4 surprising signs you should switch careers in 2021

Could 2021 be the year you start a new career? If you think that sounds far-fetched because of the pandemic, think twice. Just because the job market is uncertain doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t make moves.

“2021 starts with an unusual and unprecedented job market in many ways with COVID-19 having affected so many businesses, with many people made redundant and potentially more to come before life starts to return to any form of normality,” says career transition coach and development trainer Ali Whelan.

“However, this isn’t the time to sit back and wait for the dust to settle. Many people are thinking just that, ‘I’ll wait it out, sit tight and see what happens’. The key thing to understand about career transition is that even in ‘normal’ times, it takes time and planning.”

So if you were already toying with the idea of switching paths, things aren’t magically going to sort themselves out after the pandemic — and now might just be the perfect time to plan your transition.

“Now is the time to be reviewing, gaining clarity, building belief and getting a plan of action in place — ready for when opportunities start to fly. The current pool of job seekers is big, bigger than ever before, and nailing your approach, being ready to hit the ground running and getting ahead of the competition is really going to be key,” says Whelan.

If you’re still on the fence, it’s understandable. The signs you should switch careers are not always obvious. In fact, they are sometimes very subtle and easy-to-miss. “People often recognize these things are there but don’t realize their importance and very often they will look at ‘fixing’ so many other things before they think to look at their career.”

Here are four surprising signs you should switch careers in 2021 to help you figure out your next steps.

1. You talk about switching jobs one day

Have you been casually talking about the possibility of a career change for a while? If so, your eagerness to take action may not be so casual after all. Especially if you keep arguing for all the reasons why now is not the right time.

“When you keep finding more and more reasons why you can’t change careers, it’s usually a great sign that it’s really the right time to do it,” says Whelan.

“This sign is important because it usually points to a fear factor. In reality, you know you need to make that change but that thought is scary, so you mentally start to create as many barriers as possible to keep you safe from that fear of change.”

Simply put, this reaction may be a coping mechanism pointing to the fact you should switch careers as soon as possible.

2. Your life outside of work takes more importance

Work-life balance is a great thing. You should very much be enjoying your outside-of-work pursuits, interests and relationships. But if your life outside of work starts taking more and more important than work, more often than usual, it may be a subtle sign you should switch careers in 2021.

“People often think that career change is about what is happening or not happening at work. In reality, career change has, more often than not, little to do with your work,” says Whelan.

According to her, as you move through life, what you see as important changes. You often see your career as your constant because you’ve spent time becoming good at it or specializing in a certain field. But as you change phases in life, it’s important to recognize that your career may also need to shift in response.

“All too often people try to change their lives while remaining in the same career, shoehorning their new life around a fixed career and wondering why things don’t blend well and cause friction.”

3. You’re feeling pretty neutral about work

Yes, 2020 was tough. And it’s easy to believe feeling neutral about work is a good thing during a difficult year. But if your neutral feelings are closer to feeling nothing at all, complacency might have settled in. And that’s a surefire sign it’s time to make a change.

“If you literally have no feelings about the work you do, it’s time to consider a change. Many people will just remain doing a job day after day because they have no strong feelings towards it. It’s just something to do that pays the bills, and they follow their routine, do the things, say the stuff, deal with the people,” says Whelan.

But that lack of emotional engagement can build up and turn into an eventual crisis. “Lack of motivation, be it positive or negative, or lack of sense of achievement, is not something humans deal well with.”

Whelan says that apathy can very quickly turn into a full-blown burnout if not addressed: “Sometimes it’s a burnout or life crisis and although it may have been brewing a while, it feels immediate and surprising.”

So if you find yourself in a position where you have completely compartmentalized your emotions from your career, it may just be time to reevaluate things.

4. You won’t be able to achieve what you want

Are you still wondering whether it’s time to change careers? Whelan makes all her clients go through a simple exercise. Grab a piece of paper and create a grid with two columns and three rows. Title the first column “work” and the second one “home.” Separate your rows into three sections: “enjoy doing,” “do more of,” and “like to try.”

Now use the grid as a way to reflect on what you enjoy doing at work and home. List everything that you like doing — as random or irrelevant as it may seem. Do the same for the things you’d like to do more of and the things you’d like to try. Then, ask yourself the following question: “Does the role I’m currently in allow me the potential to do these things?”

“If yes, then likely you are just in a bit of a rut and in reality a career change isn’t what you need, just some adjustments and tweaks to what is currently going on,” says Whelan.

“If no, you likely have frustrations which aren’t going to be solved by staying put. It could be that you can’t do the things you want in your work or that you can’t do the things you want outside of work, due to work issues such as time, flexibility or finances.”