What Caitlyn Jenner and career changers have in common

In the past three days, millions of Americans have been focused on the story of Caitlyn Jenner—myself included. The story fascinates: There’s the gold medal pedigree, the Kardashian hype, the Twitter mania—and finally the inner-self Ms. Jenner undertook to come to terms with, let emerge and ultimately, celebrate. 

Being in the wrong body. Being in the wrong career. Feeling bad, feeling “off.”

While I can’t presume to understand or identify with gender reassignment, I do get what it means to change careers, jobs, titles, and professional identities—both from my own experience and those of my clients. Though there’s no doubt that changing gender involves much deeper, larger stakes, and an immeasurably higher degree of difficulty, there are startling similarities I’ve recently been reflecting on.  

  1. There’s a disconnect between who you are and how you’re living.
    We spend more time in any given period working than doing just about anything else. And when your time is spent doing a job, interacting with people, delivering a product or service that doesn’t align with your values or leverage your talents, interests, and brand—it’s uncomfortable, boring at its best, alienating, and soul-sapping at its worst. 
  2. It’s challenging and scary to give up your old identity, and
  3. People are comfortable with you in the old role.
    Going from one title, function or industry—giving up that identity for a new one, even a highly desired one—can be difficult for both the changer and the changer’s family, friends and greater community. And the longer your community sees you working in a particular capacity or function, the harder it is for them to imagine a move, even in a direction which is a truer fit and one that the changer really wants. 
  4. When transitioning, using the right language is important.
    In a career shift, part of being seen as legit in the new role is “putting on the clothes” of the new position. A critical part of taking on this new identity is focusing on using the vernacular of the new space. (And in Caitlyn’s case, language is also critical.)
  5. Knowing what you want may be clear, but getting there requires work.
    Determining what makes you happy in terms of work is a beautiful thing, but the path there can be long and twisty. There are new skills to learn, people to meet, good contacts to gather, and new goals to set, adjust, and readjust. Other things, too—patience, calm, understanding, and fortitude (and support too, if you’re lucky). 

Change is hard, but feeling good in your skin is a great thing. Here’s hoping that all of us—whatever transition we’re in, whatever change we seek—have the courage, energy, and will to see it through.