I was three years into my career as a teacher when I hit my breaking point. I’d been transparent with my direct manager regarding my uncertainty about the job—and as a result we’d made some changes along the way to my role and responsibilities—but I still felt unfulfilled and eventually started to miss creating my own work (rather than just following a set curriculum).
That’s when I decided to quit my full-time teaching position and make a career change. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do next, but I knew that I wanted writing to play a big part in it—and in my transition I landed an editorial fellowship with The Muse.
I had zero experience working a desk job, let alone in the editorial world. I would be going from a steady, full-time role to part-time work in a completely new industry (along with another part-time job to pay the bills)—and quite honestly, this was all a big change for me.
As I wrap up my six-month fellowship and reflect on my experience, I realize I’ve learned three valuable lessons during this first leg of my career change (which is still in progress, by the way).
1. Changing Careers Doesn’t Mean You Scrap Everything and Start Over
Teaching means relaying new or valuable information to an audience of students. That isn’t so different from the work I did for The Muse, where I shared advice with an audience of readers who come to us with career-related questions.
Pitching ideas and writing engaging content for our website was equally as challenging as trying to engage elementary school students in a lesson on the Oregon Trail. I gathered and applied feedback on my articles from my co-workers and boss, just as I’d planned lessons and discussed them with my co-teacher.
The point is that when I shifted roles I didn’t start from scratch. So much of what I’d done as a teacher applied to my work as a fellow and helped me thrive in this new role. Similarly, what I do in this fellowship will apply to jobs I pursue in the future.
Basically, nothing you did before is a waste. If you need more proof, read this.
2. But Changing Careers Does Mean Changing How You Work
When I was a teacher, we planned our lessons months in advance. At the start of each new unit, all the teachers in my grade level would come together to go over the curriculum, which was prewritten from our charter school network. Overall, this meant my schedule was well-planned and strategic.
My workflow and routine took on a whole new form when I started at The Muse. Publishing content online isn’t a free-for-all, but it is a lot more flexible than my work as a teacher. Rather than having deadlines and schedules set for me based on existing units and lessons, I had to plan for them myself. I had to learn how to prioritize my tasks within unstructured work hours while still getting things done before deadline, and I had to let go of some habits I was used to as a teacher—like bringing work home at the end of the day (which I was lucky wasn’t the case for my fellowship).
For the first time in my career, I didn’t have a predetermined day-to-day schedule, and so I had to rely on myself alone to stay organized and motivated. And thank goodness I did, because the autonomy I’ve gained will surely come in handy no matter where I go next.
Yes, changing careers (or even just jobs) involves transferring existing skills and picking up new ones, but it also means learning how to work in a different environment. Maybe you’re going from the classroom to an office, or from flexible hours to strict ones, or from a micromanaging boss to one who’s a bit more relaxed. Whatever the case, you’re growing in how you approach your work and adapting to a new routine. This can be tricky for sure (it certainly was for me), but I’m also proof that it’s not impossible—no matter how drastic the change.
3. And Changing Careers Encourages You to Explore
Admittedly, I hadn’t practiced maintaining proper work-life balance when I was in my full-time teaching position, so when I left that role I decided to use what extra time I had to pursue hobbies and interests I’d previously neglected.
I joined a hot yoga class and read so many books that my fifth-grade star chart would be full right now. I even started building a portfolio on Medium where I write about social media and self-care practices.
These activities certainly gave me a much-needed break from the stresses of work, but they also helped me hone in on the topics I care about as a writer. It wasn’t until I took up hot yoga, for example, that I realized how much I had to say about self-care. And building my online portfolio helped me realize where my strengths lie. These experiences influenced my writing and the work I did at The Muse—and opened up doors for future career opportunities I hadn’t thought about before.
As I make my career shift, I’m beginning to realize that it might not entail a full 180-degree rotation so much as a small pivot.
In pursuing writing, I started to miss certain aspects of teaching. This realization has taught me that changing careers doesn’t mean I have to give up one field completely for another. In fact, it’s a combination of my past teaching experience and current writing experience that’s informed the roles I’m applying to going forward—and I can only imagine that my passions will continue to evolve and become clearer over time.
However, I’m grateful I took this first step. Because as you can tell, I’ve sure learned a lot already.