How old were you when you chose your career path?
Likely it was some time in your early 20s — when you chose your university or college major, started looking for full time work, or maybe just felt societal pressure to make a decision about what career you wanted to pursue.
Whenever it was, you’re likely a different person then you were at that age. You know more, there are new career options and your interests might have changed altogether. People evolve, and it’s okay for your career to evolve with you.
But a big change comes with obstacles, both internally and externally.
“I’m not good enough”
“It’s financially impossible”
“I don’t have the right connections”
…these are some of the lies we tell ourselves that get in the way of making a positive change. We get it, change is scary and hard. But you know what’s more scary? Staying in a job you don’t like. That’s why it’s time to put those anxieties aside.
In this blog, we’ll walk you through some common career change myths and actionable steps to help you overcome your fears.
Myth 1: You need to start from scratch
Truth: Starting a new career rarely means you’re starting from scratch. Even if you’re making a drastic change, there are a lot of skills you can take with you from one career to the next.
Let’s look at an example. Say a construction worker wants to switch into digital marketing. Those are two drastically different industries and your first thought may be that there’s no overlap. But if you look closer, you can find valuable transferable skills like:
- Communication and organization
- The ability to learn quickly
- Understanding of technologies
So when you switch careers, you’re not starting at the beginning — your building on the skills you already have and also bringing a new perspective to the work that’s highly valuable. After all, a team of people from the same background with the same specializations isn’t as effective as diverse thoughts and opinions.
So instead of thinking of a career change as completely starting over, here are some things you can do to leverage the experience you already have:
- Identify the transferable skills you’ve built. Write down how they’ll help you succeed in your new role. This will be helpful for your own confidence, as well as promoting yourself in job applications and interviews.
- Explicitly call out those skills. When applying for new roles, call out those skills and position your range of experience as a strength rather than a weakness.
Myth 2: You need to make a drastic change to be happy
If you’re not happy in your current job, it might feel like the only way to find something you love is to go back to the drawing board — get a new degree, make a whole new network of contacts, or completely change industries.
Truth: In reality, you may only be slightly off from the path you want to be on. Before you burn your laptop and quit your job, consider what it is that you’re missing and ask yourself the tough questions.
Are you looking to start something totally new, or do you simply need to make a slight shift? This shift could include learning a new skill to work on different projects, asking your manager if there’s an opportunity to move departments, or taking a course to brush up on a topic of interest.
Here are some tips to figure out what kind of change you’re looking for:
- Ask yourself: What gives me energy and what drains me? This is an important question to ask to understand what you enjoy doing and how you want to develop. You may find there are only a couple of projects you’re working on that drain your energy. What do they have in common? How can you do less of those activities?
- Shadow people. Are there jobs that sound really cool to you? Shadow people in those roles, or ask for an informational interview, to get a better sense of what their day-to-day looks like. There may be things you like and things you don’t like — getting a better sense of what excites you will help you better navigate your own career.
- Take advantage of your company’s learning budget. If you’re fortunate enough to have a learning budget at your current job, try taking some courses to develop skills in areas of interest.
Myth 3: You’re too old to change careers
Truth: We don’t know who needs to hear this, but you are never too old to change careers.
In fact, there are many studies that show a “headstart” can actually undermine long-term development. Plus, this AIER study found, out of the older adults trying to switch careers, most were successful — and the majority of them reported feeling happier.
While it can feel more daunting to change careers as you get older, you’re definitely not alone in the jump. You don’t have to take our word for it. Some of the most successful people switched careers at what is deemed to be a “later” age.
Famous cook and TV personality, Julia Child, worked in advertising and didn’t publish her first cookbook until she was 50 years old.
You may have heard of the iconic fashion designer, Vera Wang, who didn’t start in fashion until she was 50 years old. Prior to that she worked as a journalist and figure skater.
Taikichiro Mori became the richest man in the world, after leaving his career as a professor in his mid-50s to found a real estate company in Tokyo.
All that being said, change is hard at every age. Here are some tips for making the switch if you’re feeling like it’s too late:
- Tap into your support system. Ask the people around you for help. For example, if you’re making the transition when you have a family, you may need support picking your kids up from school, or watching them when you have a job interview. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s harder when you do things alone.
- Lean on your transferable skills. With age comes experience. Even if it’s not the exact experience you need for your new career, it will come in handy. Don’t hide the skills you’ve developed, highlight them.
Myth 4: You’ve failed at your current career
Truth: Quitting gets a bad rap.
In reality, sticking with something that you don’t enjoy or isn’t supporting your growth, is much worse than quitting. Changing careers doesn’t mean you’ve failed at your current career — it just means you’re ready to be challenged in a new way.
In fact, staying in a career that’s not serving you is arguably the easier route. Moving careers takes a lot of courage and strength. Leaving your current career isn’t a failure. On the contrary, It’s a huge achievement.
Here are some tips to help you stop looking at switching careers as synonymous with failing:
- Reframe the narrative. This one sounds simple, but how you talk to yourself and to others about career change will influence how you feel about it. Make sure your framing it as an achievement rather than a failure — because it is.
- Make a list of all the benefits of switching careers. The above point might be easier said than done. Putting all the benefits into writing gives you something to refer back to if those doubtful thoughts start to creep back in.
Myth 5: Your new career will be your forever career
Truth: You don’t need to choose between two careers and stick with them for life. Instead, think about how each job will help build skills that can translate into other industries down the road.
Moving careers can feel like a big decision — and it is. But don’t let it feel too big to approach.
No decision needs to be forever.
To make the decision seem less intimidating, try taking these steps:
- Set goals. What are your high level 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year goals? Understanding the direction you’re trying to go will help you get a grip on how you see your life evolving. For example, maybe a 5-year goal is to be financially stable. That doesn’t mean you’re going to stay in your new career forever, it means your new career is a stepping stone on the way to that stability. So set goals, but also keep in mind, they’re allowed to change as you do.
- Break down your goals into smaller steps. Adding smaller objective to help you reach your larger vision makes them feel less daunting and way more achievable.
Go for what you want
The moral of the story is: sometimes, it’s okay to leave a situation to find something better.
Changing careers doesn’t come with an age limit, it doesn’t mean giving up or being a failure. Rather, it means recognizing the situation you’re in, and that there are alternatives available to you.
You spend the majority of your time at work. So make sure you’re doing something you enjoy, something that gives you energy and that you feel proud of. In the words of writer Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
For more on how to switch careers, check out our “Landing Work You Love” ebook.