Changing Your Career Path

By Erica Rivers, LPC, MBA, CPT

Some of you may remember way back to 1993 and watching Tom Cruise running through city streets avoiding mafia men in his role as a lawyer in the movie the Firm. The exciting movie was based on the book by writer John Grisham who has since gone on to publish around 40 books, several of which have been turned into films. Here’s the deal: he started as an accounting major and then became a lawyer. He didn’t start off wanting to be a writer; rather, he wanted to be a baseball player when he grew up. According to his website, he says, “‘ I seriously doubt I would ever have written the first story had I not been a lawyer. I never dreamed of being a writer. I wrote only after witnessing a trial (http://www.jgrisham.com/bio/). ’”

Obviously life throws its curveballs and sometimes we merely follow the twists and turns of opportunity and happenstance to end up in a vocation. The Washington Post reported in 2013 that only approximately 27% of people with undergraduate degrees work in a profession directly related with their degree program (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/05/20/only-27-percent-of-college-grads-have-a-job-related-to-their-img_1838major/?utm_term=.56ae56aefa24). Is this a shock? How many high school seniors have a clue about what they want to do or understand all the inter-workings of a field they choose when they declare their college majors or pick a trade?

With so much transition and change happening in the workforce nowadays, it is becoming much more of a realistic option for someone who has tried one field of work to decide mid-career and even mid-life that they are ready for something different. No longer are people working toward the idea of a sweet pension at the end of a 30 year career at one company. Rather, there’s a lot of job hopping and it’s becoming much more of the norm. Why not switch fields and not just companies?

Switching careers can be scary for many people. It’s easy to get niched or perceivably pidgeon-holed into a career path. Sometimes people believe they don’t have an option but to stay in that same field because “that’s all they have experience in” or “I can’t afford to lose this paycheck.” Sometimes people stay in a miserable situation because they don’t believe they can get into a new field or that they would have to take a significant pay cut. And yet, they are miserable. And. Stay.Miserable.

Here’s the deal: If we keep doing the same things, we will get the same old same old results. We all KNOW this and everybody talks about it but we can all get caught in our “I’m stuck” ruts. I heard it said once that a rut is a shallow grave with two open ends. Did you catch that? There are multiple ways out!! And that’s true of changing careers, too. We don’t have to stay stuck. There are multiple ways out. Some are harder than others, for sure. Look how John Grisham used his career experience to integrate his knowledge into interesting stories.

Dan Miller in his book 48 Days to the Work You Love says, “Nothing is unrealistic if you have a clear plan (p.63).” He writes about helping career searchers identify their strengths, passions, and talents. He discusses transferrable job skills for those who feel they are stuck and ways to maneuver in the job search process. Many people stay stuck because they don’t realize that they have options… or it’s scary to face the rejection that could come with trying. Dan Miller says it well with, “I find many people living their lives within boundaries that exist only in their minds (p.62).” Wow. That’s powerful.

So, how does one go about taking the leap? Here’s five starting steps that many career coaches and counselors encourage before actually applying :
1. Identify areas of interests/passion and activities you are good at
2. Explore/research what fields of work would allow you to use your talents, strengths and interests and what companies have positions of that nature
3. Contact several people in the fields of interest and meet for a short interview where you ask them questions about how they got into the position, what they do, and what they like/dislike (keep to the time and send a thank you note afterward). This is good for learning about the actual work, what you can do to qualify, and offers networking potential. Aim to impress.
4. Take steps toward qualifying yourself for the position (i.e. certifications, side job, clubs, etc.)
5. Build up your social network up – the more people you know, the better in searching for a job

A 2016 Market Watch article by Elizabeth O’Brian recommends “savings and frugality” as two helpful components to enable the career switch mid-life (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/now-might-be-a-great-time-for-a-midlife-career-change-2016-04-01). Consider where you would like to head and then strategically plan and execute. Sometimes a career coach or counselor can be a helpful support along the route as well as career search aids like career tests and books. There is hope – explore and act to get your life moving in a different direction!

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