Career Transitions and Your Emotional Health: Understanding and Navigating the Effects

Career transitions are often an inevitable factor in the lives of most professionals. While there are those who may be lucky enough to embark upon their dream career on the virtual heels of their graduation commencements, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the typical mature worker averages a total of 10 jobs before the age of 40. In fact, due to the growing career options in today’s ever-changing employment landscape, it’s anticipated that this number will continue to increase over the next decade!

Yet, statistics aside, even one or two career changes in your professional life can warrant a significant set of stressors and emotional hurdles. This is not to say that a career shift should be considered a negative experience. Actually, such a crossroad is most typically accompanied by a greater sense of fulfillment — both professionally and personally – provided the change results in more satisfactory working conditions.

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However, learning to manage your own emotional health during the process is vital to the overall success of your new career. Outlined below, are three typical emotional responses to career transition and helpful solutions for each:

RESPONSE #1:  The Guilt Factor

Even though you’ve made the practical decision to change the course of your career, it’s still quite possible that your last job provided you with at least some sense of value or enrichment at one time or another. Perhaps you are thinking back to how your superiors nicely awarded you for a job well-done. Maybe you developed a close bond with coworkers; or your leaving coincided with a large undertaking which could have used your support as an employee. While your new career is a step in the right direction, it’s not unusual to look back nostalgically on the positive times you’ve spent with the company, possibly even developing a sense of unsubstantiated guilt that you’ve somehow left your employer high and dry.

REMEDY: Look to the Future

Remember that any feelings of remorse, while not unusual, are likely unfounded. If your career transition was based on a series of well-informed decisions and assessments, it’s crucial to resist the temptation to second-guess yourself. Review your original list of pros and cons and remind yourself that there were identifiable reasons which led to your final decision. As long as you provided ample notice of your departure, any residual feelings of guilt for leaving your previous employer should be replaced with a sense of hope, optimism an aspiration. Remember that old friendships can be maintained separately from the workplace, and new achievements can always be realized. This is your time to plan your future and remember that you are making a change for better.

RESPONSE #2:  Adaptation Concerns

If you spent a considerable amount of time at your previous job, you probably became used to a certain working “lifestyle”. Whether you realize it or not, everything from your daily tasks and attire, to your hourly schedule — even your commute and how you spent your lunch breaks —  have played an inherent part in shaping your way of life to this point. Yet, suddenly, you may find yourself struggling to acclimate to a work culture that seems completely foreign. This can be a daunting and nerve-wracking experience, especially for those encountering their first career transition.

REMEDY: Unplug and Prepare

The old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly applicable in this instance. When transitioning from one career to another, it’s advisable to take some time off in between to regroup and prepare for your new position. If timing or financial concerns prevent you from taking off a significant amount of time, try at least for a long weekend to mentally “unplug” from your previous position as well as to prepare for your next role. This will offer you not only a sense of closure, but also a clean slate from which to start anew. Ron Ashkenas, author and multi-industry leadership coach offers yet another perspective: “In my case, I’m intentionally trying to work from home, instead of using my old office, as a way of signaling to myself and colleagues that a new era has begun.” Once you have structured your life to suit your next career, everything becomes easy. Take a cue from Ron and start getting acquainted with the next chapter of your life.

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RESPONSE #3:  Identity Crisis

For many people, their career is not only central to sustaining their lifestyle and financial stability, but also to promoting their credibility, identity, and value in society. Even a change for the better can leave an individual in a temporary state of psychological flux. Take, for instance, a business director who decides to start over on an entrepreneurial level and launch a new company. Suddenly, a high ranking professional from a steady and conventional business background now holds the sole decision-making responsibilities of an operation that is entirely reliant upon his or her expertise. What’s more, as the founder of a start-up, many of the administrative tasks which a director might have delegated to others are now the duties of the new entrepreneur. Therefore, while a new endeavor (such as leaving behind the 9-5 world) may be dream-fulfilling, there may also be a certain amount of identity readjustment involved, even if only on a subconscious level.

REMEDY:  Seek Guidance

When redefining your-self both personally and professionally, the proper guidance can be crucial, and fortunately, it can be sought in a myriad of ways. You may first try searching for books on the topic. Reading can be a great way to not only relax your mind, but also immerse yourself in knowledge specific to your particular circumstance. If you find an author whose story you can relate to, the impact can be life-changing. Next, you might consider reaching out to your network for advice. Have any of your connections gone through a similar experience? How did they cope with reinventing themselves? Lastly, consider seeking a mentor; joining groups and forums through your network may help connect you with a mentor in your field who can help you along in your new journey.


Remember, the day will quickly come when you are so consumed within your new role that you will have long-forgotten the many hurdles of your career transition. Maintaining a goal-driven strategy will help you look toward the future without comparing it to the past. Through patience and dedication, your new career will soon become home to you.


Fred Coon, CEO


Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200