Five Questions to Ask Yourself

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When was the last time that you walked into work and you were truly happy to be there? You were excited by your job, you liked the people you worked with, and you trusted that you had a future? Many people are, in fact, pretty satisfied with their careers. Sure, things could always be better, but most people don’t spend their days thinking of ways to jump ship. If you like your job, but hate your boss, this isn’t the blog for you. This is for people who have something completely different that they want to do with their life, and want to learn how they can go about switching careers. In each article, I will go through an example of someone who switched careers, and what they think they did right as well as what they did wrong. This time, though, I am going to write a series of guidelines for examining whether you are ready for a career change. Write down your answers to each of these questions on a piece of paper, and then hide that paper for a week. Question #1: What is it that you dislike about your current career? Write your entire laundry list of complaints about your job. Perhaps you do not get along with your co-workers, or with your boss. Maybe you are not being challenged. Or maybe you plain just do not like your career choice – I know one finance professional who decided that he wanted to make a difference in the world, and so he began working for a non-profit. Question #2: What is it that you like about your current career? There has to be a reason that you took this job in the first place. It could be as simple as money, or that you wanted to be confronted with difficult tasks every day. Possibly, you like working with the talented people around you. Whatever it is that you like, write it down. That same finance professional who moved into non-profits got fed up pretty quickly with the lack of highly trained people in his new job, and has since gone back into a traditional business (although not into finance). Question #3: What is your dream job? There is no wrong answer here, although if you say that you want to be quarterback for the New York Giants, you probably want to ensure that you do not have a talent problem first. Homer Simpson’s dream job was cleaning up a bowling alley. Mine is writing novels. One of my closest friends wants to start a microfinance company in India. Question #3a: I don’t have a dream job. I just know that this isn’t it. Many of us spend our time figuring out what it is that we do not like without taking the time to figure out what we really want to do. One way to figure out the right next career for you is to think about what hobbies you really enjoy. I love surfing, and I suppose that I could try writing articles on that subject to support myself (in fact, I have tried to do just that, without success). Another would be to look at the people you know, and think about which of their jobs you would like doing. Or you could simply peruse the want ads until you read one that strikes you as an interesting job. Question #4: Are you afraid of failure? You probably think that this is an odd question. No one wants to fail. But for you to switch careers, you absolutely, positively have to be prepared to: a) switch to the wrong career; b) fail miserably in your new career; and c) find another career quickly. Why, you might ask, should I ever think of failure? Isn’t that the type of word that self-help books avoid like the plague? Read this next sentence very carefully, as it is the most important thing I will ever write in this blog: Everyone fails miserably. Failure is the most important way of learning about what works for you, and it is something from which you should never shy away. My favorite example of someone who made good on all of their failures and rejections is the author John Grisham, whose first book, A Time to Kill, was rejected 28 times by publishers before he found someone who would take a chance on him. Of his initial run of 5,000 books, he sold about 1,000 out of the trunk of his car, and he had to keep his day job as a lawyer. Today, he is one of the most recognizable authors in the world. Question #5: Do you need to quit your job to change careers? When you are looking to make a wholesale change of your career – for example, when I decided to quit working in finance to pursue my dream of writing a novel – I made the wrong decision. I quit my job so that I could focus on writing full-time, and the end result was that I had to take a number of odd-jobs to support myself which cut into the time I could have spent writing if I had just kept my job in finance. If your career change is less drastic; say, for example, that you want to change roles in your current company, from accounting to sales or vice versa, then you’re obviously going to have to leave your current job to get a new one. However, if what you want is to start your own business, then examine whether this is something that you could do in your own time. Put together a schedule of what you would need to do to start your new career that includes time, money and help from other people. In later articles, we will examine how some people started careers from their basement while working full-time and how these people were able to do two demanding jobs at the same time. Finally, if what you want to do is move between two corporate careers, and you do not have the requisite skill set for the job you want (or you cannot demonstrate that skill set to prospective employers), you should seriously consider going back to school to get the necessary skills and credentials. The Answers? If you’ve written down your answers to these questions, hide them in a drawer right now. Do not open that drawer for at least a week, even if you are one-hundred percent convinced that you are ready to change careers. This is not something that you should take lightly, because once you make a switch, chances are that you will not be able to get back into what you are doing right now. Think very, very carefully before you start gambling with your future. Ask yourself if it is your job that you hate, or just your boss, the money you make, or the person in the office next to you. If what you find that you want is the same job with different people or more money, you should go and find exactly that. It does exist out there, and Nexxt has tons of ways of helping you find it. However, when you are ready to read more about how to make a change happen, stick with me and I will show you how.

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  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Thanks for all of the great comments!@Darrell - It really is a tough choice. It's scary and some people will never be able to take that step. Congrats on your bravery! I hope it all works out for you. You're right - it is exciting!@Mike - You know what you want, which is the best first step! Good Luck!@David - I'm sorry that you didn't find the information helpful. Fortunately, we have so many articles here that you're bound to find just the right one for your needs.@Audrey - That need for security is what holds many people back. If you know that you can't sacrifice that, look for ways to test the waters without giving up your day job.
  • Darrell
    Great advice.  As someone who recently walked away after 24 years of the same old thing, the biggest obstacle are those security questions.  No matter how much you may hate your job, the thought of walking into the unknown is very scary.  With bills to pay, insurance, kids, ect... it becomes very easy to just stay the course, complain, and do nothing as your job continues to suck the life out of you.  After struggling for years with the decision, I thought about it so much and when it was time, I walked away with such a peace.  There is an excitement that goes along with the uncertainity as what the future holds.  If you are thinking about the change, take it seriously, and then take the plunge.  "If you want to walk on water, you got to step out of the boat"
  • Jonathan
    Excellent piece!  I am in the process of making a career change now and found this article both informative and helpful.  
  • Mike Murphy
    Mike Murphy
    I am a 30 year retail senior store executive. I have been a store manager and merchandise manager / assitant store manager in upscale department stores, specialty stores and off-price outlet stores. I have worked in these capacities for Foleys, Dillards, Neiman-Marcus Last Call and others. I am currently a store manager for Burlington, a company I worked for 15 years ago.I am extremely dissatisfied and disillusioned with my current company and assignment at Burlington because the company focus is 90% operational and my duties are mostly keyholder vs. store manager who works to increase sales, effect sales, study stock levels and assortments and improve customer service and visual presentation. Burlington, while now publicly held, is still a warehouse-mentality corporation trying and failing at becominga department store, even with their new cash back policy.My talents as a seasoned store manager are wasted and I am ready to move on.Any suggestions for opportunities would be greatly appreciated.MIKE MURPHY
  • David Walton
    David Walton
    This article is good, but I already knew the content.  Something a little more in depth would be appreciated.  My situation is "probably" not unique, but a bit unusual in that the administration for which I work is systematically doing away with an entire division.  The problem I envision is that once accomplished, they (the administration) will realize that it was the wrong thing to do, but it will be too late.  I need to get out and truly want to change careers completely.  HELP!!!!Dave
  • Nancy
    My job left me - I was a tech writer and laid off the week before 9-11. Since then I've tried Radiology school and failed...and tried to go back to the tech writing - but "trust that I have a future" is not there - its a very much "waiting for the shoe to drop" type job.  
  • audrey
    Thanks for that.  Not that I haven't asked myself all those questions time and time again.  But, it's good to see them all in one place.  The one thing that you don't really address is the issue of security.  Fear of failure is one thing, but sometimes the thing that keeps you in place is the need to pay the bills, provide for old age, have health care... There doesn't seem to be an answer for that one except to take a leap into the unknown or nod in the direction of a greater need for security.
  • Jose
    This article made me think a bit more about changing my career.  If only I had read this article before I decided to leave a company department that I thought was slowing my career but instead was setting me up for something better.

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