Over time, even careers that start out stimulating, with seemingly infinite potential, can become disheartening. Through burnout, disillusionment, or gradual disinterest, you may start to feel out of touch with your existing career. Some people try to muscle through this, hoping to capitalize on their current salary or knowledge rather than gamble with something new, but if you’re hoping to get more out of your career, it’s better to make a change.
The question is, how can you find a new career that inspires you? And how can you transition from your current career?
Let’s start by addressing the main challenges when trying to start a career. These hurdles could hold you back—unless you know how to overcome them:
- Interest. If you’re going to start a new career that truly inspires you, you need to find an industry or area that interests you, or has some special importance to you. You can imagine a Venn diagram here, with three sections: things that genuinely interest you (like hobbies or passions), things you’re good at (like skills or talents), and things that make money. It’s incredibly difficult to find something “perfect” in the middle, so you’ll need to do some work to find it.
- Training. Next, you’ll need to think about training. If you’re starting a career from scratch, you’ll likely be starting from the bottom—which means you’ll have lots of catching up to do. Some careers are more forgiving here than others. For example, if you want to sell real estate, you could get your real estate license online in a matter of weeks. But if you want to become a practicing attorney, it could take years of schooling before you’re ready to enter the workforce.
- Salary. Salary can also be a concern. If you’ve been in this career for several years, you might have accumulated a lucrative salary and/or a significant benefits package. This may be difficult to give up, and if you start a new job, you might begin at the lowest rung of the salary ladder.
Finding What Interests You
Arguably, the most important element—and the most challenging stage of the process—is finding a career path that truly interests you. Many people get stuck trying to think of potential jobs, working backward to see if it’s something that interests them. Instead, try to make a list of the types of work that interest you and work forward. Be vague here, and try to get to the core of what you enjoy. For example, if you like playing with your dog, the crux of your interest could be “physical activity” or “being around animals,” or both.
Do you like helping people? Do you prefer being indoors or outdoors? Are you a creative type? Are you more left-brained or right-brained? What brought you joy at the beginning of your last career?
Eventually, you’ll paint a picture of what an ideal job might look like. From there, you can brainstorm career ideas. If you get stuck, consider talking to a mentor, or some of your peers. They may be able to see a pattern or connection in your interests that eludes you.
Exposure and Introductions
Just because a career seems like it falls into your interest categories doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. It’s a good idea to expose yourself to these careers directly, when possible, to see firsthand how you feel about them. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a veterinarian, you could ask your local vet if you can shadow them for a day, or talk to people who have been vets or veterinary assistants in the past. Ask them what they like most and dislike most about the job, and think about how you might feel in such an environment. This should help you narrow down your list of possibilities.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
If there aren’t many existing career options that interest you, your best bet may be starting your own business. For many people, it checks a lot of boxes—it allows you to choose what you want to do, it gives you personal freedom and autonomy, and it has practically unlimited earning potential. The only problem is you need to come up with a viable business plan, which can take a lot of research and a lot of ingenuity.
Whatever you choose to do, eventually, you’ll need to make a transition from your current job to start training or preparing for the new job. Whenever possible, make the transition gradually and smoothly. Start learning new things on your own time, and start gradually spending more hours on your new opportunity. Then, when you fully leave your main job, make sure not to burn any bridges—it never hurts to have a backup plan.