I have always been fascinated by career transition (maybe because I have changed careers several times) and the various stages my clients go through as they navigate new territory, learn new skills, and build new networks/professional associations. I also am amazed at how resourceful, flexible, and brilliant my clients can be once they are clear in their own mind about where they are going.

In this post, I will address two concepts. The first is the difference between a career change and a career transition. The difference is subtle, but important.

Most people use the terms transition and change interchangeably—but they are not synonyms. According to William Bridges, consultant and author on individual and corporate change, it’s important to make a distinction between the two terms because they are profoundly different phenomena.

Change is any external variation in your life that happens to you; it could be a new job, company reorganization or merger, a new home, or a new relationship. Change can happen fairly quickly.

Transition is an internal shift within you. It means you have reached a point where it is time to let go of an assumption, self-image, or dream. Transition is more of a process and can unfold more slowly.

A transition could be precipitated by an external change. For example, you could be laid off from work (more of a change), which could motivate you to step back from your busy life and assess if it is time to think about pursuing a latent passion/dream or shifting your work focus to have more meaning or balance for you.

This period of self-reflection could result in redefining who you are and what you do for work. It could ultimately result in a career transition to an entirely new field and a new role.