Figuring out what to do with the rest of your life is a lot of pressure. Because deciding how to spend the next 40-plus year is intimidating, people often find themselves in the wrong job. If this sounds familiar, ask yourself three questions before navigating a career change: What is my gut telling me? Am I willing to put in the work necessary to make a career change? And am I OK with starting over?
I asked myself these three questions before deciding in 2016 it was time to make a career pivot. While I started my career as a newspaper journalist (which I loved), after a few years I transitioned into corporate marketing. When the newspaper industry began to crash in 2008, marketing seemed like a safer option for having a stable long-term career.
I didn't love marketing, but I was good at it. Marketing provided me with a comfortable life in Los Angeles (one of the most expensive cities in the world), and opportunities for exciting international travel. What more could a person want? However, as the months turned into years, I was spending more and more time moving away from the person who I thought I really was (a writer) — and eventually the fear of leaving my comfortable job became eclipsed by the fear of staying and having to accept that maybe I wasn't a writer after all.
So I made a change — again. And, while I still do freelance marketing, and I like doing it, it's not my first love or my total focus. And, you know that saying, if you love what you do you'll never work a day in your life? While that's not entirely true, it can certainly make working much more enjoyable.
I had a nagging feeling that time was passing me by while I was doing a career where I made great money, and had tons of room for growth, but didn’t find very fulfilling.
Nor am I the only one. I recently spoke with a career coach and two other women who switched careers in their 20s and 30s about what motivated them to make the change, the pros and cons of making an early-to-mid career pivot, and the steps they took to succeed in jobs they love. Making a career change isn't right for everyone, but if you think it's right for you, it's worth asking yourself some hard questions first.
What Is My Gut Telling Me?
This came up as a common theme among the three women I spoke to, as well as for myself. All of us felt, intuitively, that we were on the wrong paths. You know that little voice in your head that won't shut up? If it keeps getting louder, maybe it's time to listen.
"As long as you have a compelling reason to change your career, there are only pros," XCaliber Coaching & Consulting Founder and Career Coach Alex Aberle tells Bustle. "Your ability to make a bold move will feel liberating, and there is a chance that the feeling of freedom can inspire you to do even more in your professional and your personal life."
However, Aberle, who left her job a year ago to start her coaching business, says that if you are looking for a career change just for the sake of change, it can backfire.
"Instead of starting a wonderful new adventure, you can easily jump into the dark abyss," Aberle cautions. "It's important to consider that any career change will require new learning, and can manifest discomfort."
Jennifer McNeely was ready to be uncomfortable. She began her career as a wine and spirits distributor, and quickly rose in the ranks before moving on to a cellphone sales job in a suburb of Detroit, but McNeely says knew in her gut she was on the wrong path.
"It was difficult to consider leaving because it was scary to leave something stable that paid my bills," she tells Bustle.
McNeely had always dreamed of working in the fitness industry as a Pilates instructor, even going as far as to get certified as a teacher in her 20s and then putting that dream in a drawer in favor of a career in sales that she knew provided stability. But eventually as her mental and physical health began to erode as she continued on a path that wasn't making her happy, that dream crept back into her consciousness until she had no choice but to listen.
"It’s something I knew I was always meant to do deep down," says McNeely. "I’d daydream about being a Pilates trainer all the time, and I needed to pay more attention to that dream rather than being miserable in a soul-sucking career that I was doing just for the money."
Many people find themselves unhappy at work, more than 52 percent according to an article in Forbes, with women being more unhappy than men.
Meagan Saville also took a leap into the unknown. Saville, who is originally from West Virginia, got a master's degree in public administration before realizing at 25 that it wasn't what she really wanted to do.
"I had always wanted to be a writer, and I had a nagging feeling that time was passing me by while I was doing a career where I made great money, and had tons of room for growth, but didn’t find very fulfilling," Saville tells Bustle.
She had originally gotten her undergraduate degree in journalism and had always dreamed of going to New York City to write for a magazine.
"By the time I was two years into my healthcare job working for some of the largest healthcare organizations in the mid-Atlantic region I knew I needed to do something different," Saville says. "I was sad, depressed, and lonely. I ended up moving to Portland, Maine, where I took an internship for Portland Magazine."
Many people find themselves unhappy at work, more than 52 percent according to an article in Forbes, with women being more unhappy than men. However, not everyone is motivated to do something about it because of the commitment required to make a career change.
Am I Willing To Put In The Work?
"Before quitting your current job, ask yourself one simple question," advises Aberle. “'How much effort am I willing to put in building my new career?' You have to be willing to be uncomfortable while going through change. If you are passionate about succeeding, you will overcome temporary hardships."
For McNeely, this meant going back to school at 35. By then her original Pilates certification had expired so she began the process of starting over. She lived off a small savings, and her 401k, and eventually began working as a Pilates instructor. She now even trains top athletes in Detroit, and was recently featured in Pilates Style Magazine. While working in fitness does not provide the stability she had while working in sales, McNeely says the other benefits more than make up for it.
"My clients are the best part about my work now," she says. "Seeing my clients reach their goals is very rewarding."
As Millennials, we fuse our identities to our work. We want it to have purpose and meaning, and I now feel like I have happiness and a purpose because I have found something I can excel at and enjoy.
But although McNeely's new career presents its own set of challenges — "People cancel sessions, and money can be tight at times," she says, further noting that the mental and physical demands of teaching multiple hours a day can take its toll — it's worth it to her. "This was absolutely the right thing for me," McNeely says. "I truly am who I want to be now, and I have room to keep growing. I feel appreciated everyday, which is a bit of head nod from the universe telling me that I'm on the right path."
After five months at Portland Magazine, Saville finally felt satisfied going to work, but she knew she needed to start earning an income.
"I was 25 and so broke when I saw a job opening for a copywriter at L.L.Bean. I read the description and was like, 'I think I could slay at this job!' she says. "I applied, as a shot in the dark, and they called me. I loved it from the minute I started doing it."
After building her confidence at L.L.Bean, Saville enrolled in a summer writing program at New York University, and she realized her dream of being a writer in NYC when she moved there permanently in 2012. She is now a senior copywriter for a social media agency.
Saville says her career pivot, despite putting the time into getting a master's degree in her previous field, was totally worth it.
"I used to dread going to work every day. I remember struggling with my own identity because, whether we want to believe this or not, as Millennials, we fuse our identities to our work," she says. "We want it to have purpose and meaning, and I now feel like I have happiness and a purpose because I have found something I can excel at and enjoy."
As for me, I have no regrets about leaving my project management job to become a full-time writer. Of course, there are some things I had to give up: My too-expensive vintage apartment in L.A.'s trendy Larchmont neighborhood for a roommate and a house in North Hollywood, aka the dreaded "valley," (which, if I am being honest, I kind of love); getting food delivered twice a day and expensive groceries delivered weekly; my employer-sponsored health insurance; and any kind of safety net. But things weren't making me happy anyways (except maybe for the apartment). I was indulging myself because I wasn't fulfilled in my career, and I was seeking happiness externally by surrounding myself with things I didn't really need. Guess what? It didn't work.
Am I OK With Starting Over?
Getting honest with yourself about the potential difficulties of changing careers is important, notes Saville.
"You definitely need to set realistic expectations that you will be starting over again, and that means at the bottom," she says. "You will probably need to overhaul your budget, and your lifestyle. Moreover, you might find yourself needing to take an internship to even get your foot in the door — I did! Don’t think you are above these things. If you are really serious about starting a new career you might have to do things you don’t want to do, or feel too old to do … do them anyway. It will not only be a great learning experience, it will ensure that you are making the right decision changing your career in the first place."
If you're thinking about making a career change yourself, seeking out a career coach or a good friend who has your best interests at heart might be a good first step. Muse also has an eight-step guide to making a successful career change, and three additional questions to ask yourself before taking the leap.
As for me, I have no regrets about leaving my project management job to become a full-time writer.
Aberle says having a solid plan is also important; I spoke to her myself when I was considering leaving my job. I set a plan in motion that included saving my tax return, cashing in unused vacation pay, and giving six weeks' notice to allow for a smooth transition for both me and my employer. Aberle believed in me and was generous with her advice, which helped me stay confident and overcome my fears.
"Don’t let the fear of failure paralyze you," she says. "You can choose to feel threatened by self-imposed, limiting beliefs that you are not good enough, or you could fail and others will judge you. I suggest taking an opposite approach, and tell yourself, 'I will fail, if I don’t try.'"
Additionally, there are digital tools that can help like Landit, a new approach to career fulfillment for women who are stuck, looking to make moves, or simply want to do and achieve more.
While these tools can help, ultimately, at the end of the day, we're in charge of our own destiny.
"Life is too short to live in in fear," says McNeely. "If you fail, you’ll learn something for the next time, but what if you don’t fail?"