We humans are creatures of habit. We fear and dread anything that takes us outside of our comfort zone. When I tell people about my career change, I often get responses like, “you’re so brave”, “you have balls” and, of course, “I wish I could do something like that”. Well, you can. I don’t have super powers, I just learned how to get comfortable living outside of my comfort zone. The first, and hardest, step is deciding that you are willing to forego a little comfort in the short term to make changes that will make you happier in the long run. No easy task. Recently, my BF made the decision to make a major career change as well and I have relived every moment of that crazy emotional roller coaster with him. So, here’s a little of what I learned from my own experience with career change.
First of all, it is never easy to uproot what you’ve known and built over the course of however many years. It is especially difficult when you are making a decent living and the change you want to make will take you out of the full-time workforce for months or years on end and/or you know the new career will involve a substantial pay cut. I realize that everybody has different circumstances and for some, this just isn’t an option. That doesn’t mean you can’t make changes, you just might have to do it in a way that allows you to continue working. Either way, it really just comes down to one question – what motivates you? If money is all you need from your career, it’s a no-brainer – keep climbing the ladder you’re on. If feeling happy/satisfied/rewarded is what’s truly important to you and you’re not getting that from your current career, you might want to consider a change.
So now what? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have this vibrant glowing image of exactly what I wanted to do. I just knew I was unhappy where I was and I had a lot of interests floating around in my head. I needed to narrow it all down. Take all of those interests and evaluate for each one what exactly your role would look like and whether it fits not only with what you want to do, but also (1) what you’re good at – job satisfaction is enhanced when you are able to use your strengths and shine, (2) what will fit with your lifestyle – for example, if you have kids (or dogs) you might not want to be on the road 5 days a week, and (3) whether you will be able to earn enough to support that lifestyle – OK, I know we said money isn’t the motivator here, but let’s be honest, we all need to eat. Don’t expect to be able to sit down, make a list, and magically have all the answers in one day. Give it some time. Everyone is different, but in my case I was reading about nutrition and playing with recipes for a couple of years before I had my aha! moment.
So now you know what you want to do and you need a plan. Does it involve going to school? Research all programs in the geographic areas you’re willing to consider, evaluate quality of education, whether or not they have a focus in the area of the career path you want to pursue, how long it will take, how much it costs, when you will have to start, etc. If it doesn’t involve school, start working on that resume to highlight the experience and skills that will fit with your new role then get to networking. Networking is exhausting and, for some, nerve wracking. It’s a necessary evil, though. I wouldn’t have gotten a job when I moved to New York if I hadn’t networked. Go to professional meetings, lectures, and happy hours. Reach out to alumni from your college who are in your field of interest. Talk to friends and family…they might know someone. Don’t be afraid to tell people what you’re doing because you never know who can put you in contact with the right person. It only takes one.
Now it’s time to pull the trigger. If you have been networking and making connections, the change might just happen naturally. But for the rest of us, this is the hardest part. “Take the plunge” or “make the leap” – there’s a reason there are such ominous phrases to describe making a big change. It’s risky and scary and we all get anxiety just thinking about it. In my case, I needed reassurance that I was making the right decision, so I hired a career coach. We explored my strengths, my interests, my daydreams… everything. I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t anything I would be just as happy doing that wouldn’t require another 4 years of school. In the end, all signs pointed to dietitian, so I dove in head first. Some people, like my BF, need to sit with the decision for a little longer. However you process it all is up to you as long as you don’t let the fear of change stop you. Just remember that without change, great things will never happen. It’s all up to you!