First things first. I take pivot’s definition from the business of startups, where it means shifting from business model to business model until you find one that works. Always think of yourself as a startup, especially, when faced with an unavoidable change in your plans. Something isn’t working, so you adapt your “organization,” accordingly. That’s what the big boys do.

Maybe your small business isn’t panning out. The right move might be to join a bigger organization to get experience. If you see your industry morphing in a way that will leave you out, think about retraining for another job with more future potential in the same field.

The robots are indeed coming. Don’t fight it, figure it out.

This is not meant to be ten steps to a successful pivot, but I have gone through more than one, and have some thoughts.


Eric Reis, an expert in startups, tells Fast Company: “Some of the most iconic companies of our time–Twitter, YouTube, Groupon–had abruptly changed course before they achieved success. If they hadn’t, Twitter would have stuck with audio podcasting, YouTube would have been a video dating site, and Groupon would have continued organizing political protests (and you likely would have never heard of them).”

There’s comfort in knowing you aren’t the only one who has had to adjust.


A pivot is not a complete a do-over.  There’s a marked difference between a lawyer moving from litigating to estate planning and going from practicing law to plumbing. It seems to me that kind of extreme change can (hopefully) be your choice. Pivoting is essentially Plan B because something isn’t working. Or, won’t be working for long. You probably have no choice.

Let me give you a little context for my career path adjustments – national economic woes at least three times (oil bust, internet bust, the recession of 2008), my field (journalism) was cratering, and an argument that I couldn’t win. (He was the boss.) Pivoting is not shameful. Stuff happens, and you have to figure out what to do next. If you’re luckier or smarter than I am, you can execute a pivot on your own timeline.

My first career shift was from a glossy lifestyle magazine, where I was a top editor, to freelance writing. Lesson one: pay attention.  I knew the oil patch was getting wonky but I didn’t realize the extent to which that oil money kept my publication afloat. Luxury advertising was one of the first things to go, and my magazine folded.


Before my magazine failed, I had been offered jobs at two national papers. I wasn’t interested in a change, so I declined to meet with either. I can’t believe I did that, and you probably can’t either. No matter where you are in your career, take the meeting. The more people, particularly decision makers, you know the better off you’ll be, especially if you have to resort to plan B. Who you going to call if you don’t know anyone?

That story is an example of failed “networking.” (I hate that word) The chances to meet and talk to people are all around you. Get out there. That’s the reason freelancing worked for me. I’d met a lot of editors, locally and nationally.  (Go to industry meetings!) so the opportunities were there. Most importantly, I let people know that I was in the market. However, I didn’t always ask for work directly. I took meetings with all kinds of people to see what advice they had for me. I got a lot of good tips, but I also got assignments from those casual meetings. Along those lines:  Do your own PR. I never let anyone (except my closest friends and family) see me down or scared. No one likes a sad sack.


More advice for the newly self-employed, if that’s the way your pivot swings:  pick up the phone.  You can’t afford not to return calls. Remember it’s hard enough getting your own calls answered. It’s all about the Golden Rule. Every time I adapted my career path I phoned people to let them know. Many individuals told me that they returned my calls because I had always returned theirs. And, for God’s sake write thank-you notes. Speaking of writing. Write. A blog, an article, an email. It all helps to get you out there when you’re just beginning your pivot. This may be a big part of re-branding yourself.

My next move was fairly easy. One of the newspapers came back with another offer. (Caveat: It wasn’t as good an offer as the one I ignored.) It was an exciting job. However, unlike so many smarter careerists, I wasn’t out looking for my next rung up the ladder. Then I got sideways with my boss and we decided it was time to part ways. I felt I had no choice in the matter.

I hadn’t laid any groundwork for the next phase – freelancing again. I think I survived because of good manners and goodwill. Add to that, this move was fortuitous. I went from a regional journalist to a national correspondent. I was lucky with my new bosses and opportunities and I made sure that they knew I was grateful and not above any kind of work. I learned that I had to kill everything I ate. No one was going to tell me what to do.

Whether you leave your current job or not, know what you do today, how you act, will come back to you. I got my job at TIME because the bureau chief had read and liked my work and heard that I was “good” to work with. He walked up to me at a press conference and offered me assignments.  Crazy lucky? No doubt. But there was a lot of work behind that luck.


Take the game of basketball as a great example of individuals and a team dealing with shifting circumstances. Rules of the game demand that in certain circumstances a player can’t move one foot from a designated spot. But while holding the ball and keeping that one foot glued to the floor, they are turning and twisting in as many directions as they can, looking for an opening.  Know all the angles. At least that’s what Kobe tells me.

Dennis Barrie founded his museum consultancy, The Barrie Projects of Cleveland, after he left his long-time position at a fine art museum.  Dennis didn’t want to abandon the field, but he knew he needed to adjust his approach. It was imperative that he get that message out since he was so tied into the fine art world. He got a chance to announce his new direction on television. And he took it.

“I had become disillusioned with the art museum world. In an interview with a TV reporter, I said, ‘I would never work for a museum again unless it was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,’ which had just begun the planning stage.”

A week later a headhunter called and asked him to interview for the job at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Barrie knew the angles in his business, he understood what was out there. Most importantly he didn’t hesitate to announce his interest in a new kind of institution.

Within years he branched out from just one project. Instead of working for one institution,   he began to help start and design them with his wife and partner, Kathy. In the years since Barrie Projects has worked on the Rock and  Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, The Spy Museum in DC, and the Grammy Museum in L.A. All are highly touted and maybe more importantly, well attended. The Barries are now designing the Olympic Museum in Colorado Springs, all because Dennis didn’t hesitate to rebrand himself and his new direction.

Sometimes branding is inadvertent. Like Dennis’ TV interview. One of the most effective rebranding moves I made was originally conceived as a way to more efficiently pay taxes and protect myself legally. I incorporated.  By giving my company a name and an identity as a business, I was sending a message to future clients. I’m not just dabbling.  I took myself seriously enough to be make it official.  Not to mention the tax advantages.

Get your message out. Let no opportunity go.


How to figure out what you’re worth is one of the toughest considerations facing anyone looking to tweak their trajectory. Check out websites like Glassdoor, which has solid information about salaries. (I know it sounds self-serving, but it’s a well-sourced repository.)  If there’s a website for job seekers in your field, bookmark it.

It came as a surprise to me that very good jobs – senior jobs – are posted on the websites of Fortune 500 companies. Check them out to see what’s going on.  Talk to individuals in the field. I got a salary tip from an insider that affected my next move – a staff job at a national magazine. She told me that USA Today had just upped all journalist salaries and everyone else in the industry was following their lead. I used that number without fear, since I had solid intel.

Don’t be a wimp. Ask for the money. Even if you can perform a task without much trouble, don’t guilt out about charging for it. It may be easy for you but clearly whoever is hiring needs it done. And they choose you. Charge for work! If you’re not sure what to ask for, start talking to others about their past successful negotiations. You’d be surprised who will tell you “how to” and give you numbers to guide you. I was at a writers’ conference when the topic of charging for different kinds of content came up. A seasoned professional gladly told the group the range of pay.  

And finally, try to see this as an opportunity, not a catastrophe. Everyone feels afraid and inadequate. If you have friends and colleagues that are optimistic for you and can give you realistic advice keep them close. If you’re going to read looking for advice try, “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know.” This is not one of those ten steps to success waste-of-time books. It combines solid facts and personal stories. It will lift your spirits and at the same time provide new research to think about as it applies to you.

Talk to everyone you can and really listen. I’ve gotten important bits of advice in the most unexpected places.

Adjust, don’t stew. Go for it. Pivot.

Originally published on Glassdoor.

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