Taking the plunge into a new career is no easy feat and involves a lot of sacrifice from not only yourself, but also from your loved ones and your connections.
So far, here is what I’ve learned about switching careers that no one told me.
1. You’ll deal with unwavering anxiety and nerves
When it comes to your career, few things are as stressful and insecure as throwing in the proverbial towel along with your full-time salary and benefits and starting over from scratch. You might be back on a student budget, while cashing in savings or investments. Retirement or home ownership savings are put on hold. If you’re lucky, you have a family or a spouse to help you through the lean times. If you’re quite privileged, finances aren’t much of an issue. For those without the support or financial privilege, this journey can be even more challenging, stressful, and riskier. It’s an anxiety that never quite leaves, regularly making itself known with tiny pin pricks that poke you at the most inconvenient of times. “Did I make the right choice?” “I had a full-time salary, am I ungrateful?” “What if it doesn’t work out?” They don’t hurt (much), but over time, they get annoying.
You may need to update your skills, volunteer, or even go back to school. Each step is one step away from a pre-established career into a level of uncertainty and unknown. But, as they say, with great risk comes great reward. Choosing a career is not easy and, as I’ve learned, sometimes you gotta dig really deep to find what’s right for you.
2. You may need to re-build your network
I had about 6 years worth of professional networking under my belt. And I decided to make a major field change, going from agency and public service communications to clinical social work. I knew who to contact for just about anything as it related to my job or professional pursuits. If I was looking at testing the waters at a new company, I knew who I could call. There were people who knew me and what I was capable of. It’s not to say that all of that went out the window, but I am now faced with re-establishing myself among a new network of professionals interested in counselling, social justice, advocacy, mental health, child welfare, senior care, and grief therapy.
I’ve started by connecting with like-minded professionals on LinkedIn who work in areas that I can only dream of. If they’re reading this, they know who they are. As with any networking, it’s about what you put into it. You can’t expect anything without giving in return. Networking is a journey and not a destination.
3. You may have to dig deep to locate those transferable skills
I’ve been working professionally since 2007, branding and marketing myself as a writer. Though not immediately obvious, there were several transferable skills I could pull from my experience as a communications guru into social work. Social work is all about communications – the ability to actively listen, communicate information, understand needs and help clients to develop solutions, and, of course, writing case notes! It’s a bit of an undertaking to convince a hiring manager (or, in my case, a practicum supervisor) that my many years of communications work still made me an ideal candidate to work in the area of grief, post-traumatic stress, and palliative and long-term care. I dug deep and it has paid off immensely.
Think about skills from your previous career that lend themselves easily to your new career. Then, speak to someone who works in your new field and see where they can see transferable skills. You’d be surprised how important event planning or graphic design could be to a new career.
4. But, in the end, it’s massively rewarding
I would be remiss to not end this piece by stating how much I have benefited personally, emotionally, and mentally from making this career change. It has not been an easy road and continues to be a challenge, but each and every day I wake up a little more proud of the journey and excited for what’s to come. It’s something I never felt in my previous career and it’s massively rewarding.
Deciding to take the plunge into a brand new career is not easy, and I hope I have not oversimplified a very complex decision. For me, it has so far been successful, but has involved a lot of sacrifice. Yours likely will too. But I hope this piece has answered some questions or given light to something you may not have considered about a career change. Remember this: Whatever you believe will bring you the most fulfillment, go for it. It is possible.