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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

5 True Stories of Real-Life Career Changers That'll Inspire You to Take That Leap

So your job pays the bills, but that’s about the only good thing you can say about it. It’s not your dream gig, not by a long shot. It doesn’t excite you. You’re not motivated to excel or grow.

In fact, you often daydream about doing something totally different. You fantasize about what could’ve been if you’d decided to major in biology instead of philosophy. You read various job postings, pondering the possibility of transitioning into a different industry or starting your own business.

The fact is, tons of people start out doing one thing before completely switching gears—once, twice, if not multiple times throughout their careers. It may not have been as common in your parents’ generation, but among Millennials, it’s practically de rigueur.

I’m not a Millennial, and yet I fall into the category of “career-switcher.” After law school, I started working as an attorney. I burned out quickly though and moved from the courtroom to the kitchen, where I ran a bakery. After that, I ran an award-winning landscape design company, and then I became the director of a nonprofit before transitioning into my current job as a career coach. Many decades, many experiences—many evolutions!

There were lots of reasons for each of my moves. But each of my switches took a great deal of thought and planning; none of them happened overnight. I have no regrets.

The thing is, anyone can do what I did and not look back with regret. You’re allowed to change gears—there are no rules saying you have to stay in one job or one industry until the ripe age of retirement.

And to prove it, I’ve rounded up five inspiring stories of women who made major career changes and succeeded.

1. Susan Hyatt

First Career: Residential realtor
Current Career: Life coach and motivational speaker

When you’re feeling really stuck in your job, think of life coach and motivational speaker Susan Hyatt. Hyatt started her career in residential real estate but felt suffocated by her own account. Stumbling across Dr. Martha Beck’s book Finding Your Own North Star: Finding the Life You Were Meant to Live, Hyatt was motivated to make a big change.

Hyatt went on to become a master certified life coach and motivational speaker who has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Woman’s World, and O: The Oprah Magazine. Of her second career, Hyatt says, “Life coaching has been the great vocational love affair of my life.” Wouldn’t it be great to have a “love affair” with your work?

2. Joy Behar

First Career: High school English teacher
Current Career: Co-host of The View and host of The Joy Behar Show

The well-known TV personality made her career switch after 20 years as a high school English teacher. Behar was well into her 40s when she returned to her childhood love of performing. She started doing a little stand-up, and things just took off. According to Behar: “People should do what they loved to do when they were 10—the age before you start caring what others think.” Think back to what stoked your fire when you were a kid; is that something you could potentially turn into a full-fledged second career?

3. Josie Natori

First Career: Investment banker
Current Career: Lingerie designer, founder, CEO, company president

As Merrill Lynch's first female vice president in investment banking, Josie Natori was unarguably an ambitious, hard-working woman. But, after nine years in investment banking, Josie started to get the itch to do something else. Her lingerie company was born when she met with a buyer at Bloomingdale’s who encouraged her to turn peasant blouses into nightwear for women. Natori believes that the day you no longer have the rush of excitement about your job is the time to move on. The goal, she says, “is to have every bone in your body engaged in your life.”

4. Lisa Kudrow

First Career: Biologist
Current Career: Actress

The actress who played the intensely memorable Phoebe Buffay on the hit sitcom Friends worked as a biologist before she got into the acting circuit. She worked on the staff of her father’s company—researching headache treatments—for eight years before making it in Hollywood, according to Kudrow is proof that you can start out doing one thing before moving on to do something on the absolute opposite end of the spectrum.

5. Roz Savage

First Career: Management consultant
Current Career: Ocean rower, environmental campaigner, author, and speaker

A latecomer to the life of adventure, Roz worked as a management consultant in London for 11 years before realizing she needed to change course. In 2005, when Savage realized her job wasn’t making her happy, she embarked on her first ocean-rowing voyage and has since braved 20-foot waves, capsized three times in 24 hours, and faced death by dehydration—all in the name of wanting to challenge people to think about the way they treat the planet.

Savage is now a renowned environmental spokesperson, lecturing worldwide about the health of our oceans and our planet. Learning that her sense of security came from “knowing that I can deal with most things that life—or even an ocean—can throw at me,” Savage says she learned to “face the future with much more confidence.” Don’t be scared of taking a bold career move. Take a note from Savage’s book and discover how not to fear fear itself.

Your “career switch” might not happen overnight, and it will most likely require a ton of disciplined work, additional training, and loads of patience, but it’s certainly not impossible or unattainable. If you’re unhappy or bored, make a new plan, take baby steps, and begin to get things in motion.

Photo of Lisa Kudrow courtesy of Jaguar PS/Shutterstock.

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