Most of us will change careers at least three times in our lives. And most of us will be nervous at one point or another in the process.
Invariably, you’re giving up the known to pursue the unknown. So, even if you hate your current career, it’s still scary to give it up.
Five Steps to a New Life
I have a lot of experience in this arena. I’ve changed careers a lot, going from professional beach volleyball player to software marketer to entrepreneur to freelance writer. While I was doing that, my husband changed careers three times in five years.
Each change was different and difficult in its own way for both of us. But I’ve learned some tricks along the way to make career changes easier.
Here are five ideas to consider in your own career change:
1. Test things out before you make the leap.
You don’t need to quit your current job to get started in a new career. Give yourself a chance to test things out. Try it on vacation or on the weekend. Try an internship — there’s no rule that says an intern has to be 19 years old.
It’s very hard to predict what you’ll like. Once you admit this and really try things out, you’re much more likely to be accurate about what you’re well-suited to do next.
The most effective way to make the very serious move of changing careers is to try out that career in a not-so-serious way. I’ve done this in the past, and I once discovered that I didn’t end up liking the new career. This tactic can save you a lot of large missteps.
2. Talk about your change in a way that will make it happen.
When people ask you what you do — or, even better, what you want to do — you need an effective answer. Tell people what you’re aiming to do and why it makes sense. This little speech is what will allow people to help you make that career change.
Laura Allen, co-founder of 15 Second Pitch, helps people figure out what to say when they want to make a career change. The key to answering the question “what do you do” is knowing yourself and knowing why you want to change. Once you know that, the pitch will come more easily.
3. Keep your significant other in the loop.
A career change is so emotionally and financially profound that it’s practically a joint decision if you’re living with a significant other. I learned this the hard way, when my husband changed careers.
As a career advisor, I had a lot of opinions about what he should be doing, but I didn’t want to step on his toes so I tried to leave him alone to make the decisions himself. But I started getting nervous about the instability his choices might create.
There’s a definite balance you need to strike between wanting to support your partner in chasing his or her career dreams, and wanting to maintain sanity in the relationship while the chase is on. Keeping your partner in the loop, not just about what you’re doing but also what you’re thinking, can go a long way toward creating a team feeling.
4. Make the change before you go nuts.
Most people hold out in a career until it’s clear that it’s not for them. All change is hard. We like to be stimulated and interested, but most of us don’t like constant change. It’s too stressful, so we find ways to avoid it.
The problem is that if you put off change for too long you compromise your ability to orchestrate it. I spent a lot of my career with the bad habit of letting myself bottom out before I made a big change, so take it from me — the change is much harder to manage when you’re operating from a place of desperation and exhaustion.
5. Downplay financial issues.
I write a lot about how you don’t need a lot of money to be happy. In fact, research shows that you only need $40,000 to be happy, and that the rest of the money you earn has little impact on your happiness.
But Tim Ferriss takes this one step further. In his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” he starts with the idea that time and flexibility are worth more in life than money. So when you think about if you can afford to make the change, think in terms of your net gain in time and flexibility rather than in money.
Anticipating the Risk
Career change is always risky. But if you have a good understanding of why you’re leaving your current career and choosing the new one, the clarity can give you the strength to endure instability and uncertainty.
At some point, your self-awareness will make the career change your only viable alternative. Then it’ll seem like a relatively low-risk move.