This article was written by freelance Ethan Shone
Do you find your job unfulfilling and yearn to do that thing you’re actually passionate about instead? Maybe it’s time to consider a career change.
I did, and though it’s relatively early days, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I worked for 8 years in manufacturing and the industrial lighting trade, which is precisely as interesting as it sounds. Now I make a living as a journalist, writing about more-or-less whatever I like. (Hey, I didn’t say it was a good living.)
Here are a few things I’ve learned (mostly the hard way) that might help you transition into your dream job without hassle.
Don’t rush in
OK, so you’re definitely doing this. Your instinct right now is to leap straight into action: quit your job in a blaze of glory and wake up tomorrow free to pursue your dreams. Don’t.
Fail to prepare and you’re preparing to fail. A change of career is one of the most important life changes you can make, so it’s in your interest to put as much thought into it beforehand as you can.
It was a wet Wednesday morning in February when I decided I was going to make that big career change. But I didn’t quit my job until November. For 9 months I went to work each day, then came home and practised writing, took courses, put together information on potential clients and markets. Weekends were more of the same, largely. Granted, I didn’t really see the inside of a pub for nine months, but now when I sit at my desk each day doing something that genuinely interests me, I don’t feel like I missed out at all.
Search engines are your new best friend. Depending on what type of career you want, there are likely endless resources online to help you prepare for the move and learn more about the skills you’ll need. These might be free resources, like videos on YouTube or dedicated websites, or they might be paid-for courses and tutoring services.
Only you can research what you’ll need to make that career change, so dive in, ask around and make it part of your plan.
Financial problems can put a real strain on your wellbeing, and at a time when you’re going to need to be operating at full capacity, they really are best avoided.
In all likelihood, you’re going to need to keep working while you prepare for the move. It might be difficult to do this, but if possible, staying in work will keep you financially stable and possibly even allow you to save up some extra money, to keep you afloat while you’re finding your feet in a new career.
Put aside as much as you can afford, then a bit more. Cut back on luxuries (I know, I’m sorry), and shop around for savings on fixed outgoings like utilities. Depending on what you want to do, looking for freelance work in your desired field might be a way to add to your income and help build up some much-needed experience before you take the leap into that full-on career change.
Self-Improvement & Analysis
You are your own biggest asset, and to succeed you’re going to have to make the absolute most of your skills.
This requires a certain level of self-analysis, which doesn’t always come naturally. A career change doesn’t come easy after all. To start with, make two lists: the things you think you’re good at, and the things you’re not. These are only for your benefit, so don’t be shy or too kind.
Now you’re going to make another list, of things you’re going to need to be good at in your new career. Think of these as boxes your potential employers are looking to tick. Hopefully some will match with your strengths, but for any that don’t, work out practical ways you can build this skill and get to it.
I worked in sales, driving all over the country selling lighting to all kinds of people. Everyone needs lights. I spent years speaking and building relationships with people from all walks of life, collecting useful information from and about them, asking questions, making phone calls. These are pretty useful skills for a journalist, some of which you’re not guaranteed to pick up in formal education.
You’d be surprised at what skills carry over, or what aspects of your previous work can be used to demonstrate examples of skillsets that are relevant to your new role. Just think laterally.
Setting (realistic) goals
If you listen to successful people talk about how they got to where they are, be it Barack Obama or Bill Gates, there’s usually a common theme; goal-setting. Take the time to create a list of goals, from the immediate stuff you need to get done this week, to your overall long-term plan for world domination. Write it down, look at it from time to time, visualise.
Nothing is as satisfying as drawing a big line through the goal you’ve had on your desk for months, knowing that you’ve achieved what you set out to. Particularly if you’re working independently, these moments are crucial to feeling like you’re actually making progress.
By the same token though, nothing is as disheartening as having to acknowledge that a goal you set yourself isn’t actually achievable, or is just beyond your reach for the moment. Making a habit of this is a sure-fire way to lose confidence. Avoid.
Ultimately, you have to decide what makes a realistic goal, and this might prove difficult if you’re venturing into unknown territory. Be firm but fair with yourself about revising down goals based on new information: don’t waste energy on the impossible, but don’t give up on the improbable if you want this career change to work long-term.
Don’t Panic, You’re Doing Fine
There will be moments, lots of them probably, where you’ll feel like you’re struggling. Maybe you’ve made a few mistakes and hit a few dead-ends and you’re starting to question whether you can actually do this.
Take a deep breath, take 10 minutes, take an afternoon off if you need it. Regroup, re-focus, and then restart.
You’re doing fine, I promise – that career change is on the horizon.
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