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What's Next? 10 Tips for Career Changers

Follow these steps to start pursuing your passion

A chef makes chocolates

If you've had sweet dreams of becoming your own boss, here are some tips for changing careers. — Istock

En español | A police officer turned music agent. A Navy captain who became a circus manager. A botanist who traded plants for making chocolate. Those are a few of the major career changes among boomers and retirees I interviewed for my book, What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties, and Beyond.

Each one faced a different set of challenges. Yet their stories reveal common threads.

Many of these men and women were spurred to discover what really matters to them and transform their work (and, in turn, personal) lives by a crisis or loss that starkly revealed the fleeting nature of life. No one acted impulsively. They paused. They planned. They bypassed helter-skelter approaches and pursued prudent, well-researched moves.

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Each person had a flexible time horizon for his or her venture. If necessary, these people added the essential skills and degrees before they made the leap. They often apprenticed or volunteered beforehand. They reached out to their networks of social and professional contacts to ask for help and guidance.

What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your 40s, 50s, and Beyond, by Kerry Hannon.

Kerry Hannon's book reveals how to pursue passion in your career transition.

They downsized and planned their financial lives in order to be able to afford a cut in pay or the cost of a start-up. Several were fortunate to have a spouse's steady income or had some outside investments, retirement savings and pensions in place to ease the transition to their new line of work.

But what really sticks with me is that they all share confidence in the direction they've taken. They collectively work longer hours, but it doesn't matter. They only wish they had done it sooner.

You might know you want to do something different but don't have the courage to do it yet. Take a breath.

Here are my top 10 tips for making a career change.

1. Understand what's behind your desire to make a change

Maybe you are starting to become disillusioned with work. You're bogged down. Perhaps you're no longer on the way up. This is the time to step back and think about life more broadly. Be warned, career changers can go into mourning. All of a sudden, you realize how you miss your old career, and you're not really open to replacing those things.

The longer time frame you have to plan, the better. Start working at age 50 on a career you might not get around to until age 60. If you have lots of time, you can try out some ideas and possibilities, role-play and do a little bit of those things to see if that is the direction you want to go.

2. Get your life in order

Get physically and financially fit. Change is stressful. When you're physically fit, you have more energy and are mentally sharper to face the challenges ahead. Starting a new career later in life takes an incredible amount of strength and energy.

Debt will kill your dreams. It limits your choices. Without the burden of crushing credit card bills and a big mortgage, you're nimble. Being debt-free allows you the freedom to pursue work that may pay less initially, if you're starting over in a new field. Or if you are starting your own business, it tides you over until you can afford to pay yourself a salary — sometimes a year or more.

A new career, too, is often a spiritual quest.

Next page: Be practical, find a mentor, let go of great salary expectations ... »

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