At some point during my third year of college, I started to suspect something wasn’t right. The path I set out for myself for the prior six years wasn’t quite satisfying me. A young man of many interests, the prospect of spending a lifetime focusing on being the best I could possibly be at one calling — teaching music — became unappealing.
Sure, teaching music is a wonderful path. The lasting impact teachers have on hundreds of lives is incomparable to most other roles and careers. I, however, felt strongly at that time that by following that typical career path and by putting as much of my life into my job as I expected would be necessary, I wouldn’t have the kind of fulfillment I was looking for.
My first major pivot.
While in college, I pivoted my approach. After several attempts to fit a minor course of study into my schedule, I settled on a minor focused on nonprofit. It was a pivot that I now see as a good move because it helped shape the projects I take on today and gave me more paths towards living a life of doing important things.
The pivot is the key to not just success but survival. If you’re a professional athlete, focus on sharpening your broadcast skills so you have an opportunity for a “second act” once you can no longer compete — especially if you aren’t one of the few superstar athletes who could publish a memoir people would buy.
If you run a business, a pivot could be revolutionary. It’s a fundamental change in the nature or strategy of the company. Nintendo is known for video games and gaming technology, but the company launched in the 19th century making vacuum cleaners and playing cards. The executives saw the birth of a trend very early on, and in 1966, turned to video games and never looked back.
It was a massively successful pivot.
There’s nothing more pivotal than the life of a serial entrepreneur. Take one business to a certain point, exit that business through a sale or merger, and move onto the next project. In the same vein, I’ve seen people develop successful businesses, and once they’ve gone as far as they’d like to go, they’ve begun their next business selling other entrepreneurs on the ideas that led them to their initial success. “You, too, can be a success, just like me! I’ll tell you how. Buy my e-book and take my online course!”
Adaptability is the key to a successful pivot.
Adaptability is one of the most important adult skills. If you’re too set in your ways and not amenable to change, you can be guaranteed that life will pass you by, and if you’re after happiness, it may prove to be elusive. You’ve got to be paying attention to today’s trends, predicting the future, and have a keen awareness of your skills.
Tim Tebow’s now a baseball player. A podcast company called Odeo became Twitter. Jessica Alba went from actor to entrepreneur — and if that’s not a complete pivot, at least it’s diversification.
Pivots in your personal life can be even more monumental. Moving out of a toxic relationship could be the best pivot for your long-term health and happiness. The list of famous relationship pivots is too long to include here.
Pivot successfully with five steps.
Here’s how you can prepare for a successful pivot, and you can expect to have at least one major pivot in your life — more if you want to be as agile as possible, increasing your changes for success and happiness.
Are you ready to make a pivot in your life or career? These are five important steps.
1. Focus on being a generalist with as much enthusiasm as a specialist.
Take the time to explore your interests and learn about related areas. Although people no longer tend to work for the same company from the moment they can work to the moment they retire (or die), there still is a strong trend to stay in the same field. Often, a strong career requires a highly specialized degree, and that education takes a long time.
But a great education prepares students for adapting to the world, whatever it might bring. Use time in college to experiment with different paths, especially if you are talented in or passionate about a variety of fields. Gain experience working in areas you wouldn’t normally consider. Practice solving problems of all types.
There’s a danger when people become experts or become immersed in a narrow field. So many mortgage brokers — trained to be nothing more and without other marketable skills — found themselves out of work during the credit crunch period of the last recession.
Multi-faceted experience gives you a level of employability first of all, and beyond that, the potential to take your income into your own hands through building your own business, consulting, freelancing, or otherwise honing in on entrepreneurship.
2. Open your mind to new ideas.
It’s possible you discover an important pivot by saying yes to interesting opportunities. While it’s important not to distract yourself from the job you are doing, closing yourself off to signs that the world is changing around you will be disastrous.
Find interesting people — or anyone doing work in something that interests you — and ask questions. Get acquainted. Learn from them.
3. Guide yourself by a broad vision.
Corporate mission statements are often specific, and direct a company towards the type of work they do. Sometimes these mission statements change, but the overall vision remains the same.
Your vision should be broad. What kind of world do you want to live in? The answer to that can be your vision. And when you pivot, even if it’s from one career path to another, it can still fit in with your vision of the future.
But don’t feel bad if it doesn’t. You’re allowed to change your mind. You’re allowed to follow a path that has no relation to the journey you started. That’s an inherent benefit of being an adult.
4. Predict the future.
Easy right? It’s not impossible. You don’t have to be a fortune teller to get it right. You just have to pay attention to the little details, and have a good grasp on human behavior, using history as a guide.
Keep an eye on the world around you, because that’s how you can learn to spot minute changes that signal the shape of the future. For example, not many people accurately predicted the latest economic recession with significant advance warning, but once the recession was apparent, it was relatively easy to figure out what some of the world’s biggest concerns and trends were going to be in the coming years.
5. Plan your pivot as much as possible.
If you want to jump into the pool’s deep end, you should probably know how to swim first. If you don’t know how, you may struggle, and your basic need for survival may be the only force preventing you from drowning. Maybe.
Prepare with knowledge and practice, and your chance for survival increases. Reduce the risk of the pivot by doing research, talking to others who have made similar moves, and setting up your personal support system.
Your support system includes friends and family who want to see you succeed with the changes in your life. There will always be doubters, though. You may want to ignore them and remove negativity from your life, but that’s not always the best idea. Even critics might have a perspective worth considering — not all, but some.
But you do need people who will cheer you on and provide moral support.
Create a timeline. And depending on whether you like the sink-or-swim challenge, either you give yourself no option but to keep trying until you succeed, or give yourself a back-up plan. Build that into your timeline, but don’t be afraid to adjust or adapt — or pivot — as the needs arise.
Whether it’s part of your plan or appearing by surprise, your life will include at least one pivot. Take control of your pivot with preparation and planning, and be ready to pivot at any moment. Look for the opportunities.
You never know what kind of success or happiness is out there if you move only in one direction and ignore your peripheral vision.