The Big Bang Theory of Career Transitions


The Big Bang Theory season finale, The Status Quo Combustion Aired 05/15/14 on CBS. Click HERE, or on the image above to see full episode.



Sheldon is trying to transition to a different field of study, but can’t get the funding he needs. Stewart’s comic book store burned down, causing him to accidentally discover that he really enjoys being a home health aid. Penny has decided it makes more sense to marry someone who has a successful career rather than trying to pursue her own.

What do these three characters on The Big Bang Theory have in common? They’re going through career transitions. Whether by choice or out of necessity, these transitions are proving to be a strange combination of exciting, complex, and emotionally draining, and mentally exhausting.

Although this is a script from a sit-com, I think a lot of people can relate to this in real life.

I don’t know what the writers are going to do with this plot next season, but here is an example of how these situations are typically handled in real life.

The Planned Career Change

When I was attending the University of Phoenix in the early 2000s, nearly all of my fellow course mates were planning career changes. Some had been in their current careers for 20+ years and just wanted to do something else. Some were finished raising their families, and were finally taking the “me” time to pursue their dream jobs. Some were in industries that were waning, and they wanted to transition to industries with more life and growth. Still others were staying in the same industries, but seeking promotions that required higher education degrees.

An advanced degree is one way to begin a career change. Another is to find the funding for your project, like Sheldon is having to do. Another is to do volunteer work in the field you want to go in to. Much like the recent grad with no experience that I wrote about earlier this week, the career-changer usually needs to remedy the problem of having no experience is to get some experience.

The Unexpected Career Change

An unexpected career change is usually accompanied by a personal crisis. Maybe you’ve been laid off from your job. Maybe you’re recently divorced, or the breadwinner of your household has died, and need to re-enter the workforce or the first time in years. Maybe your business burned to the ground like Stuart’s comic book store. Whatever the reason, the first thing to do is to make sure you have an income. This may involved temporarily doing work that you don’t really want to do until you can plan a transition into a career you really do want. It may involve applying for public assistance and/or grants and scholarships for retraining. The local branch of your state employment agency an be a good place to start, as is your local community college career counseling center.

The Career Abandonment

In this season, Penny finally gives up on her dream of becoming an actress (and working at the Cheesecake Factory to pay the rent), and decides to just go ahead and marry Leonard.

As a person who has played the role of Leonard in real life, I would strongly encourage anyone to resist the temptation to use your friends, significant others, life partners, parents, or spouse’s as an alternative to a career. First, it’s just not right to use people this way. Second, “Leonard” is eventually going to wise up, and it’s likely you’ll eventually find yourself going through an unexpected career change (see above).

Another reason to avoid the temptation to just give up and abandon your dreams is that this act is demoralizing, and is likely to eventually affect your self image, self esteem, and sense of self worth.

Life is hard, and it doesn’t always work out the way we want. If our “Plan A” isn’t working out, it might be time to re-think, and re-group, but don’t give up. For example, in Penny’s situation, maybe she could think about what it is about acting that appealed to her. Maybe the ability to express herself in different ways? Maybe the dramatic arts culture? Maybe she just really loves to perform? Maybe there are other careers that she would enjoy that would also give her the enjoyment she is seeking.

You might also like: 8 Essentials to a Motivated and Successful Executive Level Job Search, by Abe Rotbart on Creating8

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