Mulligan Time: 5 Foolproof Ways to Tap a New Career

03/11/2015 06:07 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2015


I was sitting in an Irish bar near Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, whining to a colleague about my thankless job cranking out copy for a real estate publication. The work barely paid me enough to afford rent on the outskirts of Brooklyn, let alone the fancy clothes required for hobnobbing with uber-rich developer types at high-end event venues like Cipriani's.

"What you need is to take a Mulligan," my colleague said. I thought he was taking his cue from the décor: The soccer trophies on the bar shelf, the shiny green St Patrick's Day beads hooked to the wall, the bangers and mash on the menu. I was wrong.

"It's a golf term, too. A do-over. If you mess up the first time due to lousy luck, you have the opportunity to do it again. Life is like that. Jobs are like that. Especially in this country, these days."

I have Mulligan-ed my career at least half a dozen times since that day about a decade ago; whoring out my English skills for jobs, including: teaching, grant writing, communications, ghostwriting, speechwriting and newspaper reporting. I haven't been alone. It turns out a good portion of the population has pulled a Mulligan, changing careers after they're laid off or their fields become obsolete -- or after facing pay cuts, heavier work-loads or lack of corporate support.

It turns out, taking a Mulligan, doing it over, is the key to survival in today's convoluted, fast changing economy. If you have chosen to give reinventing yourself a try, make sure you do it correctly.


Mulligan Time: 5 Foolproof Ways to tap a new career

1. Follow your heart. Was there a career field you always wanted to try, but didn't because it seemed far-fetched? You may admittedly be too old to be a professional baseball player or lack the physique to be Brad Pitt's body double. You may be too surly to be a spokesperson, or too tired to return to medical school.

Change doesn't have to be that drastic. Sometimes, we can settle for the next best thing (a public relations specialist for a team rather than an athlete, a physical therapist rather than a brain surgeon).

Make sure you've determined what lengths you are willing to go to follow your heart through your career. In a poignant editorial in the New York Times, Marci Alboher examines motivations for choosing a more altruistic career and some of the challenges associated with picking that career path.

Alternatively, your passion may be integrated into an overall holistic plan for your new life. Is there an area you are passionate about that you never were able to integrate into your day while working your old job -- helping people, art, advocacy or public speaking? Make a list of passions that you would like to tap into more; and see if they can be re-angled/integrated into a routine that fits with your newly chosen career.

2. Work with what you've got. Ensure your experience, inherent talents and knowledge don't go to waste. Leverage everything you've learned. Don't assume everyone has the skills you do. They don't. Every facet of who you are and what you have done is unique.

It's amazing how many skill sets can be reconfigured to garner success at new careers. Think outside the box. A former headhunter for computer firms drew on his sales skills to create a wildly successful dog training business. A former administrative assistant drew on her attention to detail, natural diplomacy and conscientious nature to become a paralegal. A former teacher used her charisma, charm and sage like demeanor to become a public speaker for an advocacy group.

One good way to figure what your talents are is to take a basic personality test.

3. Be Realistic. Make sure you do your research. Look at pay scales, market projections and field openings. Don't pick a career in a field that has a chance of going the way of the pterodactyl in the future. The Occupational Outlook handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics is one good place to check statistics. Found here.

I also found a comprehensive easy to use chart that maps various careers, stress levels associated with them and their projection for growth for the next decade. Found here.

4. Be flexible. It is helpful to consider careers that may be reconfigured again five years or ten years down the line if things shift again; or that you can try out in more than one discipline or geographical location. You might find your gift for gab and diplomacy qualifies you for work as a workshop facilitator, public speaker and organizational mediator. Your lightning quick typing skills can be leveraged to qualify you for work as a medical or legal transcriptionist and a court reporter. Training as an occupational therapist that taps into your empathetic nature and curiosity about the way the brain works can be honed for work in multiple settings, including hospitals, nursing homes and at-home rural locations. If you want to travel more consider careers that may bring you to international conferences -- or find a job (for example nursing or teaching English) that you can contract for in developing countries.

5. Try it on first. One good way to ensure you are choosing the right career is to test the waters first. Volunteer to work for an organization doing the work you envision yourself doing. Freelance first, try a project on for size. Network, contact associations and organizations founded for your new chosen career. Contact college alumni working in your new field. Conduct informational interviews with people who occupy positions in careers you might be interested in. Read everything you can get your hands on.

If it is a good fit, and you put it out there, you will find a way into the right field. You will find a way to make your mulligan stick.