Why changing career is a lot like doing a jigsaw puzzle

When I was changing careers I wanted to wake up and know exactly what to do. I wanted someone to just give me the answer – flawless and fully formed.

Like most of us, I wanted an instant out from the angst and uncertainty of not knowing what to do next. Pretty quickly, I realised that my longed for lightning bolt wasn’t going to strike. I needed to create the right conditions for career change insights. I had to stop waiting expectantly for an epiphany to arrive.   

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I recognised the need to see the small things come together, much like doing a big jigsaw puzzle. I needed to practice the twin arts of patience and pattern spotting. These are the same skills we use to piece together a jigsaw. Turning a mound of disconnected fragments into a satisfyingly complete and complex image takes time and tenacity. It also takes imagination and intuition. It’s absorbing and frustrating and fun.  

Start with the littlest links


As I explored potential industries and roles I realised that I was learning lots of little seemingly unrelated things. As they emerged, I ‘post–it’ noted the ‘yeses’ - my favourite skills, my hottest soapbox topics, my most energising workplaces.

I was careful not to miss even the tiniest thing that sparked my interest. Like the huge buzz I get whenever people talk passionately about how connected they feel to the work they love. The standout realisation from my noting was this - I was intrigued by the psychology of what makes people tick. A memorable conversation about ‘depth vs breath’ helped me see two things. Firstly, I wanted to work ‘in depth’ with people. Secondly, I wanted the positive impact of this work to ripple out into the wider world. 

Moving my post-it picture pieces around helped me spot patterns in things and places and people that inspired me. This simple process was crucial in uncovering the complete picture of what I wanted to do. Best of all it confidently documented the steps I’d taken to get there.

Reject the ‘unfit’ bits

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Most jigsaw puzzlers spend time madly trying to cram in a piece that, despite appearances, doesn’t actually fit how you think it will! Solving my career change puzzle involved dealing with a fair few of these ‘unfit’ bits.  Along with all the tiny but highly connective‘yeses’, I unearthed number of ‘noes’. Certainly there were some clear dead ends and a few slowly fizzling failures. Surprisingly though some of my hotly anticipated ‘yeses’ turned out to be ‘noes’. I’d both loved and hated working in consumer research in my second career but never got to grips with why. However during my career change, a stint of volunteering doing research for a social enterprise showed me that while I’m fascinated by research insights into human behaviour, the actual research process is just not my thing.

This was a fruitful insight though. The flip side of this particular ‘no’ revealed a crucial corner piece of my jigsaw and helped to point me towards careers looking at human behaviour (career change coaching being one of them!). 

Use logic and intuition

Solving jigsaws relies equally on both these things. Sometimes you hunt long and hard to piece together a dozen disparate looking but ultimately connected bits. Other times your eye is instantly drawn to that elusive crucial piece. Managing career change is much the same. You’ll need endurance and patience for the painstaking process of trial and error. You’ll need logic for the careful sorting of the ‘yeses’ and the ‘noes’. You’ll also need confidence and courage to trust in serendipitous insights and make apparently random connections that work like a charm.

Find fresh eyes

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Having someone else spot the ‘missing piece’ in your jigsaw can ‘unstick’ a section that’s held you up for weeks. While lots of us prefer the satisfaction of solving puzzles unaided, sometimes the right help at the right moment can be a fine thing. 

One of the first things I tell my clients is that although I’ll help them create the right conditions, I’m not going to be their bolt of lightening. After that, we pool our puzzle solving skills to find, sort and connect the pieces of their brilliant career change picture.

Puzzled by career change?  I can help.


By Jo Green, Career Change Coach

I know what it feels like to be lost in your career. I also know that when you find what you love, heart and soul, your life changes. I work every day with people who are reshaping their current careers, starting new enterprises or searching for a new direction. Basically I help people who don’t like their job to figure out what to do instead!

As a Careershifters and Firework Advanced Certified Coach and experienced career changer myself, I can help you figure out what fulfilling work looks like for you.

Drop me a note to organise a free 20 minute consultation to chat about your career change and how coaching could help.