Realizing you’re in the wrong career can be a tough pill to swallow.
The typical reaction usually includes a mix of panic, desperation, and discouragement. Those four (or more) years of school? A complete waste. The internships and entry-level positions that helped you get your foot in the door? Meaningless. All that time and talent spent on a career you’ve now determined that you absolutely hate.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. When you first realize that you may want to make a career 180, try to avoid the following common reactions—and learn to look at the situation in a different (and more positive) light.
1. Jumping to the Worst-Case Scenario
You’ve realized you’re unhappy at work: You dread coming into the office each day, and you count down the minutes until the clock hits 5 PM. Immediately, you assume that to be happy, you need to make a major career switch—say, from designing healthcare software to running your own cupcake bakery.
Instead: Check Yourself
Take a step back. Before you start plotting your transition from software engineer to pastry chef extraordinaire, take some time to figure out if it’s truly your career that you don’t enjoy—or simply your current job environment.
Maybe you enjoy the basic job functions of your role, but you can’t stand the majority of your co-workers or your micromanaging boss, who’s hindering your career advancement. Perhaps you don’t enjoy developing software for the banking industry, but would be much more motivated to perform the same role for a nonprofit with a mission you could stand behind.
Try to pinpoint the exact reason for your discontent. If it’s something that could be remedied by taking a similar role in a new, different environment, it’s time to start job searching (start here). If you truly are ready for a career change, there’s still no need to panic. Just continue reading.
2. Major Discouragement
Deciding you want to change careers can be completely overwhelming. It feels like everything leading up to this point—your years of education, professional development, promotions, and late nights at the office—have all been a waste.
And so, you start doubting that you can do it. You start thinking that starting over is going to be ridiculously hard, that no one will want to hire you because of your lack of experience, and that you’ll never be as successful as other people in your new field because you got such a late start. Maybe it’s just not worth the risk.
Instead: Give Yourself a Pep Talk
Yes, changing careers is intimidating—but it’s also very possible. (Want proof? Here are nine real-life stories.)
So, take a few minutes to pump yourself back up. Remind yourself that shifting your profession is normal and that very few individuals have a perfectly linear career path. It took a lot of hard work to get to this point in your career, and that’s a great accomplishment. Now, you’re going to move on to something different—an equally great (if not even better!) accomplishment.
A career change may be tough, but the reward—a job you love!—is worth it. Giving yourself a pep talk may sound cheesy, but it can be the push you need to convince yourself to go for it.
3. Resignation That You’ll Have to Start From the Bottom
If you want to make a major career shift, your first reaction may involve a sigh of resignation as you assume that to actually get a job in your new target industry, you’ll need to go back to school for at least another four years, apply to only entry-level positions, or submit yourself to an unpaid internship.
Instead: Identify Your Transferrable Skills
Making a switch doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch. There was something that drew you to your initial profession, and if you hone in on that, you may be able to determine a new career path that closely aligns with your skills—but also provides that satisfaction you’ve been lacking.
For example, maybe you chose journalism as a major in college and your first career because you love telling stories. Now, you’re desperate to get away from journalism, but it’s likely that passion for storytelling is still alive—you just have to look for a different way to apply it.
So, maybe you become a marketing writer, and you tell the stories of a company’s customers and how they benefited from the company’s product or service. Or, maybe you freelance as a website copywriter and tell the stories of new businesses through their web presence.
By identifying the skills you can—and want—to transition to your new career, you’ll be better equipped to explain to future employers how you’ll bring value to their company without starting from the very bottom.
The general themes in all of these reactions are fear, uncertainty, and doubt. But deciding that you’re ready to switch careers should instead incite a reaction of excitement—because this may be your opportunity to find a career you absolutely love.