Whenever you make a major career change, it forces you to reassess who you are and what you stand for in your career and life. Once you figure out what really matters to you, the possibility of doing work you find truly meaningful can become a reality.
But making a major change isn’t easy. It requires stepping off the beaten path, starting over, and becoming a bit of an outlier in your professional circles. If making a career change was easy, everyone would be doing it, but that’s not the case. According to the Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the University of Phoenix*, nearly 60% of working adults in the US are interested in changing careers. That figure increases to 80% amongst 18-34 year olds. However, “the risk of starting over” often stands in the way as the biggest barrier.
So what do you need to know about the realities of changing careers before you make the big leap yourself?
I asked five professionals who relaunched their careers to tell us why they decided to do it and the lessons they learned along the way to help you understand what it actually takes to make a big change.
Yohan Varella, lawyer turned marketer
Lesson #1: You must consider how work affects your life outside of work.
Yohan Varella is the head of marketing of SlickPie, a startup company in Vancouver that provides online accounting software used by small businesses in 130 countries. Before working at SlickPie, he was a lawyer focused on corporate law running his own small firm in Brazil.
Motivation to change careers: Yohan made his move after deciding process and bureaucracy weren’t his cup of tea. “After a couple of years running my firm, I realized that the excessive bureaucratic bottlenecks slowed down lawsuits and the application of Justice. Everything took forever and was never fully done, which can be very frustrating if you’re highly goal-driven and don’t enjoy leaving loose ends behind.” He decided to make a shift toward something more creative. “I had to change to do something more dynamic and free, and that’s when I fell in love with marketing.”
Biggest career change lesson: He realized just how much your day-to-day work can affect who you are as a person. “One thing I learned about myself during this ongoing journey is that a considerable part of my thoughts and personality traits were derived from my professional life. After I left Law, I shifted my outfit standards, the social events that I attend, my political views, and even the way that I dealt with daily life.” Making his career change is what allowed him to see how much his job could change him. “I’m positive I wouldn’t have had these realizations if I hadn’t changed career paths. It was an eye-opener in many surprising ways.”
Erika Boissiere, investment banker turned couples therapist
Lesson #2: You have to be comfortable being humble.
Erika Boissier is a couples therapist and founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco where she offers relationship therapy that aims to make long-lasting changes by use of education, directive feedback, and an integrative approach to match client needs. Prior to pursuing a career in psychotheraphy, Erika was working in investment banking, most recently at Blackrock in San Francisco.
Motivation to change careers: Erika left her investment banking role after realizing the fit just wasn’t there. “While it easily could be blamed on the market hours I worked, or the high-pressure conditions of the finance industry, I had a feeling my chosen career path simply was not right. I just didn’t love my job. Facing that truth is hard, especially when you’ve been avoiding those feelings for years. After all, who leaves finance to become a therapist?”
She eventually took action after her inner voice prodded her to change. “Passion and the extensional questions of ‘what do I really want to do with my life’ and ‘what sort of impact do I want to have on this planet?’ gnawed at my brain. I finally garnered the courage to look at my dream of becoming a couples therapist, and let go of a career that would have never made me feel fulfilled.”
Biggest career change lesson: “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to be humble. You are starting over. You know almost nothing about your new career, and no one cares what you did before. IPOs and Follow Ons? No one cares. Worked with CEOs of major companies? No one cares. Your new industry cares about your relevant experience in the field, and if you don’t have any, you must start at the bottom. Again.”
Philipp Blume, music professor turned web developer
Lesson #3: You must embrace discomfort
Philipp Blume is a web products engineer at Wolfram Research in Champaign, Illinois. His first career was as a Professor of Music, but he joined Dev Bootcamp to become a Developer because he recognized that coding is a powerful way to communicate with people when language alone is inadequate.
Motivation to change careers: Philipp managed to find the synergies between two seemingly unrelated industries. “Music and algorithms aren’t that far apart. Switching to technology gave me greater financial stability, higher pay and more job opportunities.” Making the switch has also given him more breathing room in his life. “When I was in music, a day’s work was never enough to support myself financially. Now, when I’m done with my developer workday, I have enough financial buffer to feel comfortable exploring my musical passions.”
Biggest career change lesson: Philipp had to be okay with feeling out of place for a while. “Going back to school was the hardest part, so perseverance was hugely important. Being older than the instructor and most students took a bit of adjusting, but it’s gotten me to where I am today.” This change has also opened up the possibility of him feeding multiple interests in unique ways. “I’ve found a way to make time for my two passions in life. The dual career as a composer and a coder feels completely natural. Don’t commit to an all-too-rigid definition of yourself and what you want to achieve in life, no matter what your age.”
Anna Crowe, sales director turned public relations agency founder
Lesson #4: You can’t overthink it
Anna Crowe is CEO of Crowe PR, a San Diego-based public relations agency focused on company vision, client strategy, and campaign execution, working with startups and Fortune 500 companies in the technology, hospitality, sports & fitness and apparel categories. She started her career in public accounting as a staff auditor, later becoming a senior marketing manager at AT&T, then director of sales and marketing at Los Angeles-based EMI Music Marketing/Capitol Records.
Motivation to change careers: Anna yearned to do work that aligned with her authentic self. “I love creating, strategizing and getting people behind big ideas. I don’t think there’s a limit to how much we can achieve—be it for our clients or ourselves—and that passion drove me to create this company. After years of working at other great companies and on iconic brands, I was ready to take all my knowledge and passion to build a place that represents the authentic me. I wanted to work with companies that made an impact on society and tell their stories, while building a team and environment that made people genuinely want to come to work daily.”
Biggest career change lesson: She warns against analysis paralysis. “You can’t overthink or over-analyze things too much. Sometimes, you just have to do it.” She also takes a very practical attitude toward change. “At worst, you learn something about a career or yourself, and that helps lead you to the next best place. Also, having the guts to risk but having a backup plan. The worst thing that could happen was me falling back on a career I knew. The best—finding one that motivates me to get out of bed every morning and makes me happy.”
Sarah Carson, investment banker turned fashion founder
Lesson #5: You should focus on rebuilding your network
Sarah Carson is the founder and CEO of Leota, a New York-based women’s fashion brand dedicated to designing beautiful and comfortable clothing for ambitious women. Prior to Leota, Sarah was an investment banker at UBS focusing on corporate finance in the utilities sector. She later matched hedge funds with corporate managements.
Motivation to change careers: Sarah yearned to feed her passions in ways she just couldn’t in finance. “I was desperate to apply my business experience to a more creative field and I was obsessed with making a certain kind of dress that was vibrant and comfortable. I had an idea for a great brand, plus entrepreneurship is sort of a tradition in our family. So I went for it.”
Biggest lessons: Sarah focused on rebuilding her networks. “When I transitioned from finance to fashion, I started over in almost every way. The contacts and relationships in my former career on Wall Street were not helpful in my new one. I started from scratch building a new network of relationships.” She also went in with a willingness to learn. “I had to do work I hadn’t done since I was an intern because I had to learn the new field from the ground up. Even though the skills and relationships from my old career were in large part non-transferrable, my passion and grit and tenacity go with me everywhere.”
What it takes to change your life
One thing that’s clear from all these stories is that making the change to pursue more meaningful work is absolutely worth it, but requires some shifts in mindset. Paying attention to your inner voice or clues about where you have the potential to excel is the first step toward paving a new path forward. It takes a lot of patience, humility, and time as you make a detour to get where you want to go. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, you absolutely can persevere and reach a point where you’re excited to get out of bed every single day.
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* The career change survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of University of Phoenix between Feb. 6 – Feb. 8, 2017, among 2,202 U.S. adults aged 18 and older, including 1,140 who are full-time, part-time, or self-employed.