This post is brought to you by a job you actually like, a decent paycheck, the letter F, and The Forté Foundation.
I knew it was time to change careers when I found a cockroach floating in my coffee cup.
At the time, I was working as an ESL teacher at a non-profit. I worked in a not-particularly-great neighborhood in a crumbling building that, apparently, had a cockroach problem.
Now, I should tell you that I loved the teaching part of being a teacher. I loved sharing insights, leading conversations, finding new ways to communicate an idea.
But there is SO MUCH MORE to being a classroom teacher than, ya know, teaching.
There are curriculum committees and budget issues and test prep. There are concerns about students’ safety and well-being. In my specific situation, there were concerns about cockroaches in the break room (!!!!)
When the cockroach appeared in my coffee cup, I’d been blogging for a few years. I’d been getting a slow but steady trickle of emails asking for help with writing, social media, and marketing.
It was the turning point when I decided that it was time to get serious about changing careers. I knew I needed to learn some new skills and make the leap from education to self-employment.
Many of us have had our own cockroach-in-the-coffee moment.
Maybe yours is working at 2 am on a Sunday or having a boss who belittles you. Maybe it’s 200 travel days a year or discovering you earn 60 percent of what your male counterparts earn.
Whatever it is that’s turning your eyes towards greener career pastures, I want you to know that changing careers is totally, totally possible—but you want to be smart about planning your next move.
4 career change tips I wish someone had told me
1. Notice what you love about your current job
Sometimes the Venn diagram of ‘Job Description’ and ‘What You Actually Like About Your Job’ doesn’t quite overlap the way you’d think.
Maybe you’re an editor, but the highlight of your week is advising and leading the junior members of your team.
Maybe your company hired you for graphic design, but you’d rather be poking around the backend of Google Analytics, seeing which content is popular and where online traffic is coming from.
Maybe you’re a classroom teacher, but you love designing worksheets and bulletin boards more than you enjoy managing a gaggle of eight-year-olds.
Notice the parts of your workday where time flies. When do you feel light and alive and full of creativity? When you know that, you can plan your next step.
2. Talk to people who have made a similar career change
If you’re a teacher who wants to become a project manager, you’re not limited to finding someone who’s had that exact career path.
Talk to people who’ve left education or came to project management from a totally different career. What’s most important is that you chat with people who have made a similar leap and can point you in the right direction.
Related: The Forté Foundation’s Business360 blog has tons of super helpful career advice articles you can sort by industry, career stage, and focus. Handy!
3. Look into + think about the daily realities of other careers
When I was in college, I interned at a small newspaper. I was writing! And getting paid for it! I was living the dream!
Well, yes and no. The daily reality of being a newspaper journalist is writing on extremely tight deadlines, sitting in front of a computer all day, worrying that advertisers will pull funding because of your stories, and asking people questions they don’t want to answer.
Also: working evenings and weekends or whenever a story breaks.
I have a deeply introverted friend who didn’t really realize until he was in med school that being a physician would necessitate talking to people all day, every day.
Being a veterinarian means being on your feet all day and euthanizing a lot of animals.
If you’re a wedding photographer, you’ll probably experience the joys + challenges of self-employment AND work every weekend from May to September.
These aren’t reasons to avoid those careers, but it’s super important that we understand what we’re getting into before we devote time, energy, and money to a career change.
4. If your career change necessitates going back to school, OMG DO SOME RESEARCH
True story: I went to graduate school for Applied Linguistics at the University of Victoria, Wellington because it was cheaper than grad school in America and New Zealand seemed cool???
Friends, that’s not how you choose a school.
- I know you know this, but you also shouldn’t apply to a school just because a) it’s in the city where you already live b) your friend is going there c) it’s easy to get into Click To Tweet
Education is an investment! Let’s give it the time, thought, and research it deserves!
Talk to graduates and current students. Tour some dang campuses. Look at the types of jobs alumni have.
Related: If you want to get an MBA, the Forté Foundation has a tons of free, pre-MBA resources for you. Webinars! A forum! Fellowships!
But I want to hear from you! How are you feeling about your current career? If you’ve made a big career switch, how’d you manage it? Tell us in the comments so we can learn from you!
Forté Foundation is an action-oriented non-profit that’s passionate about advancing women in business. Forté is moving the needle by growing the number of women business leaders. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that make Yes & Yes possible!
These are really good tips – which I wish I’d heard when I was going through a huge career change from an architect to a writer! Either way, no matter how you manage it, in the end it always turns out for the better that you’re finally following your passion! 🙂
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
Currently leaving my hairstylist job to do…I don’t know what yet! Probably not the prescribed way to do things, but I just know that I need a big change!
Good for you! You can do it!
I’m currently wrestling with the question of “Does this need to be an occupation or is it ok for it (maybe better for it) to be a hobby/source of joy outside work?”
I have found that sometimes making hobbies the source of my livelihood suck the feeling of freedom out of it.
Uh, YES. Not enough people talk about this! I’m technically a writer, but 60% of my work is really marketing myself and my services, doing conference calls with clients, sending invoices, and meeting with my assistant. If I wrote as a hobby, I’d just be …. writing.
I echo your sentiments and it’s crucial to contemplate well turning a hobby into a job.
I love baking so at one point in my life, I started a french macaron business. The stress of making hundreds of macarons in the evenings and weekends to sell took away the joy of baking for me. It’s been 6 years since I last made macarons.
Now I know that no matter how much you love something, stress always dampens the joy that it brings.
Oh, so true! My first degree was in a music field, but I hated music as a career because I had to do it the way other people to me to. I went back to school and got an MBA. Years later, I’m controller of a small manufacturing firm and music is my hobby.
BTW, Sarah, love your new headshot!
Thanks so much! They’re courtesy of Leslie Plesser. She’s amazing!
Yes! Exactly what I mean. Hard to sacrifice your creativity to make a buck!
I recently lost my job to a restructure, and when I was offered a job with a different company in the same field (retail management) I was thrilled to be wanted again! Until I took a drive to the new store, and realized I want a life outside of work, something I’ve never managed in the last 11 years. But I bought a house, my first, less than a year ago and can’t and don’t want to move. I’m desperately searching for that job posting that I can get excited about, while deeply afraid if I find it, they won’t want me. Career change thrust upon me and no idea what is next!
LOL! One of the reasons I went to the grad school I did was because it was a 5-minute drive from my house. I’d also say don’t jump in to a program that is relatively new. I was in the second cohort of my program and the school was very disorganized. Research, research, research.
Yessss! Lessons learned the hard way!
I am in the process of making a career change. I’ve been working in animal welfare and that’s where I got my first “real” job. While it is a very rewarding environment it is also very emotionally draining especially for someone who is already very emotional in general. I love doing good for the animals but holy cow it’s hard and there’s no where to grow in these organizations. I am now in my last day of work here and will be starting my new career in business management starting as an office assistant next week ?
One last thing if you got this far haha… Just take a step, any step and you’ll figure it out.
I recently left my corporate job to teach yoga and to (maybe?) start a blog. TBD if this will be a long-term thing. But I spent the last year and a half socking away as much money as I possibly could so that I wouldn’t be stressed about money when first starting out.
Good for you! So smart!
Oh my goodness…I wish this was here when my last career path ended. I lost my job in the health care field, after 15 years on the job the company closed. I had taught before, but did not want to return down that street. I hold a BS in education and a MS in Counseling/Education. I have not taken the state licensing exam, although I believe this is my true calling. I love teaching and imparting knowledge, but I can at times over talk when I need to be listening (can be a problem in the counseling field). So, I have been out of work for a little over a 1.5 years. I work best on my own…knowing that others trust me to do the right thing empowers me to thrive. Would love to do online service, but I have know idea of how to research, let alone get started.
Oooof! The listening part can be the hardest part! <3
As a Kindergarten teacher, who is looking day and night for a new school to teach at (and to leave the toxic school I am working in)…. this article was just what I needed! Thank you!
So glad to hear it! <3
Another career changer here–from fundraising to nursing (fingers crossed). The tradeoffs are so real, and sometimes there’s no way to understand them until you experience them yourself. One big reality check for me was “meeting” a second-career nurse through the Ask A Manager blog and emailing her one-on-one to ask questions about her experience. Talking with someone who’s done what you’re trying to do can be more helpful than all the Googling in the world!
Yes! So, so true! And just seeing real evidence that it’s possible!
Right now, I work as a career advisor. Even though I love my coworkers and the company, its an hour away from where I live and I’m not making that much. Lately, I’ve been feeling stressed and tired. I have been in the Human Services / Social Services field since 2009 and I need a change. With my current job, you are dealing with all types of personalities and for the past six years,
Sorry, my post got cut short, but for the past six years, I’ve had my own drama going on and as a believer in GOD, I need some restoration. So for right now, I’m looking at a career completely opposite of what I do…. Foresenic Cybersecurity
I wish I knew what kind of job was right for me. I’d love to be self employed, but I don’t have the idea or obvious skill to charge people for… I’m hoping that as I grow and change and find new jobs I’ll get a better idea of what makes me happy in the different life styles I experience.
Thanks for this. I find myself pivoting from working in a very corporate web development role to something to do more with shooting, editing, & managing photos. I’m thinking of a lateral move into a company like Instagram, Flickr, SmugMug, etc. I’d love to shoot & maintain my upcoming website more but I can’t seem to walk away from this nice salary yet. Any tips?
Going through an ectic phase.. Lost my job at the hotel.. Being getting tons of interview calls but is afraid to attend why i don’t know.. This morning i have 2 interviews at 9:30-10:00am and no drive… I did a 3 th course to help in the field I’m. Interested in but…. No drive
Great advice! Am considering a career change to consultancy, writing books, blogging, YouTuber, motivation speaking. Currently writing a book, can I include your tips in it?
Could you email me and tell me more about your book? [email protected]
I went from working in a promising digital marketing career, to quitting and starting my own online content portal/type/franchise to terminating that and now have a travel business! All of these changes were in less than 4 years’ time.
When my business wasn’t going well, I had a slew of interviews to get back into digital marketing, but my heart was never in any of the positions. I realized I really didn’t want to go back to that world, and hustled my way into a new industry I was passionate about (and one that everyone around me was saying it was a dying field).
What I wish someone had told me? Do your research on your new venture/company and have a side hustle or good amount of cash, before throwing yourself into a new venture. Like, a year’s worth. If that venture is entrepreneurial at least!
Also, if someone tells you your industry is dying, find a niche where you can stand out and make sure it doesn’t die as long as you’re around 🙂
Excited to see where this new chapter takes you, Polyana!
Thanks for the article and it came at the right time. I entered into my current career because of mistake I made when selecting a what to study at uni. At the time, going to university came with strict high educational standards (I don’t know whether this the right word to express this) but you had to attain extremely good grades to be selected and the invitations straight from the University as opposed to you applying to attend. It was a privilege so to say. So under the advice of my uncle and his colleague (who worked at the main uni) I selected a course I have regretted to this date. Many a time I have always believed I am in the wrong place but because I needed the pay check I have stuck on. Til recently I took sabatical to help me see if I could direct me career into something I’m passionate about. The journey to where I want to be is hard and it’s like I am hitting a brick wall right now. I will continue to strive to get where I want to be but where I come from not many people change careers all together. It’s like go to university, get a job, stay in a job and retire
One more point that I have on the list -carefully is it the job or something in me that has to change? I currently have what I would have called my dream job – working for an NGO – and I feel close to burn-out.There are definetly things wrong with my job – especially my narcisstic “advisor” who wore me out with totally unreasonable demands, criticism and belitteling me constantly. If he stays, I go. But for the other points that I complain about – high work load, too many topics, never a thanks, networking (introvert) and having to say no constantly (and feeling guilty about it) – I think that’s also something about me, I have to learn to set boundaries, feel comfortable with not pleasing everybody, confident with my work (and not waiting for a “well done”). But for those points – all my law friends aren’t so much happier either. I now dream of going back to law because I really really miss the quiet hours and not having to deal with crazy volunteers or politicians. I currently love that I am not limited to the legal issues, work with a lot of creative people (campaigning), the moments where my expertise is needed and I can acually make a difference (and I am not stuck in meetings or emails) or crazy demands from volunteers), and in general the work environment – I would really miss that if I went back to law.
I don’t know, I am really torn at the moment. I definetly have to pay attention to my health. But yeah, as an advise – look what do you love about your job and what are the realities of the change. E.g. networking events. And yes, people in the corporate world can be annoyingly boring, but people in the NGO world aren’t saints either, some of them think because they save the world they can treat everyone around like sh*t. But most of them are great people.
Another topic for an article – the guilt of leaving a current job, I guess you had it as well (though that’s ridiculous, I am not that special, yes they want to keep me but they will also find someone else
My career change is still a work in progress, bumpy at times, but rewarding and overall well worth the challenges and just a lot of fun. I didn’t really plan it though. I took a two-year sabbatical in the form of a Master’s in Europe (but I was smart about that part and got a scholarship that covered tuition plus living costs). That allowed me to realise I didn’t want to go back to aid and development work – my last real job was in Lebanon working with Syrian refugees – as I needed a change. Now I do freelance writing and research, lease out the flat I own back home in Australia and live in Barcelona where I’m also trying to get up to speed with my Spanish. I’m wishing everyone here the very best of luck in achieving their dream job/career change! Follow Sarah’s advice and plan!
I was planning to switch my career after my graduation,but din’t knew that we need to do research on the same thanks for your article it make me understand what questions to include or asked your self before you do a career change..
Definitely a great post. Hats off to you! The information that you have provided is very helpful.