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Are You Ready to Change Careers?

Excerpt from the new AARP book Crash Course in Finding the Work You Love: The Essential Guide to Reinventing Your Life.

Chapter 3

Motive: To See the Big Picture

Here’s a key question every recareering candidate should ask: Am I running toward one thing or away from another? Although the distinction isn’t always easy to draw, running away incorporates a desire to break free from inordinate pain, anxiety, or stress. The trigger may be an abusive boss, the sense that your current employer is exploitive or unfair, a feeling of boredom or burnout, or simply a mismatch between individual talent and organizational needs.

Sometimes dissatisfaction with a job results from passion drift. Let’s say a nurse who excels in that role receives a promotion, then perhaps another. One day she wakes up to find she’s no longer healing the sick—her original passion—but instead managing other nurse’s schedules and drowning beneath piles of paperwork. Or a traffic engineer who always relished troubleshooting problems in the field wakes up to discover he is a desk jockey mired in project management.

Running toward something, by contrast, is all about striving to reach a defined goal—whether it’s going back to school to earn a master’s degree and become a teacher or saving the money required to open a boxing gym. You may feel that you no longer want to hoe the row you’re in but remain uncertain about which new field of endeavor you want to cultivate.

Unfortunately, if you jump too soon you may find that you’ve simply shuffled jobs or moved to a new career but feel just as unhappy as you did before.  Without some genuine introspection and a commitment to change, you’re apt to follow the same patterns (or make the same fundamental choices) over and over again. The scenery may have changed, but the feeling of déjá vu lives on. The upshot?  It is crucial to know what (if anything) you’re running from now and where you want to wind up next.

Are You Ready to Change Careers?

Here are the 10 strategies for getting a fix on recareering and making it relevant to your current stage of life:

Determine why you want to change careers.  Is it to work in a new field?  To earn necessary or supplemental income?  For intellectual or physical stimulation?  Or do you simply wish to stay connected with others?

Acknowledge your ideal scenario—as well as the likely reality.
Do you hope to work full-time, part-time, seasonally, or cyclically?  Because you’re apt to land on a lower rung of your new career ladder—at least initially—many career changes require a high level of commitment.

Consider using an interest, hobby, or passion as a platform for a new career.  What we gravitate toward is usually what we like to do.  More than a few successful businesses—and careers—have grown out of a consuming hobby with no immediately apparent real-world application.

Inventory the skills you have and those you want to use.  Just because you possess a certain skill doesn’t mean you must use it in your next job—or that doing so will guarantee success.  It’s critical to examine your attitudes and values, and decide how they relate to a particular career.  Being highly organized does not necessarily mean you long to manage an office—or that you will flourish in that undertaking.

Conduct the necessary research.  Spend time learning about your targeted next career.  If possible, visit a work environment where you can witness the job being performed firsthand.  Job fairs, career sites, and career counselors can all provide a wealth of information.

Understand that you may need to invest time, money, and energy to obtain the proper credentials.  Securing a mandatory degree or certification can affect other aspects of your life, including your relationship with a spouse, family, and friends.

Expand your horizons.  Develop a resource list of people, places, and things to help you investigate new work choices.

Broaden your network.  Stay in touch with people of all ages and across all professional boundaries.  Consider registering for a social-networking site such as Linkedln or FaceBook.

Manage your expectations.  A career change is typically a protracted process in which results don’t occur overnight.  As you consider your definition of success, make sure it’s realistic and achievable.

Follow your head and your heart.  Resist conforming to the expectations (or succumbing to the doubt) of others.  Instead, blaze your own path end take ownership of your career and life plans.

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