How to Avoid Screwing Up Your Career Change

If you are thinking about changing your career drastically, there are two basic ways to go about it. If you are very adventurous by nature and can afford to take on high risk, simply drop whatever you’re doing at this moment for a living – quit your job, shut down your business. Then embark on the journey of figuring out how you want to go about your career change. This is the way that feels good and easy in the beginning but can become increasingly frustrating as you try to squeeze yourself into a new career that you know nothing about. If you are one of those people who are more risk-averse and like to be more prepared, you can benefit from going through an immersion process.

An immersion process is what I call the warm-up process before you make the deciding leap or difficult to reverse investment into your new career, which could involve investing significant funds into a business or paying tuition for second studies in order to get into a new career. The immersion process is a time where you turn everything related to your target career inside out, and familiarize yourself with it as much as possible. It happens during the time when you are still in your ‘old’ career. By taking the time to do this, you can avoid screwing up your career change.

There are two possible outcomes of this immersion process: Your intent to change career intensifies, or on the contrary, you find out that it’s not for you after all, and cancel your plans altogether. 

Which is not the worst thing either. Think of all the headache and time you save yourself. This is a list of the things you can do during the immersion process:

1. Join a community of people in the field you want to work in

If you have been thinking about working at an animal shelter, think twice. You might have cared for your own pets for a long time, but working at a shelter is something very different. Try to drop by at some animal shelters, see what they do, and perhaps even try to join as a volunteer. Test the waters, make use of opportunities to try it yourself before you sign up for it full time. If you want to be an actor, try to join some student productions or acting or drama class, before you give up everything for it.

2. Talk to people you know who are already doing what you want to do

You might think that you’d like to be a café owner. Who wouldn’t want to own a cozy or fancy place where you as the owner can get free coffee all the time? Talking to a friend or acquaintance who owns or manages a café will give you access to insider information. How long and what did it take the person to get the café up and running and profitable? What are parts of owning a business that the person likes and doesn’t like? What does a typical workday look like? Take time to talk with someone who is open and honest and is willing to share with you the ups and downs of the business. Ask the person what he or she might have done differently.

3. Find out about the technical aspects.

People often romanticize a certain profession or industry, because it seems pretty glamorous from the outside. The average person associates filmmaking with celebrities, red carpet events, and the Academy Awards. Working as a doctor might seem like an honorable job to pursue – how awesome it is to be able to heal people or save people’s lives? Often times people’s passion fades when it comes down to the nitty-gritty. But this is what the daily work boils down to. Before you get too excited, try to find out everything you can about the career you want to pursue, including what training, education, or certification you need. How long it takes to become an expert. What the investment in terms of cost for training or equipment is. What the career outlook, the chances of success, and the risks are. After you have an idea about these aspects, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision.

4. Do it – Apply skills you already have

The most important thing is to actually spend a lot or at least some time doing the activities and applying the skills that would be required in your new career. It can be challenging to find the ‘free time’ for this, especially if you are working a full-time job. But this is the only way to find out if you actually want to pursue it not only in the short run but also long term. Get as close to ‘it’ as you can. If you want to be a full-time wedding photographer, actually offer a photo package for a wedding couple. If you want to become an event planner, plan an event for a friend or family member. If you want to become a writer, then write. If you want to become a psychotherapist, how about trying to talk one on one with people you know about their issues in life, and see how you like it? You’ll get a better sense of whether or not you really want to apply a particular skill long term.

5. Brainstorm the net effect on your life. 

What will it do to your life? A career is never isolated, regardless of how much we would like it to be a separate part of our life. The degree to which we are happy, find purpose in our career, but also the degree to which we can manage it and the stress attached to it will impact other aspects of our life. Think about how will it change your working hours, your daily routine, your health, your income and finances, your relationships, and time with your family.

After checking off these 5 things, ask yourself again if you still want to pursue the career that you thought of as your dream career.

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