Reflections from a Career Pivoter: just keep swimming
January 12, 2022

Are you someone who enjoys having some time for reflection at this point in the year? I love having a bit of space to step back and consider how the last year has gone, and I do use the opportunity to think about what I want to prioritise for the coming year. I tend not to set myself official resolutions, which feel too much like a to-do list.

The big thing for me over the last couple of years has been to shift my professional focus from international development programmes to mediation. Whenever anyone asks me about this, I tend to describe it as a slog, albeit a worthwhile one. It’s certainly been harder than I had expected. 

Granted, my career pivot came just before the start of the COVID pandemic. That made it harder in lots of ways – all those networking opportunities dried up for a while. But in that classic threats/opportunities way, it also made for a huge shake up in the mediation sector. When I trained, pre-pandemic, there was a distinct disapproval of the idea that mediating remotely was a viable option for parties. Once the pandemic started, I lost count of the mediators who used their early adoption of the online space as a marketing plug. 

I’m conscious that there are lots of people who have taken the opportunity presented by the pandemic to review how they are managing their lives and many are making changes.

Here are my three main reflections.

It really is scary to try something new – what if I fail? What if I can’t pay the bills?

It’s hard to get away from the fact that there are risks to shifting your career from the thing that has paid the bills, to something new. It may not work. It’s good to consider what happens if that is the case. Is there scope to take a portfolio approach and manage a couple of different work-streams? Perhaps gradually increasing the time you can devote to your passion-project as it becomes financially stable? 

There are some great tips in Herminia Ibarra’s Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. My main takeaway was that you don’t need to jump off the cliff to make a career change. You can start small. You can work out what direction you want to take your career by taking small experimental steps and adjusting your path along the way. Pivoting, even.

It takes a while.

And, for many people, it takes time. Those overnight successes usually had a lead in time stretching back years. The lead-in time was their hard slog.

One question I asked when I was starting out was ‘why do most people fail as mediators?’. The consistent answer was that they gave up too soon. It often takes a two, to three, to five years to get established with a good flow of work. That flow of work may or may not be full-time. 

That’s my next challenge.

Keep showing up. Doing your thing. Keep it up.

The best advice I had was also the most straight-forward. Keep plugging away. It may feel as though no-one is noticing what you’re doing – and in the crowded social media space it’s all too easy to fall into the comparison trap. Dave Owen, a hugely experienced and generous mediator, told me not to get distracted by this. Instead, just keep showing up and doing what you do. 

So, the best tip can be summed up in the words of Dory: just keep swimming.

Philippa Brown

A CEDR-accredited mediator, Pip founded Conflict Insights and now uses the experience and skills she developed working in international conflict environments to reduce the negative effects of conflicts closer to home.