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Leave Your Comfort Zone - Why Career Change is Healthy and Necessary

People often say that change is hard, but that it’s a good thing. Others like to say how change can be great for growth. I once read–pretty sure on a fortune cookie in fact– that “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone”. Most of these sayings are clichés to highlight the fact you are doing something unfamiliar and new. For me, it’s highlighting the fact that I was choosing to leave the side of the AEC industry that I had known the longest and where I got my start. And I was doing it in the middle of my career.

This no doubt has created a lot of questions amongst my peers ranging from “Why would you want to switch?” to “Do you know what you’re doing?” to “Don’t business development people just golf all day? Because you’re terrible at golf.” That latter part is true of course, but I’d like to think I am like most people who find themselves in a business development or marketing role in the AEC industry. Namely, how did I get here? The AEC industry wasn’t a career path that many were exposed to during undergrad in the marketing, communications, or business schools. And this was before social media or the internet were things. At 22, I was a prelaw major planning to become an attorney and work for a sports franchise. My career plan B was to become a meteorologist. So clearly, the engineering industry, let alone construction, wasn’t on my list of options.

After I relocated to Arizona, I was lucky that my first real job out of college was for a large engineering firm based in the Midwest. Fast forward several years and after taking a range of twist and turns, riding out the recession, chasing my professional sports marketing career for a minute, I found myself at 39 at a position and company that I liked. But I also felt I needed and wanted to do something different professionally. I just didn’t have a clue what it was. I knew I liked aspects of the engineering industry, but I was gravitating towards a relationship-based, sales-based role. I didn’t dislike the company I worked for (it’s still annually listed on Fortunes’ 100 Best Companies to Work For List) and I still have many friends, mentors, and now clients there. But it simply wasn’t for me anymore. I wanted something new.

A friend of mine last year was laid off from his firm after downsizing and yet just a few months later found himself in an entirely new career but in the same industry. I asked him how he landed where he was and he said he reached out to a mentor of his who gave him the task of creating 10 things he would want in a job, regardless of industry or pay. And once he could determine what that was, his search became easy because he could quickly determine his options. It’s an interesting question to answer when you are free from any constraints and can draft a job description of your choosing. But finding a role that I thought would be challenging and rewarding while also allowing me to do what I felt I was good at was going to be fruitless without a plan. I recently attended a Fiesta Bowl event and heard Coach Herm Edwards say “A goal without a plan is a wish”. And that has stuck with me since.

Since I made the move, I’ve been asked what I would have done differently, if anything. And what is the most challenging thing about switching industries. The easier of these two questions is the latter. Mainly the hardest thing is learning the entire company history and project resume to sell it. This is by no means unique to me but it has been my biggest challenge. Well that and figuring out how to do my timesheet. But I’ve realized that’s a “Kirk thing” as I’m consistently bad about it no matter where I work. As for what I would have done differently. Honestly the answer to that is nothing. The path, direction, and way my career path has progressed and evolved, I think, is exactly how it was supposed to go. I’m grateful for the time, mentors, and relationships I was able to make while on the engineering side of the industry. My time on that side has given me an advantage that is unique in the industry. There are however questions or brainstorming activities I wish I would have known to ask myself when I started this process. 

Brainstorming Activities for Career Change

  1. What do you think you are good at?
  2. What is most important to you in a career? (Rank your answers accordingly.)
  3. Would you be able to take a pay cut to make a career change?
  4. Who are your mentors that will give you honest feedback?

What I learned through this process was that I liked the development aspect of the industry the most. And I enjoyed connecting and helping people. It’s now been five months since I decided to leave my comfort zone and join The Weitz Company as their Senior Business Development Manager. The change has been exceptionally fast-paced and I’m learning an entirely new side of the AEC industry. You may have read a blogpost on this same site that referenced learning what you don’t know. That more than anything was one of the primary drivers for me to switch. For me to grow professionally, I needed a new challenge, see new ways of doing business, and learn from new people. And as a creature of habit, trying something new not only fulfilled a professional goal but a personal one as well.

Kirk Fonfara
Senior Business Development Manager, The Weitz Company
Kirk has been in the AEC industry for 15 years and with his current firm for 6 months. He is actively involved with 9 committees through out the commercial real estate industry including NAIOP, ULI and the Fiesta Bowl.  When not on the golf course in his BD role, Kirk enjoys watching golf and football.  He is proud to have been at Wrigley Field when the Chicago Cubs won a World Series Game.

 

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1 Comments

  1. Danielle Intorf

    Dec. 5, 2018

    I love the perspective and reminder that change is a good thing! It is way too easy to just become a creature of habit. Thanks for the enjoyable read Kirk!

    Reply

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