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5 Concrete Steps Toward Career Change

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"I don't want to end my life," a friend told me recently. "I just want to exit it. Sneak out the back door when no one's looking."

She was talking about her job, which she hates, and her career more generally, which she's (clearly) ready to leave.

But undertaking a major career shift can be daunting -- and terrifying. And many of us, faced with the sheer enormity of it all, opt to remain where we are rather than embarking on a project of this magnitude.

If you'd like to shift gears professionally but can't quite summon the energy to begin that process, here are five concrete steps to launch that process:

  1. Normalize it
  2. LifeTwo, a leading career counseling organization, reports that their prior estimate that each person has an average of three careers in a lifetime is now in the process of increasing to as many as seven careers. Moreover, here are some additional statistics that should make you feel at home: According to a Gallup poll, over 60 percent of workers are not truly engaged in what they do, and the same percentage would change careers if they could. Finally, changing jobs frequently may even be an advantage. According to career blogger Penelope Trunk, it also keeps you fresh and passionate about your career.

  3. Reconceptualize It
  4. I got a holiday card from an old friend telling me about his new career as a psychotherapist. Prior to that, he'd been in the arts and construction industries. As he put it, "I am becoming increasingly comfortable with seeing my professional life as a series of explorations rather than Wall Street Journal-worthy profiles." I've written before about the concept of kaleidoscope careers, a byproduct of both the dot-com economy, which threw traditional career trajectories out the window, and the reality of women returning to the workforce after having children. Under the kaleidoscope model, having a rich, diverse professional background may be a positive in today's economy.

  5. Read a Self-Help Book
  6. If you have the resources with which to consult a professional career counsellor, by all means, do it. But if you can't afford that, I'm a big (converted!) believer in self-help books for career change. When I moved out of academia into journalism (and beyond), I read two books that were not just useful, but essential, for my professional reinvention. And the nice thing about those transitions was that they cost me less than $20 -- not bad, eh?

  7. Apply for a Job
  8. This may sound counterintuitive, as most people (including me) would counsel you to first figure out what you like and what you're good at before thinking concretely about career categories broadly defined, let alone jobs. But once you've given it some thought and have narrowed down your potential career trajectories to a handful of possibilities, take a whirl at applying for a job that sounds like it might be right for you. The chances are almost zero that you'll get it. But in putting yourself down on paper -- and providing a narrative of yourself for this particular job -- you'll gain some insight into who you are professionally. Reimagining yourself in this way will also give you more self-confidence going forward.

  9. Look at Job Boards

One way to spark your imagination about the kinds of things you might do with your particular skill set and area of substantive interest is to skim job boards in your chosen field. You should of course do this once you're actually doing a proper "job hunt" (as opposed to a "career hunt"). But it's also useful to do this on occasion early on in the process. You'll be amazed at the kinds of real-life jobs that pop up that you've never even thought about but which might suit you perfectly. Two sites I'm particularly fond of are Idealist (for the non-profit sector) and Journalism Jobs. But it's a big, wide world out there, and job boards abound in all sorts of professions.

Go get 'em!