How To Overcome Career Anxiety: Embrace The Career Pivot


Many of you may be familiar with the sport known as basketball. I am barely. In fact, many of my friends would burst into gales of laughter when you mention me in the same sentence as basketball. (I’m a force to be reckoned with on the table tennis court, though, I assure you.)

The reason I bring up basketball is this: there’s a common movement in basketball called a pivot.

Despite the controversy surrounding him, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a great example of a series of career pivots.

For the uninitiated, a pivot is when a player moves one foot while the other foot is firmly planted on the ground. Generally, a pivot can be described as a central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns (or oscillates).

There are many fields where pivoting is normal. For example, it’s quite common in entrepreneurship, where business owners decide to steer their organizations into new directions. PayPal originally started off selling software that only worked on Palm Pilots, and pivoted five times before they became the service you see on your screen. Whenever PayPal saw an opportunity, they pivoted. Each pivot helped steer them a bit closer to the success they have today.

Similarly, there is now the concept of a career pivot. There are career design firms that specialize in helping clients pivot away from their current fields, into their fields of desire. Studies have shown that most people have six to seven careers (although the Wall Street Journal is skeptical).

I want all this to illustrate one important thing: Where you start is often not where you end up. In fact, the two can be often irrelevant.

Let’s look at an interesting case. You all know who he is.

The Governator

Where did Arnold Schwarzenegger start?
Professional bodybuilding.

Where did he end up?
As the Governor of California.

Despite the controversy surrounding him, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a great example of a series of career pivots. Notice that in everything Schwarzenegger did, he excelled. From winning a record-setting seven Mr. Olympia competitions (at the age of 23, he was also the youngest person to have won the title – a record that stands at the time of writing) to having a bodybuilding competition named after him (called the Arnold Fitness Weekend), Schwarzenegger terminated all competition in that field. His discipline and work ethic totally crushed the competition. You’d think that after getting to the top, any sane human being would choose to get comfortable, make some good money, write a few books, and wait for time to pass before he retires.

Not Schwarzenegger. He set his eyes on an even more competitive industry: the business of the business. Schwarzenegger made his first film debut in a film called Hercules in New York. Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of it – it’s got a “whopping” 20% on Rotten Tomatoes.

For the next 12 years, Schwarzenegger would struggle for success. 7 years after Hercules, he did gain some attention in bodybuilding film Pumping Iron. Despite this, he still had agents, critics, and casting people that told him his accent would hold him back, he had a weird body, and his name was too long. In 1982, he finally had his first breakthrough film, Conan the Barbarian. Then came The Terminator. Then Red Heat. Predator. Commando. Total Recall. The Sixth Day. Even Jingle all the Way (I may be alone in this one, but I loved that movie as a kid.)

Known as an international movie star, Schwarzenegger had made it to the top of the industry he’d sought to conquer. Okay, now he’d retire on top, right?

Wrong again. On August 6, 2003, Schwarzenegger decides to announce his candidacy for the Governor of California on The Jay Leno Show. Two months later, he wins. Remarkable.

Schwarzenegger is an exceptional case, granted. His outstanding work ethic and persistency allowed him to excel in each field that he set his sights on, as did his abilities and his previous achievements. He is far from the only case of a career pivot, though. Facebook Canada’s Managing Director Jordan Banks went from Law School to the NHLPA, to Facebook. Bill Gates moved from Harvard to Microsoft to charity.

On a more local level, many friends of mine have pivoted. Tunezy’s Derrick Fung went from a financial firm to become the head of a social record label. #GameOn Leadership’s Ryan Coelho went from rocket science to leadership coaching. The possibilities are endless.

Remember that your degree is a valuable asset, not a limit. Wherever you end up, if you work hard and keep your eyes open for opportunities, you will always have an option to pivot. A pivot is a turning point in your career, and can be one for your life. If you’ve been inspired, and you’re considering a pivot right now, have a look at this post which has a lot of actionable advice.

So relax. Hustle hard, apply to jobs, stay on your toes, and good things will hatch.

Photo credit: Arnold Schwarzenegger by indichick7 on Flickr