Making a big change in your career (or switching careers entirely) can be incredibly scary, stressful, and uncertain. I know because I’ve done it myself. In fact, I’ve done it multiple times. There were times when it was the right choice, and times when the switch led to some hard-learned lessons. Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about when to make the leap and strike out for a new (or newish) career path.
So how did I know when changing my career path was the right choice and when I needed to stick it out? The real truth: I didn’t. However, there are some useful guideposts I can share that will help lead you in the direction of forward momentum, whether you stay in your current job or switch to something totally out of left field – like the time I spent two years baking custom wedding cakes.
Step 1: Evaluate how you really feel
We all have days when we don’t want to go to work (even if you work for yourself), but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Dig beneath the surface and figure out how you really feel about your work. Is it the job itself that’s giving you existential ennui, or something within your work environment, or even your personal life, that is tripping you up?
When I was baking custom wedding cakes, I noticed my stress levels were through the roof, but figured it was just because I was a perfectionist making baked goods for the most important day of many folks’ lives. But when I dug deeper, I realized my stress was coming from not charging enough money for my services. After the cost of ingredients, I was paying myself an effective rate of less than $10 an hour for a highly specialized skill. Once I raised my prices, the work was far more enjoyable and I didn’t feel as much stress and resentment.
Step 2: Imagine your crystal ball
Life would be so much easier if we had a crystal ball to tell us what the future would hold if we took path A or path B. Alas, we can’t see the future, but we can imagine it, which can serve us well when we’re trying to make big decisions. Imagine your future if you stay on your current path. How about if you made a few big changes to the path? What if you changed course entirely? The point is to open your mind up to new possibilities and see which future feels the most exciting and fulfilling.
I recently had a very comfortable marketing job. I liked my coworkers and made decent money, but when I looked at my future, well, there wasn’t one. I was at a job with no room for upwards movement, and I didn’t want to be stuck in the same comfortable but stagnant place year after year. Imagining the future helped me see that I needed a change, even if I wasn’t sure what that entailed yet.
Step 3: Write down the possibilities
If you’re thinking about making a change in your career path, it’s probably because you can imagine something better, or at least something different. So write down all the possibilities for where you might go from here. What are all the different ways you could make money? Use your expertise? Capitalize on your strengths and talents?
I use this tool often, whether I am looking for ways to expand my current career or to explore a new direction entirely. It’s good to remember that I have agency and can choose something new, even if I ultimately decide I don’t want to.
Step 4: Make your decision
Once you’ve evaluated your true feelings, thought about your future, and explored your possibilities, it’s time to act. That might mean making an empowered decision to stick with your job and go after a promotion, or it might mean applying to new jobs or striking out on your own. If staying is the best choice and you now feel confident in staying the course, amazing! But what if you decide a change needs to be made?
This is where faith comes into the equation. Remember that you aren’t alone, remember your possibilities, then take the leap. Yes, it will feel scary, but once you jump, it will feel freeing as well. When I quit my marketing job that felt stagnant, it was one of the most terrifying decisions I’ve ever made, but I knew I was capable of more. Now that I’m back in my writing career, I’m not only making more money, but I feel fulfilled and full of opportunity and hope for the future.
And what if you make the wrong choice? It’s a real concern, but one you’re probably obsessing over out of misplaced fear more than anything else. Are you really going to regret the choice to move forward, even if it’s not ultimately your forever career path? Probably not. Because even when we choose a path that turns out to be a detour, the lessons we learn along the way and the clarity we bring to our next adventure will be well worth the extra miles.