5 Tips for Transitioning to a New Career

You’ve been at your job for a few years now and feel the need to shift. And it’s not just any job, but one you went to school for so you feel super conflicted about changing it.

You thought you had it all figured out.

Go to school for this many years, get this and that job, and if it doesn’t work out, you could always switch, right?

Absolutely. One of the most important pieces of advice I’ve gotten is that we all have the right to change something we don’t like about our lives. If you don’t like your hair color, change it. If you want a better attitude, change it. And if you aren’t satisfied with your career choice, change it.

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But there’s another piece of advice, people don’t often tell you.

Changing careers is hard.

Especially if you and your family depend upon the career you have now. Sometimes it’s not as cut and dry as changing a career as much as it’s about incorporating a new one into your old one—kind of like what I’m doing (see here). But it’s nonetheless challenging.

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I started off my career path with a clear goal in mind and earned my way to a Ph.D. in counseling psychology— an accomplishment which took a large chunk of years out of my young adult life (11 years to be exact). I knew I was doing something meaningful, and the idea that I could make a real difference in the lives of others by helping them heal from the inside out was nothing short of amazing. But just because I had a clear goal doesn’t mean I didn’t have questions.

Like what about all those days I spent glued to the fashion channel looking at runway shows, or being inspired by fashion magazine layouts, and dreaming up outfits I’ve never seen? What about all those interior design magazines I spent hours sifting through, and the hours daydreaming about how I’d design a room? What was supposed to happen with that? Maybe they would just be relegated to pastime hobbies. Maybe.

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But as the years passed, I started feeling unfulfilled professionally. I began looking at blogs and people doing creative things that inspired me, and made me rethink my career path. Did I make a mistake? Did I pick the WRONG profession? The mere idea of it was disturbing enough to keep my head spinning and the tear ducts flowing until I couldn’t even think a clear thought. I was suffering from what psychologists call dichotomous thinking. It’s a cognitive distortion that suggests things have to be black or white, with no in between. It’s a rigid, unimaginative, emotionally-driven thought process that never allows for a resolve and keeps you stressed.

I didn’t have enough faith to recognize that life flows, and a career decision you make at one stage in your life can be just as valid and right as a different career decision you make at another stage in your life. And it does not mean either one was wrong.

It all works together for good— if you let it.

And if you’re willing to handle the challenges that come with the turns, you can make a successful change. Here are some tips I’ve learned to help you through the process.

1. Get re-educated. Even if you don’t have the time or resources to get another four year degree, there are many other ways to get re-educated such as through online and in-person training programs. Of course, the requirements you’ll need depend upon your chosen profession, but you may be able to start off with a certificate, or you can take courses to learn a specific skill, or even read up and train yourself. Long gone are the days when you have to sit in a classroom to get an education (although there’s nothing wrong with that, ha!). Now with a little creativity, you’ll be surprised how much you can learn at a fraction of the cost it takes to get a four year degree.

Mood board

2. See what you can take with you. It can be disheartening to feel that you put so much work into a career only to decide to change it just as you were starting to make good money from all that hard work. But if you can find a way to use what you already know and apply it to your new career, you may have a renewed perspective on your skills and what you can offer to others. One of the things I really like about psychology is it’s applicability to other professions. I can apply it to design and make it work for me instead of feeling like I have to follow a traditional psychology career path. Even if your new career bears very little resemblance to your old one, you may still be able to find a way to apply what you already know with a little out of the box thinking, making the transition just a little smoother.

3. Strategize. Most of us can’t just pick up and leave our job at a moment’s whim (if you can, ruuuuun! and don’t look back). But for the rest of us, it’s going to take a little more forethought. If you decide that you need a shift in your career, don’t get frustrated and give up if you don’t see a job move in your future. Often the conditions are never perfect enough for us to do what we’d like to do. So we have to take life by the horns and create it ourselves. One way to do this is to strategize a plan for you to transition. For me, I allow myself certain days to work on blog and business stuff while still carving out time to do my full-time clinical job. It doesn’t always work and sometimes I get discouraged, but if you keep plugging away at a thing, you’ll eventually get to where you’re going.

4. Be compassionate. This can’t be stressed enough. There are so many people who want to change careers but they feel they don’t have  enough time, or money; or they feel they’re too old, or they don’t have enough support or resources. Whatever the reason, they stay where they are, in a place they’d rather not be and grow miserable. But if you are doing something, even if it’s small, it’s a sign you aren’t stuck, and have a passion for living and growing. So when things get tough and you feel like nothing is happening, remember you ARE doing something even if it feels not enough. Because eventually a whole lot of not enough begin to equal enough.

5. Don’t quit. Now I’m at a point in my career when my diverse interests and passions are starting to coming together—my inclination to work with young people, my knack for counseling, my love of design… And by considering it all, I’m better understanding the unique calling I have on my life. It’s like one big puzzle, and there are some days I’m so excited, but other days I’d rather sit on the couch and watch television (actually that  sounds like a good idea on any day). Either way, I made up in my mind not to quit even when I want to. Trying to put the pieces of my life together is actually a great motivator. It’s like trying to solve a big mystery that is me, and maybe it is that way for you too. What components of your life are you putting together?

These are some of my ideas about how to transition careers. If you have any of your own, feel free to share them here. I’m always looking for new ideas.

(BTW, these pics are from my family room/office. It’s not completely finished but it’s coming together slowly but surely.)