Preview Thursday - Switchers

The following is an excerpt from Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success by Dawn Graham.

Your Hold on How Things Are

An old fable about a hunter who sets a trap to capture a monkey offers a perfect analogy for your biggest obstacle as a Switcher. The hunter puts food in a glass jar with a narrow opening. When the hungry monkey comes along and reaches into the jar to grab the food, he is unable to remove his paw since his closed fist doesn’t fit back out through the hole. Although the monkey could simply let go of the food and remove his paw from the jar to escape, he instead chooses to cling tightly, and is captured by the hunter.

Sometimes we are unable to let go of what is keeping us trapped, even when achieving freedom could be simple. Switchers are excited to make a major change, but many of us aren’t so jazzed about the sacrifices that often come with it—like taking a salary cut, dropping levels on the organizational chart, or relocating to another city. We grow attached to our comfortable lives and don’t want to give them up—or at least certain parts of them. So we cling to our current identity, without even recognizing it. And the more scared we get, the more we cling, and the less likely we are to reach our goals. Identity clinging is one of the most important obstacles I will cover in this book.

As Switchers, we need to get real with ourselves first. We must acknowledge that many parts of our current careers that we like—such as salary, title, or status—will change. (I’ll discuss more about career identity in Chapter Two.) The good news is we don’t have to relinquish everything, just some things. Ask yourself, “What are my true non-negotiables?” Non-negotiables are requirements you are 100 percent certain you cannot forego, no matter what. These are different from ideals or wants. All of us are shooting for the ideal job, and we all have a list of wants a mile long. But many of us haven’t thought hard about what we must have in our new careers to be happy.

Maybe you’re divorced and have dual custody of young children, so you can’t relocate out of state. Or maybe you have a chronic health condition and you must limit your search to employers who offer sufficient medical insurance coverage. Maybe you’re a single parent or a primary caregiver for an aging relative, so frequent travel isn’t something you can do. Some situations truly are inflexible, and they may present additional hurdles to navigate. These are your non-negotiables.

Please don’t let these stop you. Limitations can lead to the creative solutions, and persistence will take you far. No matter what, you’re never truly stuck.



Dawn Graham, PhD, LP is the Career Director for The MBA Program for Executives at The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania where she partners in setting strategy and supporting the EMBA students in achieving their career objectives through extensive programming and individual coaching. She also hosts a national, call-in radio show on Sirius XM (Channel 111) "Career Talk," and writes regularly for Forbes.com under their leadership channel.

Earlier in her career, Dawn held successful roles at Korn Ferry (formerly Personnel Decisions International), where she moved from providing executive consulting and coaching services to building and implementing the firm’s global talent resource allocation infrastructure, and Arthur Andersen, AT&T Corp and Lee Hecht Harrison, where she gained experience transforming policies and practices, analyzing and nurturing talent, and understanding both companies’ and individual’s career needs.

A licensed psychologist, Dawn holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver, a Masters’ degree in Organizational Development from the Johns Hopkins University, and a Bachelors’ degree in Psychology from Seton Hall University.