Many come to a point in their career when they wonder if they’d be better off in a completely different field that they’re more passionate about or skilled in. It can be difficult to discern when the struggle requires you to simply power through or when it maybe is time to consider a career change. There’s a lot of value in sticking with a career long-term and climbing the corporate ladder, but that doesn’t mean that once you a make a career decision you’re stuck with it for the long-haul.
Making a career change is challenging at any age, but it can seem especially daunting if you’re decades into a particular path and have a family depending on you. Rather than feel excited about the prospect of starting a new career, many people feel hopeless. People often dismiss the desire for a career change because they don’t think they have the money or the time. For those already well into their careers, it’s hard to imagine how they could possibly prepare to make such a drastic change at 40+ years old without bankrupting their families and burning professional bridges.
But as the old saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I know a guy who started law school at 42 while working a full-time job and supporting his family and now is a lawyer. Elle magazine recently did an article about women who successfully changed careers—among them a 53-year-old HR executive who lost her job to the economy, then discovered her love for writing, and made a career out of it. I’m not saying it’s not tough. But if you really want to change careers, you can, and you will find a way. Let’s take a look at the most common concerns I hear from people in regard to a career change.
“Maybe I don’t love my job, but it’s comfortable.”
Some people are so fed up with their careers that they’ll do anything to get out. But most others entertaining the idea of a career change often suppress the desire because they’re comfortable and complacent. Maybe this is you. You may not feel deeply fulfilled by your work, but you get along. You’re not miserable. So you figure you’ll just keep going as you are. Comfortable mediocrity seems preferable to economic uncertainty.
When we’re comfortable in a job, it’s easy to assume that we can continue doing it indefinitely. But as many people learned in the Great Recession, economic disruption is just a heartbeat away. Many of my friends and colleagues’ comfortable lives were upended because they were unprepared for a downturn. Our jobs are not guaranteed. We need to be able to turn to something different if disaster strikes.
A recession isn’t the only thing that can disrupt our work lives, however. The rapid pace of technological change demands that we all be learning new skills all the time. Your degree you earned 20 years ago does not promise you a lifetime of work.
If you’re too comfortable or complacent and you’re playing with the idea of a career change, trust that impulse. You may find that you can carve out a new career for yourself at your current company, enabling you to enjoy the loyalty perks and relationships you have now while keeping you engaged and competitive. Or you may need to do some more education and start an entirely new degree program.
Whatever you do, don’t get overly comfortable in your job. Contentment is a good thing, but it’s entirely different from complacency. Be grateful for the gifts and skills God has given you, and honor Him by continuing to stretch your boundaries and challenge yourself professionally.
“I can’t afford to change careers.”
Let me start by saying that concerns about money are valid. Whether your paycheck is crucial to your family’s well-being or you’re working to fund your retirement, it’s important to consider the financial impact of pursuing a new field. However, a change in career doesn’t have to compromise your own security or your family’s.
It’s now incredibly easy to access free or low-cost educational resources. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) like those offered by edX and Coursera will give you access to Ivy League-level classes and certification programs. YouTube has limitless content on just about any topic you can imagine, making it a perfect place to begin learning.
Keep in mind that there are loan programs, scholarships, and assistantships that can help alleviate the cost of further education if you want to work toward a new degree.
It also can be helpful to identify your worst-case scenario. If you swing for the fences and work for a career change, what’s the worst that can happen? Keep in mind that we live in a great country where you can almost always find some sort of job and make enough money to feed yourself and your family.
When we think through the worst-case scenario, we often realize that even the worst case doesn’t spell total disaster. More importantly, if we’ve prayed on our decision and feel God’s blessing on a career change, we can be even more confident that He will carry us through any hard times along the way.
“I don’t have the time it takes to change careers.”
Let’s talk about time constraints. For sure, limited time to devote to a career change is a real challenge. However, most of us have more time than we realize. Think about what you do when you come home from work. Are you reading voraciously about your new field of interest? Or are you having a beer and relaxing in front of the TV?
I know the TV, computer, or a good book can seem like a respite after a long day, and relaxing is crucial. It’s important to take time for yourself. But if you cut back your Netflix time by an hour or two each night, that might be enough time to keep up with an online university course or start a side-hustle from home. Generating income from a side business could create the financial breathing room you need to go all in on your new career and potentially free up some time if it allows you to quit or cut back on your day job.
It obviously won’t be easy. But what you have to gain will be well worth it.
I learned a lot about free time from my friend Todd Williams, a two-time Olympic runner. After retiring from sports, Todd found himself working a sales job for a shoe company, a job he felt was going nowhere. At the end of each workday, Todd’s colleagues went to happy hour while Todd, on the other hand, headed to the local Brazilian jiu jitsu gym. At this gym, he eventually earned a black belt. Later on, Todd was able to combine his love of jiu jitsu and his sales knowledge and create his own company. Did this huge life change happen overnight? No. He worked little by little, persevering through a day job and cultivating his passion in his free time.
A mentor once told me: “Bob, you’re going to make your living from 9 to 5. You’re going to make your fortune after 5.” That advice stayed with me. Work a job that gives you and your family stability. But let that stability fuel your passion when you’re off the clock.
What You Have to Gain
If you’ve become complacent in your career, if you’re feeling like you grind it out every day at your job just to come home exhausted, sleep a little, and wake up to do the same thing the next day, consider what a career change could do for your life and for your family. It will mean some sacrifice for a while, but the reward of doing work you love will far outweigh the temporary setbacks.
It won’t be easy. It won’t be free. It won’t be without some sweat and tears. But if you feel God prodding you to go after something more, something different, don’t hold back and don’t keep waiting. Start taking steps today. You may have to keep at your job for a while. You won’t have a new career tomorrow. But God will honor your sacrifice and boldness if you’re moving within His will for you.