How to Navigate A Career Change

Maybe you were laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic. Maybe the past year of working from home has made you reevaluate your goals and priorities. Maybe you’ve wanted to make a change since before you heard of “social distancing.” Being dissatisfied in your career is frustrating, and it’s easy to feel trapped and confused about how to improve your situation. 

Leah Rockwell, Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), specializes in helping moms and professionals recover from burnout. She offered tips on how to change careers and what someone looking to switch careers may feel. Here’s what she had to say.

how to change careers

Signs It’s Time to Make A Change

“It might be time to consider a career change OR to start conversations with your employer about dissatisfaction within your career if you find yourself experiencing any of the hallmarks of burnout,” Rockwell says. These include “overwhelming mental exhaustion, increasingly pervasive disconnection from yourself and colleagues or patients/clients, and reduced effectiveness at work.”

If you’re experiencing any of these feelings, they’re likely trying to tell us something. “Chances are,” Rockwell advises, “if you’re burned out, work has become something through which you slog rather than to which we aspire to do our best work.”

Burnout may just mean that you should take some well deserved time off and come back refreshed. However, it can also be a larger signal that your current career path isn’t the right one. In particular, burnout paired with an interest in another field might be a sign to examine your career aspirations. Rockwell notes, “If you find yourself increasingly enamored with a new field — Googling it, watching documentaries about it, or getting excited when something around that topic comes up — pay attention to that energy! It’s trying to tell you something.”

What to Expect

With any major life change, you might experience some mixed feelings and a career change is no exception. “When approaching a career change,” Rockwell says, “you may feel anything from exhilarated to terrified!” It’s important to be mindful of your feelings as they may point to the best course of action. For instance, “if you’re apathetic, maybe it’s more practical to have some tough conversations with your employer about what’s not motivating you, rather than fully making a shift,” she suggests.

Rockwell encourages career changers to follow their passions while also being pragmatic about potential decisions. “I recommend that people take time to do interviews, journal about ideas and experiences, and reflect on what makes one day better (or worse) than the next. Then, if and when a change is made, they can feel assured that they went through a full internal process, rather than making a jump out of desperation,” she says.

If you’re not quite sure whether you need a full on career change or just some adjustments, talk to a trusted confidant. “Talking with a close friend or family member can be really helpful in this internal review, especially someone who has intimate knowledge about what inspires and motivates you,” Rockwell encourages.

Where to Begin

Once you’ve determined that a career change is the right move for you, actually making it happen can be overwhelming. Rockwell recommends a gradual approach. Start by reaching out to people in your desired field to understand what their day to day is like.

“When we are feeling dissatisfied with our current career,” she says, “it can be all too easy to romanticize a new one, neglecting the harsh realities of that new field. Talk with people who are in the field in which you are interested. Ask them questions like ‘what do you wish people knew before going into your line of work?’ or ‘what did you least expect about this work?’ Our ideas often are wildly different from the practical nature of certain jobs. You want to talk with people who will give you the intel.”

She suggests dipping your toe in by volunteering or shadowing someone in the field. “This can be hugely helpful in determining whether you’re truly drawn to the new field,” she explains. Additionally, these activities can serve as informational interviews. They may even help you get your foot in the door of a workplace where you might interview one day.

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About Kira Schreiber

Kira grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is passionate about mental health, healthy eating, and sustainability. After spending the first part of her career working for a non profit mental health agency in Southern California, she transitioned to pursue a career in her passion for cooking. Now back in Chicago, Kira spends her days developing healthy recipes for a food tech start up. When not in the kitchen or on her laptop she loves spending time outdoors, hitting up a spin class, or watching home decor DIYs on YouTube.