical move, three times scarier than starting one’s own business and twelve times scarier than going to war!

In a recent interview, leadership expert Jack Zenger advised young professionals to choose their industry wisely because the vast majority will end up in the field they first selected. And, now we know that the source of the inertia may be fear.

But those who felt the fear – yet made the industry change anyway – were rewarded in a variety of ways, large and small.

Liberation and learning: Transitioning to a new industry creates a wide-open playing field. The absence of established mental models and ‘rules’ can allow us to approach learning in a new and unrestricted fashion.

“I didn’t know what I didn’t know and that allowed me not to be intimidated and learn my way.”

Confidence: Doing something scary is one of the quickest way to build self-assurance and discover what we can do.

“It proved to me that there is more than one way to use your skills and experiences…”

Satisfaction and happiness: Playing it safe is comfortable. But working through the fear, trusting our instincts, and taking that leap can lead us toward a future we never dreamed possible.

“It turned out that L&D was my dream…”  “…[I] found a field that I absolutely love now.”

So, tell me your story. What scary career moves have you made and how did you benefit?

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