Changing Careers: The Strength Of Being An Outsider


"It is okay to be an outsider, a recent arrival, new on the scene - and not just okay, but something to be thankful for...Because being an insider can so easily mean collapsing the horizons, can so easily mean accepting the presumptions of your province."
- Tan Le, entrepreneur, co-founder of Emotiv

Over the last 10 years we've seen a steady rise of "the outsider", across industries and countries. From the Tea Party, to Occupy Wall Street, to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the mantle of outsider is a position many people and organizations try to adopt.

This outsider status, while in many instances a strength, can be downright frightening when shifting to a new career or industry. In the earliest days, shortly after having a lightbulb moment that human resources might be the route I'd like to go, I was honestly overwhelmed with all that I didn't know about HR.

It's super easy to slip into the slimy pit of self-consciousness: What will HR professionals think of me? Do I have anything to offer? Will people laugh?I Who the hell do I think I am?!

An empowering moment in my own career shift journey happened when I traded in self-consciousness for self-awareness. The former was eating away at me, while the latter came with a sense of hope, purpose, and direction. 

Dorie Clark, the author of the career-change manifesto, Reinventing You, devotes an entire chapter to explain how to leverage your differences. Yes, when embarking upon a career shift, you are an outsider. But that doesn't mean you don't have something to bring to the table.

Clark writes, "Boiling things down and explaining why you're a compelling alternative is a powerful way to realize what's most important about you."

Some of the strategies Clark highlights include: building on your transferrable skills, leveraging your outsider status (bingo!), and asking what you have that they don't.

My favorite quotes in this chapter were from a professional Clark interviewed, Jason Shaplen, who said, "I guess I give people confidence that I know enough about their field, yet I can bring something new and interesting to the table...You have to know how to do the mechanics, but you also want to think about it in a new way."

That last quote is exactly what gets me excited about moving into an HR role: Bringing in a fresh pair of eyes and using my experience working on political campaigns, being a business owner, a wine educator, life coach, and customer support specialist to rethink problems and processes.

Too often, industries or functions within companies get crusty, falling back on the "traditional way" of doing things, rather than experimenting and reinventing, in order to meet the ever-changing challenges of business.

I'm hustling to take online courses and read books, in order to get a foundational knowledge of different aspects of human resources. Working with a fantastic branding specialist (hint: Erica Breuer!) has also helped me to see which skills and abilities will help me thrive in this new field.

Sure, there are still moments of uncertainty. Will people take me seriously? Am I living in a dream world? In those moments, I pause and take moment, remembering I have tangible skills, abilities, and a fresh eye to bring to any organization.

Josh HershComment