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How to make a career shift when you’re too scared to take the leap

It’s never too late to make a change.

How to make a career shift when you’re too scared to take the leap
[Photo: Kristopher Roller/Unsplash]

Are you having an existential crisis, wondering if you are pursuing the right career path? Perhaps you’re wondering if your current job is your true passion. If you are feeling this way, the good news is you’re not alone. You, me, and millions of other people have had these same thoughts.

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You might have worked hard in an industry for a few years or even decades and then started to wonder if you were on the right track. You may also realize that while you enjoyed what you were doing for the last few years, it wasn’t your true calling.

This year, I created music for the first time and discovered that I’d love to pursue songwriting—even though my background is in marketing and design. I then realized I knew absolutely nothing about the business side of music, or how to make a jump to a new industry. Over the last year, I’ve immersed myself in an entirely new field, learning about the industry from the ground up. Here’s how you, too, can make a career shift into a new industry, even when you’re starting at ground zero (and too scared to take the first step.)

Remind yourself it’s never too late

It can be hard to negate self-deprecating thoughts when you’re getting involved in a new discipline or learning a new skill. You might question everything and begin to wonder if you’re even competent enough to try. In the beginning, I thought to myself, “You can’t pursue songwriting; people have been writing songs since they were 7.” I then reminded myself that every person has their own set of unique talents and individuality they bring to any new job or career path. Instead of focusing on other people, I spent nine months with my head down, working on my album and learning as much as I possibly could about the industry.

“You have to really focus in on what feels true to yourself,” said Stephen Stallings, senior music producer at mcgarrybowen. Stallings has worked on creating campaigns for giants, including Verizon, American Express, and Crayola. “There’s nothing wrong with making pop-accessible music, but if that’s not true to your vision and you do it anyway, no one wins,” continued Stallings. “The listener will sense it, and you won’t be happy with your own work.”

This rings true in every industry. Whether you’re selling a product or taking a new job, your customers, clients, bosses, or colleagues will be able to tell if you’re not authentic. In a field such as music, it’s essential to stay true to your artistic vision and not be swayed by the opinions of the masses. When you’re learning a new skill, it’s crucial to take a step back and ask yourself what you really want to get out of the experience, and then figure out what steps can help get you there.

Build your network as soon as possible

One skill I’ve learned that translates across any industry is that you’re only as strong as your industry connections. So this year, I attended as many music events as I could. Kurt Steinke, music producer at creative production agency Townhouse, said it best, “Don’t wait for a job opportunity, just start. Create your own entry point and then build and connect with people from there.”

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I get it, approaching people at events can be very awkward—particularly as an introvert. But I’ve learned to take a deep breath, introduce myself, and start asking questions to learn as much as I can from peers. Networking is one of the best ways to meet gatekeepers—sometimes, the only way to progress is to find an entry point and get your foot in the door. Once it’s in the door, you’ll have an easier time achieving your goals.

Work hard, and focus on quality

In any creative field, it’s crucial not to spend time working on learning the industry ropes. You need to hone your craft. “Too often, artists spend time learning the ins and outs of the business before their debut record is finished, and I think that’s a mistake,” says Antony Demekhin, partner and executive producer at Ear Candy Shop. “Once you have a well-written finished product that captures your unique style and message, all of the business conversations will flow a lot easier.”

When I first got started making music, I threw up 15 very rough songs I had written on Soundcloud. I later pulled them down, realizing having one song that was polished and professional would give me much more credibility than a handful of half-made songs. In any industry, your brand can make or break you. That’s why right now, my priority is on making the best music I can, building a fan base, and learning as much about the industry as I can before jumping into business discussions.

Ask friends for introductions

When I first started learning about the music industry, I posted to my social networks saying, “I’m trying to learn more about the music industry, can anyone introduce me to a good mentor?” I received a handful of responses and was introduced to Russell Fink, chief content and marketing officer at 124 Media, a music industry veteran who’s worked with top artists from Rihanna to Kanye. He told me, “Focus and gain knowledge of the industry in the area where you have transferable skills. Find where you can fit in, but know how the business works. Just like any business, the industry has its own language and systems. The key is being able to speak at the adult table.” So next time you’re catching up with a friend, tell them the types of people you’re trying actively to meet. Chances are, they might know someone who could help you.

Changing to a new career can be scary, particularly when you have no experience in the field you want to get into, and you don’t know where to start. But provided that you’re willing to do the work and get out of your comfort zone, it’s never too late to make a change.

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About the author

Arianna O'Dell is the founder of Airlink Marketing, a digital design and marketing agency helping companies create digital programs that drive results. When she’s not working with clients or traveling, you’ll find her making fun gifts at Ideas By Arianna.

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