What does it mean to be a happy person? In a recent feature on Grow from Acorns and CNBC, Michelle Wax, Founder of the American Happiness Project, spoke about what it was like to interview 500 happy people across the United States.

Pivoting towards happiness.

Wax revealed that 70% of the happy people she interviewed had made a career pivot. Many had also taken pay cuts. Some interviewees mentioned that the decision to pivot was not always popular with friends and family, many of which likened it to moving a step back.

In her article, Wax shares the story of a thirtysomething woman in Massachusetts. This woman was burned out by her full-time consulting career. She dreamed of getting into the food industry, Eventually, she gave in to her happiness: quitting her job to work at a bakery and then starting a food business one year later.

She never regretted the decision.

What pushes us towards making a pivot? Recurring themes cropped up over the course of Wax’s 500 interviews. Many people initially allowed external factors, like raises and increasing professional accolades, to drive them forward in their careers. The trouble with those factors, however, is that they are short-term fixes. Psychologists Sonja Lyubomirsky, David Lykken, and Auke Tellegen have conducted happiness studies that reveal external factors only account for 10% of our long-term happiness.

10%. That’s a pretty tiny percentage in the larger scope of our entire lives!

Career pivots, at any age, require a certain amount of bravery to make the leap of faith forward. One must feel confident in making this choice. There must also be an understanding about what a career pivot may look and feel like. Certain aspects of the former role, like a hefty paycheck, might not be initially present when making a pivot. However, that short-term sacrifice ultimately allows us to increase our happiness levels including the 90% of our long-term happiness.

The vital role of personal vision statements in a pivot.

One of the best ways to gain an understanding of what your life may look like when pivoting careers is to create a personal vision statement.

A personal vision statement allows you to communicate your goals and maintain focus towards reaching them. Writing a clear personal vision statement requires examining the following as it relates to your career.

  • Identifying your strengths. Write out your skills, including soft skills, and look at the positives that each skill can bring you as you work towards reaching your goals.
  • Reflect on your values. What core values matter most to you? If possible, you may be able to alter the goals you’re working to reach so that they align with what you value most.
  • How can you make a positive impact? If there are certain issues you are passionate about, your existing skill sets may allow you to address these issues. This can help guide you towards a career pivot in an industry you feel aligns with your goals and where you can leave your mark in solving problems.

How a personal vision statement led one female professional to happiness.

In August 2019, Anne Descalzo became the Co-Founder of a certified, women-owned business called Clutch. She also began producing the BOLD Speaker Series. Descalzo, working closely alongside her Co-Founder Rachel Zillner, was surprised by how quickly Clutch grew. Within six months, and with the support of her family, she knew it was time to make it her full-time job.

Descalzo took the leap of faith in late February 2020 to live out her dreams of entrepreneurship. Prior to making that decision, however, Descalzo had begun envisioning her future with a personal vision statement written in 2019.

“I began visioning what my life could be like, if things were the way I would design them,” Descalzo says.

Descalzo’s personal vision statement covered the span of one year. She wrote down that she planned to become self-employed. In addition to being able to choose her own schedule, she would make decisions that allowed her to support the needs of her family.

Above all, Descalzo knew she wanted to make kind choices. These are the kinds of choices that would ultimately allow her to grow, align with her values, and choose happiness.

“I wrote that I would add value to all that I do, that I would continue to grow and educate myself,” Descalzo says. “I would make time for family and friends and love what I do.”

Today, Descalzo is unbelievably proud of the success experienced through her co-founded firm. She loves that she gets to support a wider network of people through management consulting, recruiting, and contract holding in a variety of niche markets.

She’s also proud that the guidance of her personal vision statement allowed for a successful pivot. To date, she has accomplished each thing she set out to reach. This is particularly inspiring as her pivot occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the midst of the pandemic, I got extremely clear on the things that mattered most to me,” Descalzo explains. “I wholeheartedly believe that because I made this career pivot, I am a better and happier person both professionally and personally. In turn, my family and loved ones reap the benefit of my happiness.”