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What Career Changers Wish They Knew Before Making The Switch

From ignoring one’s inner critic to acknowledging the value of loose connections, here are some useful tips to consider before you make a professional move.

What Career Changers Wish They Knew Before Making The Switch
[Photo: Joshua Ness/Unsplash]

I was two years into my corporate law job when two of my bosses called me into a conference room. They told me I was underperforming and needed to step up, or else. Truth be told, I had known for a while that I probably wasn’t suited to this career, but I was in denial. I thought to myself, if I just worked a lot harder . . .

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The problem was, working a lot harder still wasn’t enough, and would never be. I left my job not long after that conversation (and before I had to face the “or else” part), and embarked on a career transition from law to journalism. For the most part, it all worked out well. But as a naive 25-year-old, there were things I wished I knew before I said goodbye to my short legal career. For example, I worried about being older than my peers who were starting their careers in journalism. It turns out no one I worked with ever cared about my age (they’re all too busy worrying about their own careers). I also put unrealistic pressure on myself to be good at this journalism thing right away, but I learned the harsh truth that the road to being good at anything inevitably involves some mistakes, and learning from them in the process.

Many career changers expressed the same sentiment–here are some of the things they wished they knew before taking the leap.

Having A Fancy Job Title Won’t Make You Happy, But It Can Help With Your Reputation

There is a reason why people stay in prestigious, high-paying jobs they hate–societal validation. Joseph Liu, a career change strategist who has made three career changes in his professional life, wrote previously in Fast Company that he became a sought-after marketer when his prospective clients learned of his background in big corporations. He wrote, “It took me a while to stop constantly questioning the value I could offer others without the backing of a big-name company. But slowly, over time, I began to find my footing, building on the lessons I’d learned by leaving other companies behind. ”


Related: How My Entry-Level Job Helped Me Become A Mid-20s Entrepreneur


Changing Careers Doesn’t Always Mean “Taking The Leap”

There’s this romanticized idea that people who quit their jobs to change careers are “risking it all” and “taking a leap.” But the truth is, you can’t just make a big change in your life without doing any planning and preparation. As writer Jeff Goins previously wrote in Fast Company, “We assume great careers happen because one extraordinary person makes a big bet that pays off.” In truth, many people start small. Goins himself talked about his transition to full-time writing as a series of small habits he adapted over time. He said, “For the longest time, this embarrassed me. I had no Jerry Maguire moment, no dramatic declaration to the world that changed everything. But once I started looking more honestly at success, I realized how the slow-and-steady strategy might be more the norm than we realize.”

It’s Important Not To Let Your Inner Critic Get The Best Of You

Before I made my career change, one of the misconceptions I had was the idea that if I wasn’t successful at one thing, I was less likely to be successful in everything else. This sounds ridiculous now, but I was raised with the principle that talent is overrated, and hard work makes everything possible. When I don’t do something well, I’d always assumed it was because I didn’t work hard enough.

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In hindsight, I realized how important it was for me to ignore that voice. Timothy Butler, founder of CareerLadder.com, previously told Fast Company that our “inner critic” can be especially active when we feel stuck, which is usually what drives us to change careers in the first place. But listening to it too much, or comparing ourselves to the people around us, is very dangerous. It can also hinder our progress when it comes to making our next move.

It’s Never Too Late (Or Too Early) To Change Your Mind

As we get older, it’s tempting to think that we’ve left it too late. And when we’re younger, it can feel like we haven’t been at a career long enough to change. But many career changers assert that this is not the case–particularly when they know for sure that what they’re doing is the wrong thing, or that they’re no longer fulfilled with their current careers.

Designer Ted Leonhardt previously advised in Fast Company to approach this change like a “renegotiation” with yourself. Natasha Burton also pointed out in LearnVest that changing careers isn’t as risky as it once was. Goins wrote that in today’s economy, changing our minds about our careers is the norm:

People aren’t robots, programmed to do one thing over and over. We’re creatures with many interests and abilities. And though we may have been raised to believe that we’d grow up to do one thing for the rest of our lives, the evolution of the modern economy doesn’t seem likely to let us.

Understand That Motivations Change

We prioritize different things in our 20s than we do in our 30s and 40s. Sometimes a career that suits us when we’re younger no longer works for us when priorities shift, and that’s okay. Chestor Elton, author of What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions To Workpreviously told Fast Company that one of the most important things to consider when making a career change is to “understand where you are today and what is really going to drive you.” In other words, be honest with yourself–if you don’t do this before you change, you run the risk of facing the same issues in your next career.

If You Can, Try Before You Buy

For Paula Davis-Laack, she was burned out in her legal career but wasn’t sure what to do next. So to figure it out, she used design thinking principles. First, she “observed” and asked herself the question of what she loved to do at work. Next, she “ideated.” One of Davis-Laack’s idea was to be a pastry chef, so she did an internship for a week. She hated the experience, and went back to writing down the things she loves to do in her life. Identifying some common themes, (writing, research, talking to people, and traveling), she began talking to people whose jobs involved these tasks.

She eventually settled on going back to school to get a master’s degree in positive psychology, and started a business helping professionals and companies deal with burnout and stress. This approach, Davis-Laack wrote, saved her $40,000 in culinary school fees.

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You Have More Connections Than You Realize–Use Them

That includes your Facebook friends who you met at a party once or twice. As author Wendy Sachs previously wrote for Fast Company, “The closely knit groups you belong to are filled with people who know roughly the same things that you do. You need to get outside of that space, pushing beyond your core group. The weak tie is essentially the bridge to getting information.”

Freelance project manager Elaina Giolando laid out how you can strategically use your Facebook networks when you’re looking for a job in a previous article for Fast Company. First, she recommends doing a “systematic inventory” of people who are doing something that interests you, and then organize them based on your comfort level in terms of contacting them. Then she recommends finding a way to help them. “You have something to offer everyone,” Giolando insisted. “By getting in the practice of helping others, you put out good karma, and people will inevitably reciprocate–maybe not now, but at some point in the future.”

About the author

Anisa is the Editorial Assistant for Fast Company's Leadership section. She covers everything from personal development, entrepreneurship and the future of work.

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