We All Change. Your Work Life Should Too.


As human beings we are destined to evolve — and as we morph into the people we are about to become — other areas of our lives often require adjustment. Yet, most of are hell-bent in thinking that our days of change are long behind us. (We couldn’t be more wrong.)

As luck would have it, our lack of ability to predict when and how we might change, has become the subject of study. Longitudinal research completed by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert has aptly named our lack of foresight concerning how we change,  “The End of History Illusion”. It is the belief that the end of our history is today — when in fact we will continue to change with the passage of time.  (You can watch Dr. Gilbert’s TED Talk, “The Psychology of Your Future Self” below. I guarantee it will rock your world.)

In a series of studies, Gilbert explored the process of how we view personal change over time and its impact upon our lives. Their research revealed that we tend to underestimate changes in both our core personality traits (represented by the “Big 5”: conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness to experience and extroversion) and our core values (measured by the Schwartz Value Inventory) over the decades of our lives. While, the magnitude of the illusion seems to decrease as we age,  it remains present. We continue perceive ourselves as “complete” — which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Meanwhile here is a bit of sage advice related to this finding:

Try not to view your career path as inflexible.
Just as we see our own persona as unchanging, we can feel stuck or stalled because we see only one career path — and that path likely travels in one direction. If we can step back, (down or even sideways) to learn something new, interesting doors present themselves. Yes, it is challenging to be a “rookie” once again. However that same challenge can be the key to a more fulfilling future. Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work offers this advice:

“Be willing to step back. Backward could be your slingshot.” – Whitney Johnson

Let your personal brand evolve.
Acknowledging how we have changed over time — and aligning this with our communicated personal brand is also something to consider. Has what you truly desire to accomplish career-wise changed? Do others understand that shift? Cynthia Johnson, co-founder of Ipseity Inc, a firm that helps others develop their brand voice, encourages individuals to differentiate their personal brand in a way that is authentic. (See more of her tips here.) Utilizing digital avenues to craft and communicate your evolving personal brand, may also help align career goals with the new you. She advises you take this in steps:

“It is important to include short-term and clearly defined goals while mapping out your brand strategy. If you try to do everything at once you will become overwhelmed and do nothing at all.” – Cynthia Johnson

Bring on the new.
Aspects of work and life, that may have thrilled you in the past — may no longer motivate you. What could you bring into your world that would “meet you” where you are now? I love the advice of Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project) concerning work and those painful feelings of “envy”.  She advises that feeling envy when considering another individual’s role, may signal elements that you might incorporate.



Marla Gottschalk is an avid blogger and Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. You can follow her at LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics — it is designed to share lessons learned, from a variety of perspectives.

4 thoughts on “We All Change. Your Work Life Should Too.”

  1. After a highly successful 30 year career, I elected to “step back” for some “me time” and reflect on the future of my career path. Fearful but persistent, I chose to walk away. Furthermore, I could not have been more CORRECT in my decision despite being told that “I was making a mistake” from senior management. If my decision was a mistake, I can’t wait to make my next one!


  2. What a great article I am sharing this with my twenty-three year old daughter who is more on the introverted side plus she is slow to implement needed change. This is thought provoking for me also.


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