Changing careers can be tempting, but there are steps you need to take to do it right
A lot of people have been looking to switch up their career paths lately. There were so many people that the trend of millions of Americans quitting their jobs every month became known as the Great Resignation. There are plenty of reasons why now might be the time to shoot your shot, but before you go changing careers on a whim, you have some self-assessment to do. Laying the foundation for a productive and fulfilling switch will keep you from regretting your decision and put you on the path to success, whatever that looks like for you.
Start With Why
More important than what you end up doing is why you’ve decided it to do it. As Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why,” said of his own career transition, “I lost my passion for my work … which was disconcerting, to say the least. I didn’t want to go to work anymore. I no longer found joy in the thing I had been doing for years. Learning about starting with why changed all that. This simple idea completely transformed my life and my career in ways I could not imagine.”
Burnout happens, and it can send us looking for greener pastures. But before we go, we must evaluate our rationale. Are you quitting just to quit? Or is there something you’d rather be doing that will fuel your passion and fill your cup every day. If you’re taking another job in your field because it pays better, that’s one thing, and usually not a difficult decision. But if you’re contemplating a wholesale career change, one that will impact your work, your family, and your personal life, you owe yourself much more reflection.
Remote work and the lack of a commute allowed many workers to spend more time with their families. Your primary motivation might be a desire for flexibility so you can continue spending that quality time with family, especially if your employer has called everyone back to the office. If that’s the case, you might be willing to take a job that doesn’t inspire you all that much but gives you the work-life balance you desire.
On the other end of the spectrum, you might be unable to suppress your entrepreneurial spirit any longer. The time has come for you to shoot your shot, stop working for somebody, and put all your efforts into your own business. Millions of Americans are doing that too.
No matter where you fall, you need to ask yourself the same questions. Will this move make me happy? What’s the endgame? Am I prepared to make the sacrifices changing careers will require, and will the benefits outweigh them?
A key part of that self-evaluation is what Jeff Bezos calls the “regret minimization framework.”
“I wanted to project myself forward to age 80. I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have. I knew that when I was 80, I was not going to regret having tried this,” he said of leaving his investment banking job to start Amazon. “I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret that. But I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that it would haunt me every day. When I thought about it that way, it was an incredibly easy decision.”
If you can get to that point, then changing careers is absolutely the right decision. The trickiest part of getting there might be being honest with yourself. It’s easy to fall into the trap of romanticizing the career switch, but odds are whatever you do won’t make you as successful as Bezos has been. Are you willing to invest time, money, and mental energy acquiring new skills? Are you willing to take on freelance or volunteer opportunities to get your foot in the door somewhere? Can you handle a few or even dozens of rejections before you find the place and the work that’s right for you?
If the answer to all of these is yes, then dust off your résumé and get to work. For any job you’re considering, start drafting a cover letter in your head or write it down. If you can’t articulate why you want the position, or why you’re the person for the job, then landing it probably won’t fulfill you.
If you’re striking out on your own, come up with a detailed business plan before you go quitting your job. You’ll need it to justify your idea to investors when applying for a loan. First, you need to convince yourself.
Be prepared for the process of changing careers to take a significant amount of time. Assuming your goal is long-term fulfillment, it’s worth waiting for the right situation. Networking and connecting with as many people as possible can help you find the perfect opportunity.
You should have a backup plan, however, something you’re willing to accept in the short term while you continue the longer search. There is no shortage of good, well-paying careers you can take up quickly. Ideally, you find a field that needs a large influx of talent, one in which you can utilize your existing skills, requires only minimal training for you to get up to speed, and isn’t a backwards move.
That can buy you the time you need to figure out what you really want to do without completely losing an income in the interim. You might even find you have a real flair for this new field and that it’s restoring the passion you lost. In the end, the goal for changing careers is to discover fulfillment in both your professional and personal lives. That’s the way to look back without regrets.