Navigating Career Transitions

Tips for Moving Forward After Four Common Types of Career Changes

compass min

Life transitions often throw us for a loop, and this certainly includes career transitions. Sometimes they are planned, but many times they are unexpected and challenging. However, they’re easier to plan for when we examine how they might occur. Career changes usually happen because someone decides to change their career path, has a job loss, scales back working hours, or experiences a disability. (For a discussion about the career transition of retirement, check out Chapter 6 of my book, Flourish Financially.)

Below we’ll discuss four common career transitions, as well as tactics to navigate them successfully.

Changes in Career Path

A great many people experience changes in their career path. This includes things like going back to school, working beyond your anticipated retirement age, a job promotion, a layoff, a recession, or a change in income (an increase or a decrease). Some of these transitions are exciting, while others can leave you feeling adrift. Each time a transition like this occurs, it’s important to reexamine your goals – then determine whether your current financial plan supports them. One of the most important things you can do for yourself during a time of career transition is allowing yourself the grace to view it as an opportunity, even if it doesn’t feel like that, to begin with. If you remain flexible and keep your long-term goals in mind, you can usually make the financial changes you need to in order to stay on track.

Job Loss

Typically, job loss will negatively impact a person’s finances. This type of career transition is usually unplanned and can be quite challenging from a financial standpoint. Almost immediately, it requires you to rethink your spending. It’s helpful to refocus on your necessary spending versus the nice-to-have purchases so you can easily identify where you have the ability to save money. Oftentimes, a job loss forces you to reevaluate your long-term financial plan, too. Just remember that transition is temporary, and you can help yourself manage the stress and overwhelm by choosing to own the moment and taking control of how you react to a difficult transition.

SEE ALSO: Expect the Unexpected: Marriage, Divorce and Your Finances

Scaling Back Working Hours

One of the ways people choose to prepare for retirement is by scaling back working hours without stopping altogether. This is a nice transition for those who are planning to gradually retire. Also referred to as phased-in retirement or slow retirement, this strategy allows you to take retirement for a test-drive. You get fewer work demands and more life satisfaction without going cold turkey into retirement, but you’ve got to ensure it’s financially feasible for you. Talk with your financial advisor if you’d like to scale back working hours and determine whether it makes sense for you.


With 61 million American adults currently living with a disability – essentially one in four – it is not uncommon for people to experience a career transition because of a disability. As with any life transition, particularly unplanned ones, disabilities can affect lifestyle, emotional state, how people view themselves, and decision-making capabilities. Of course, long-term finances are also impacted. For instance, a client of mine was a successful surgeon with a stable income and a solid financial plan until a debilitating case of arthritis interfered with her ability to perform surgery. Suddenly, her family’s lifestyle was impacted, as she could no longer afford to pay her kids’ college tuition. If you’re faced with a career transition due to a disability, take a moment to reflect on what you truly want out of life as you move forward. Doing so can provide clarity on financial decisions you may need to make.

SEE ALSO: Choose a Life-Planner

Tips for Navigating Career Transitions

Three coping mechanisms I have used in my own life when navigating transitions, career and otherwise, are what I call the Three Rs: Resilience, Reserves, and Respect.

Being resilient – that is, having the capacity to quickly overcome difficulties – is one of the most effective ways to embrace change and move forward by choosing to focus on the positives. (You can learn more in my podcast episode on Resilience.)

Building and maintaining reserves is an important step in your financial plan. Since it is nearly impossible to effectively budget for the financial impact of a career transition you didn’t see coming, a financial buffer will provide the funds necessary to work through the transition and, hopefully, provide for the flexibility you’ll need as you determine your next steps.

Have you ever noticed that the changes and surprises that often come with career transitions can feel an awful lot like failures, at least initially? If you’ve lost a job, for instance, it’s common to feel shame or defeat. However, it’s important to respect the transitional period you’re in without losing your self-respect. Look for the opportunities that your changing circumstances offer and focus on what is ahead of you on the other side of your transition.

Final Thoughts on Career Transitions

Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

While career transitions can be overwhelming and run the gamut of emotions, the above tips can help you survive a difficult time and move forward in a way that allows you to fully embrace new career opportunities.

For more content on navigating life’s transitions, I encourage you to read my book Flourish Financially: Values, Transitions, and Big ConversationsYou can learn more about it or purchase a copy for yourself or a loved one here.

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