With the right strategy, you can navigate how to change careers and reinvent your life at any age.
Clients tell me all the time, “I want to change careers, but I’m afraid.”
Rather than going back to school, opening a business, or starting out in a new field, people stay stuck in their current job, even if it makes them unhappy.
I can understand the reasons people avoid a career change. Just because you find yourself in a career that no longer serves you, that doesn’t mean you have any clue on where to go next.
Embracing change can be a challenge.
And, after all, it takes a lot of courage to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new.
But anything worthwhile in life requires some risk. It’s how you manage the risk, and cope with the uncertainty that will determine your success.
You can change your career at any age with the right strategies and support. Even a career change in midlife is not off the table.
In fact, you can learn how to reinvent yourself completely as a professional.
Having a plan in place can guide you through the process so you come out successful on the other side. Here are the career change steps that will get you there.
1. Assess your current situation
Instead of just saying, “I hate my job,” I challenge you to dig deeper and discover why exactly you think it’s time for a shift in careers.
“Should I quit my job?” It’s never an easy question to ask or to answer.
Maybe your interests have evolved over the years, and you find yourself inspired by a different line of work. Perhaps you work in a toxic environment that causes stress and need to work somewhere in a better company culture. Or maybe, you simply need a change.
Here are some questions to get to the root cause of your career angst:
- How difficult is your current situation? Maybe you can tolerate your current job, but you want something more. Maybe you need to get out ASAP.
- Will you regret not trying? Will your future self look back and wish you had made the change? Sometimes our biggest regrets are what we don’t do.
- What are the potential benefits in shifting careers? Imagine what your life will look like if you take the leap. How do you feel? Excited, driven, and full of purpose?
Weighing your current situation against future possibilities can help steel your nerves and stoke your motivation. You need this energy boost to kick-start your journey towards a new career identity.
2. Identify your strengths and passions
Many people start a career path at a young age. But over time, interests and skillsets inevitably change. What once sparked your passion and creativity, now feels dull and repetitive.
We all have unique strengths and passions — take the time to discover what they are. I suggest taking a self-inventory:
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What are you good at?
- What big heart dreams have you always wanted to achieve?
Take a good look at your skills and passions. Write them down. Our guide on discovering your strengths and core values will point you in the direction of where to go next.
3. Compete with yourself, not with others
“Peace of mind is attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.”
That quote comes from the legendary coach John Wooden in his 2001 TED Talk. He credits his success in having the most wins in college basketball history to always striving for his personal best.
But many people fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others. I get it. We all do it to some degree. But this type of limited thinking can do a lot of damage. You’ll end up chasing someone else’s success story, rather than focusing on what makes sense for you.
We all have different recipes for success and happiness. The ingredients that worked for one person won’t necessarily work for another. Just because someone else is crushing it as the CEO of a big company, doesn’t mean that your skills and preferences will suit that role.
Rather than trying to live up to the standards of other people, look within yourself. Get clear on your strengths. Recognize your core values. Find overlap between the two to generate ideas on who you want to become in your career.
4. Take action with small goals
Making a big change doesn’t happen overnight. Studies show that you have a better chance of success by focusing on small goals. So when you want to climb a mountain, it’s better to break that down into molehills. Small, incremental steps will lead to the big shifts you desire.
In terms of a career change, that can mean staying at your current career while exploring some of your options. You could take some night classes or online courses in a new field. You can start up a side hustle and wait until that really grows before quitting your job.
Starting your own business, for example, is a big undertaking. But by breaking down that goal into smaller chunks, you won’t feel so overwhelmed. Give yourself a deadline, whether it’s a task each day, week, or month, to complete each step. Examples of small steps could mean doing smaller tasks each week, like registering your LLC, setting up a website, going to a networking event, or emailing potential clients.
Each time you complete a step, celebrate those small wins. Harvard Business Review says that paying attention to little achievements, no matter how small, can have a major impact on achieving long term goals.
When hard work pays off, you deserve a chance to celebrate. Recognize each milestone, whether that means hosting a celebratory get together with loved ones, treating yourself to a spa day, or indulging in your favorite food.
5. Switch to a bridge job
It’s one thing to recognize when you don’t feel happy in your current career. It’s a whole other ballgame to discover what to do next.
But life is too short to stay stuck in the wrong job. You might not know right now which field will excite and fulfill you just yet. You don’t need to figure it out overnight. If you really feel miserable with your job, I suggest experimenting with a bridge job.
Bridge jobs fill the gap between your current position and that dream job. Sometimes they simply pay the bills. You don’t need to stay in a bridge job for the rest of your life, but they buy you time, calm your nerves, and reveal the next steps.
Play with reinvention to see which direction you’d like to head next on your career path. Try out different fields and industries. This way, you can learn through research and experimentation.
During a period of bridge jobs, you can spend more time:
- Earning while you learn
- Giving time and energy to the reinvention process
- Leveraging connections and opportunities from your bridge job to learn more information about the next steps
During this period, it will help to spend less time:
- Thinking you’ll get stuck in your bridge job for the rest of your career
- Believing you’ve failed to reinvent because you’ve taken a stop-gap job
- Worrying about where this job will lead
- Staying too long at a bridge job out of fear
6. Experiment, experiment, experiment
Not everyone is born knowing exactly what they want to do in their career. Experimentation provides an opportunity to test the waters, to discover the type of work that brings you joy and fulfillment.
Experimenting doesn’t have to mean quitting your current job right away. You can try out extracurricular activities outside of work to begin understanding how to change careers. Volunteering, shadowing, and interviewing all provide ways to gain insight.
Things to keep in mind during your career change experiments:
- Allow yourself to try new things and fail. You learn from your mistakes, especially when you do something for the first time. These things will happen so it’s no reason to give up.
- Give yourself enough time to experience something new. It takes a while to get a true idea of whether you could see yourself heading in that direction.
- Keep an open mind. Having a strict idea of yourself could prevent the opportunity of discovering what really sparks your interest.
- Stick your neck out a bit. You can’t change for the better without stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking some risks.
- Carve out time for reflection. Journal writing can help you monitor your progress and realize the next best steps.
Try not to think of a career change as a destination, but a process of self-discovery. We are wired to jump to conclusions and claim reinvention victory too soon. Avoid having a bullseye idea of reinvention in which you hit your target right away, when you need more experimentation.
7. Make new connections
You’ve heard the phrase; it’s not about what you know, but who you know. Of course, having experience and skills will certainly matter when it comes to getting a job done well. But your network will also play a key role in finding opportunities.
Having a well-established network increases the likelihood of meeting the people we need in order to reinvent. Make an effort to expand your network. By reaching out to people you admire, you can find out how they got to where they are.
Reinvention is about the action you take and the company you keep.
Do you know of people succeeding in your idea of a dream career? Find that person. Talk to them. Get advice from someone so you know what it takes to achieve your goals. Then follow in their footsteps.
8. Surround yourself with “reinvention fans”
Making a career change requires a lot of grit. We all need cheerleaders on the sidelines to give us a pep talk so we stay motivated, especially when things don’t go as planned.
That’s why the people around us make such a big difference.
Do you have close relationships based on mutual love and support that make you feel joyful and inspired? Or do you find yourself in draining, toxic relationships, full of drama and instability?
Choose your support team wisely. Your closest relationships can prove to be your greatest reinvention fans or your greatest resistors. Nurture the relationships with people who have your best interest at heart, who lift you up and encourage you to keep going.
Distance yourself from the advice of those who depend on your income and stability. They mean well, but they can’t provide reliable, unbiased advice.
Walk away from the naysayers. Making a big career change is difficult on its own, without having to listen to negative comments that hold you back.
9. Enlist support
Beyond your tight-knit circle, a more formal source of support can be an invaluable asset in reinventing your career. You can find this type of support in a career coach, a mentor, or a mastermind group focused on reinvention.
Schedule regular check-ins and meetings, where your mentor or coach can:
- Listen to your ideas and obstacles
- Thoughtfully challenge your assumptions
- Recognize strengths and limited thinking
- Help you stay motivated, especially when you’re in a rut
- Set up an actionable set of goals on how to change careers
- Give an outside perspective
Setting aside time to speak with a coach or mentor will help get clear on your goals. You’ll develop a plan of action and feel more confident and empowered as you achieve each step toward a career change.
10. Reflect, reveal, repeat
Going through a career change is not a linear process. Every reinvention story moves through the reinvention cycle, over and over again.
You will go through twists and turns. You will experience successes, and you will fall down from time to time. Sometimes you may hit a dead end.
Each step of the way, take time to reflect on where you are and where you’ve been. Take breaks, make time for reflection and rest, and then keep going.
Most importantly, take action.
Many people stay stuck and never take those steps to improve their situation. You can’t move forward without taking action. Action will drive you into the future, instead of waiting for it to arrive. Remember that simply by taking action, you will feel empowered, rather than sink into depression, anxiety, and the protective mode.
Along the way, action will reveal new ways of thinking and understanding. It supports adjustments and reframes your self-concept. You will see yourself with new eyes as you try bridge jobs and new learning experiences that show you the way.
From time to time, check in with your situation to reflect. What has this experience revealed to you so far? Then repeat action in your new direction. This way you stay in tune with changes you experience and stay on track toward a better future.
Changing careers is certainly a challenge. Many people would rather feel unhappy in a more predictable situation than take a risk in the unknown.
Remember, you are not alone, and you are not crazy.
I get it. Self-doubt and fear can feel overwhelming. I’ve worked in jobs where every day takes a piece of my soul. The good news is that the strategies you learned in this article helped me change careers and find fulfillment in my work. I have helped many others do the same, and I know it’s possible for you.
When you need help, you don’t have to do it alone. We’re here for you, and we’d be honored to guide you through this process of reinvention.