Hollywood often captures the downside of changing jobs and careers with dramatic tales about unexpectedly losing a long-held position and not being able to find a suitable replacement. If I asked you to describe what such an experience would be like, you might choose words like “traumatic,” “depressing,” and “difficult.”

If I instead asked about what it might feel like during the first 10 minutes after hearing about such a job loss, you would be more likely to say “sickening,” “gut-wrenching,” and “devastating.” The difference in words would probably reflect your own experiences with unexpected, unwelcome changes. Most people respond to such changes by feeling overwhelmed.

Contrast such reactions with how someone might feel about leaving a less than desirable job in one field to begin a more delightful position in another field. In such a case the person might use words such as “energizing,” “exciting,” and “encouraging.”

What’s the difference? Well, the unexpected, unwelcome change causes someone’s body to be filled with chemicals that trigger reactions and emotions designed to help the person survive in physically dangerous circumstances. The “logical” part of the brain almost shuts down at such times, and the “defensive instinct” portions seize control.

What kind of job and career changes should individuals expect? Career experts forecast that over the next 30 years most people will change jobs more frequently and they will probably also switch careers at least once. If that’s the case, job changes may not be avoidable, but rather something to expect.

How should that forecast affect what you do?

To illustrate your choices, let me compare changing careers with planning a vacation in a country you haven’t visited before. Unless you are a person who prefers nothing better than a “stay-cation” at home, you would probably be excited about the possibilities for picking a destination and planning the details so that you would enjoy the best of what could be done there.

If Venice is on your list, for instance, you’ll probably have a gondola ride on your “to-do” list. You may even have a song in mind for the gondolier to sing. Just the thought of what’s ahead will probably cause you to smile in anticipation, even if the vacation is months away.

As you can imagine, a big part of how we experience any change is by how expected and welcome it is. The active career planner will sometimes be surprised by unexpected and undesired job changes, but most job shifts for such people will instead be expected and welcome.

This observation suggests these career-planning principles:

1. Always be prepared to obtain a more desirable job in a career you prefer. We can look either forward or back, not both. The choice is ours and makes the difference between proactively choosing to grow and change or holding tight to “the way we were,” as Barbara Streisand put it so well. Three critical elements of experience can be put to work here: attention, attitude, and activation -- energy and momentum. Focus your attention forward to spot opportunities and create your vision or dream. Choose a proactive attitude to generate meaning for why making a change is something you want to do (trash the ‘have to’ and ‘got to’ language and replace it with ‘want to’); build confidence with language again -- “I can” and “We can” will eradicate doubt in self and others. Jumpstart your activation by creating stairstep goals and then power up for the first step and for each step on the way to that vision you created.

2. When you unexpectedly lose a job and aren’t prepared, approach seeking a new job as though you had initiated the change to better your career and ensure your own buy-in to achieve your next vision and goal.

Being prepared for taking a step forward in your career is obviously better than being unprepared for a job loss. However, you can take many of the problems and pains out of making an unplanned and unexpected change by treating it as an opportunity … rather than as an oppressive disaster. In doing so, you choose to be the victor rather than the victim. Your improved experience will occur not because you won’t have lots of difficulties and need to make great efforts, but simply because you will be feeling more encouraged and thinking more productively, looking forward, and moving yourself ahead as you do.

What’s the source of these recommendations? I have had the good fortune to have learned about making changes more constructively from my faculty colleague at Rushmore University, Professor Pam Brill, who has an Ed.D. in psychology. In her book, The Winner’s Way (McGraw-Hill, 2004), Pam describes the kinds of emotional and mental challenges that can undermine our potential to engage constructively with change. More importantly, she also outlines ways to perform “in the zone,” that almost effortless state of total engagement with the challenge, the state in which everything seems more under control and easier to accomplish. Pam has consulted with clients in business, sports, and medical and clinical settings to teach them to get “in the zone” to achieve personal and team bests—even when facing down life-altering changes and life-threatening illnesses and injuries.

Many people write books. As you well know, that doesn’t mean that they provide good advice. Have no such concerns about Pam. She’s worked in clinical psychology for many years and consults with leaders of all sorts to make important changes. In her practice she’s often assisted top athletes to make changes that helped unleash their top performances. Their records speak to the credibility of these ideas.

Pam’s life displays other signs of knowing the right answers. She’s been a daily runner for over 25 years, and her four daughters have been student athletes who live their lives on purpose with a will to win, all four just out of college, Business School, Law School, and a professional acting academy.

A single parent for most of the journey, Pam has used her own system to get back up after being hit with curve balls and stay in the game in raising her four daughters. With Pam’s leadership, each of her four daughters has been able to pursue diverse dreams aligned with their passions, talents, and goals, including her oldest who built her own bicycle and cycled across the country from NYC to Oregon after taking the New York Bar Exam.

Each of these young women has learned, too, to accept the “as is” of life and to hurdle the challenges inherent in pursuing your life, educational, and work dreams. Because, after all, as their mother taught them, life is just too short and way too short to live it anywhere but “in the zone” where we do and feel our best.

If you are like me, you find the record of how others have benefited from such ideas compelling evidence that you should pay attention to your job prospects and career in new ways. Here is a brief list of lessons to begin applying:

1. Identify five beneficial aspects of leaving your current job.

2. Spell out five advantages you would like to gain from your next position.

3. Plan three things you can do now to make it easier to gain and succeed in your next job.

4. Investigate how shifting into three other fields could help you accomplish your personal and career goals as well as your work-life balance to ensure a healthy life and long lifespan.

5. Begin meeting with people who do the kind of work you want to do and learn from their experiences.

I’m sure you agree that these are all quite painless (even encouraging) steps to take, ones that will prepare you to find a new position … whether you leave your current job on purpose or with unexpected encouragement.

Get “in the zone” to build the winning career you want! What are you waiting for?

Author's Bio: 

Donald W. Mitchell is a professor at Rushmore University who often teaches people who want to improve their business effectiveness in order to accomplish career breakthroughs through earning advanced degrees. For more information about ways to engage in fruitful lifelong learning at Rushmore University to increase your effectiveness, I invite you to visit