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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Changing Careers

Chances are, you’ve cheated on your job by daydreaming about the one that got away—or never materialized to begin with.

Even if you like your position, the idea of just quitting one day fulfills a fantasy I think most of us have to drop what we’re doing and transition into doing something we actually love. Oh, and getting paid for it would be keen too, thanks.

Of course, then there are the select few who actually do it—making their way over the emotional, financial, and professional hurdles to transform their careers from something “meh” to something “yeah!”

You may think I’m joking, but I’m writing this late on a Sunday night, after responding to a work email (don’t ask why I was checking work email on a Sunday) and feeling pretty OK with helping out. Why? Because now, after completely changing industries, roles, backgrounds, experience levels, seniority, history, all of it; I’m finally doing something I love. Yes, it’s still work, but it’s work I’m proud to do.

This is why you switch careers. This is the feeling most of us are searching for. But, it isn’t just like flipping a switch. My transformation took years of planning, stress, failure, and doubt. All which ultimately amounted to one of my most proud achievements—a full-time gig as a writer and editor—so yes, it was worth the pain and suffering along the way.

For the most part, I was on my own on this journey. I had a great network, both professional and personal, that helped me, but no one I knew had been through exactly this transition. So, after successfully making it to the other side, here’s the advice I would give to anyone considering a change in careers:

1. Hoard Your Money

I don’t care how much money you make, start hoarding that stuff like the apocalypse is happening in six weeks. When you decide you want to change careers, you’ll likely be taking a pay cut or some time out of work while you search for your new gig, and money will unfortunately become a primary concern.

Things like interim health insurance, rent and utilities, travel, and unexpected expenses (hello brake pads!) can sneak up on you, and without the safety net of a steady income, those costs can seriously slow your mojo, not to mention demolish your savings. Having plenty of cash saved up will give you the emotional space you need to focus on a massive change in your life—and, believe me, you’re going to need it.

If you can, save up a full year worth of expenses, and start cutting back now. Those little trips to the coffee shop or ordering takeout three times per week add up to substantial amounts. I saved just over $700 in one year by cutting my daily latte habit, which came in handy when my car needed major repairs while I was in between gigs.

2. Go Shopping

OK, I know I just said save your money, but here’s one area where I wish I’d invested a bit more before I allocated my budget to other things. If you’re really changing gears in your career, chances are your new gig will have a different culture than your last. For example, I had worked in financial services previously, where the dress code was conservative. My closet was filled with dozens of pairs of dressy black pants, jackets, and suits. I owned a total of two pairs of jeans and almost no casual shoes or tops. So, when I started networking with people—and interviewing for my new gig as a writer for a startup in San Francisco—I realized my closet was in need of a major overhaul.

Last minute panicking and midnight orders from Zappos saved me in the end, but that definitely wasn’t something I needed on my plate while preparing for interviews.

If I could do it over, I’d start collecting pieces for my new career and slowly building those items into my wardrobe. Dressing for the job I wanted, if you will. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to happen overnight. Start scoping out your new style by stalking the careers pages of potential employers, and make sure you have several options to get you started off in the right shoes.

3. Tell Your Story

I despise networking of any kind, but if there was ever a time when I needed to suck it up, this was it. Transitioning from one career to another isn’t easy, and having a network in your corner that can help build you up is key.

It turns out, friends are a great resource, and when people hear your brave story of chasing your dreams, they’ll often go out of their way to connect you with anyone they know who might be useful. In fact, about a dozen times, friends offered to connect me with fellow writers, editors, and publishers, just by me telling my story.

But finding new contacts in your new industry is incredibly important, too. I made sure I had all my editorial colleagues, freelance clients, and anyone else in the writing world connected to me on LinkedIn, and I tried to reach out to new contacts whenever I was out and about.

It took me nearly 15 years to have the guts to do what I love, and it was worth every excruciating, doubt-filled, terrified, step of the way. I’m fully engaged in my work, every day, and I feel appreciated and valued for my work.

So, take it from me: Making the switch won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Keep these tips in mind, and try not to wait 15 years to follow your dream career.

Photo of turning road courtesy of Shutterstock.

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