“What I do for work is exactly what I would do if nobody paid me.”
Considering a career change that will enable you to do work you love?
The thought of making a career change can bring a boatload of conflicting emotions along with it. Excitement, eagerness, fun, joy, nervousness, and fear, to name a few.
It can be a lot to deal with, and when those emotions all come rushing in, it can feel easier and more comfortable to just stay put.
But inevitably, if we’re not in a satisfying work situation, the desire for change will keep coming back.
Put another way: We each have unique gifts to share with the world, and if we’re not doing so, we’ll know it by the tug we feel to do something else.
Sometimes we can accomplish that through a change of job or company, but at some point, for many of us, a completely new career is what’s needed.
And what a world of opportunities that need can open up!
Take Gretchen Rubin, for instance.
You may know Rubin as the international best-selling author of The Happiness Project, which has sold over a million copies and has been published in more than thirty languages.
But she didn’t start out as a writer. Rubin attended law school, and pursued a career that led to clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Great career progression!
But at a certain point, she realized it was time to pursue her love of writing, and she left the Court to do so.
After writing a couple of biographies (Winston Churchill, JFK) and other books, Rubin turned her attention to the subject of happiness. The rest is history, as they say. In her current career phase, she’s become a go-to expert on happiness, a podcaster, and a much in demand speaker.
If you look around in your own life, you will likely find a number of career-changers.
Off the top in my life, I can think of a small business coach who started out in corporate marketing, an author who started out in programming, a career coach who started out as a psychologist, and an HR professional whose first career was in retail operations.
So if you’re considering a career switch, but feeling nervous about it, take heart – it clearly can be done. There may be a few bumps in the road, but here are a few tips to help smooth the way.
Start with your “why”
What’s your motivation for making a career change?
Do you have a passion for creative work that’s not being satisfied? Do you see a problem in the world or marketplace you think you can solve? Can you not get enough of reading about or dabbling in technology, branding, publishing, or landscape design and want to put that passion to work?
What’s your why? When you know that, a move toward something you love is ever more likely.
In fact, a move toward something you love is much more likely to be successful than a move that is simply an escape route from a bad job or work situation.
Consider both employment and self-employment options
Ask yourself whether employment in your new field is the best choice for you, or whether stepping out on your own, as a solopreneur, consultant, freelancer, or small business owner is the best way to make the change you desire.
Not sure, but kind of like the idea of eventually going independent? No problem. Test it out by doing some freelance work on the side, or starting small with a service or product you can provide while continuing to work for an employer.
You may love going independent or not, but checking out the options can help you decide what’s best for you.
Consider also how you could take your career experience to date and put it to use in a different way – as a consultant or freelancer, a trainer or speaker – while working towards making the career change you seek.
You’ve worked hard to gather that experience – why not put all you’ve learned to work for you in support of your new career ventures? You may even find it so much more satisfying you’ll want to keep doing it, even if on the side.
Study and learn
Know what you don’t know about your new path of interest, and start filling in the gaps.
Read something every day about what you want to do. Subscribe to industry newsletters, read the top blogs in your desired field, follow relevant thought leaders on LinkedIn and anyplace else they publish.
Check out free classes offered by Coursera or Harvard or a number of other centers of learning. Attend conferences and seminars and webinars. Join related professional associations and attend some meetings. Get involved and take advantage of hands-on learning opportunities.
Learning as much as possible as you pursue your career change will give you a head start for when you do break into your new field, and it will demonstrate initiative and enthusiasm to prospective employers.
Build and interact with your network
Get out there and meet people who are in the role you aspire to (or a related role) or who are at the companies you find most fascinating. (See conferences, seminars, and associations above.) Connect with them on LinkedIn. Provide value to your network, such as sharing relevant articles and resources.
Find a mentor, teacher, coach, trainer, or even a friend who is willing to brainstorm with you about how to get where you want to go. Consider joining, or starting, a mastermind group, in which each member gets and gives support and ideas.
See my previous post on “getting in the conversation” for more tips and ideas on this essential part of any career change.
Build your savings
It’s an unpopular truth, but when switching from a profession we have experience in to one in which we’re a beginner, we will often be faced with the prospect of a lower income. For a time.
There can be exceptions, but it’s best to assume otherwise and be prepared.
The good news is, when we have a lot of passion for our work, we tend to be more motivated to learn, grow, and perform it at a high level. This, in turn, can lead to better earning opportunities.
In the meantime, it helps to have a cushion.
Estimate how long you think it will take to get back up to your previous income. Then double it. Our enthusiasm can make us overly optimistic about how long this may take.
And don’t forget the flip side of this equation – helping yourself through the financial transition by reducing expenses and making spending decisions based on your bigger picture goal.
Take baby steps
Change doesn’t have to happen all at once. One step at a time, consistently, is more manageable. Be patient, but keep moving.
But stay alert, also, for unexpected opportunities that offer a big step toward your goal, and make the most of them.
While you’re doing all that, keep in mind that it’s a process and it takes time. In the meantime, there’s still your current job to attend to, and it’s important to keep performing it at a high level.
Be present, even when you’re looking ahead to what’s next. Project sincere positivity, avoid venting, and keep all commitments.
Look for ways, in your current job, that you can develop skills and share the talents you want to use in your new career. Find at least one thing every day to be grateful for about your current job. Appreciate how it got you ready for something new and exciting.
Liz Gilbert has only ever wanted one career – that of a writer. And thankfully, the author of the incredibly successful Eat, Pray, Love has pursued the work she loves. But even she has had multiple career phases within that.
As a teacher and motivational speaker, she’s touched the hearts and minds of many who wish to live their most authentic lives, including doing work they love. She encourages us to pursue that work:
“Do whatever brings you to life then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”
What work brings you to life?
Go do it!