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At some point in your career, you’re probably going to contemplate a career change.

Unless you’re a specialist with specific training from the beginning of your career (police officer, nurse, lawyer, etc.), you’re probably not going to have a linear career path where you move up the ranks over time.

Most professionals diversify and improve their skills as their career progresses.

And that progression takes you to new roles you’d never even considered in your early employment years.

Life comes at you fast

When you started your career in your 20s, your life was going a certain way.

Then by your 30s, it probably changed in ways you could never have predicted a decade ago.

The cycle repeats for each new decade.

As your life changes, it’s natural to take a good look at your career and either 1. reaffirm that you like what you’re doing and you want to stick with it, or 2. consider making a career change in the hopes that your new path will more closely align with where you are in life now.

Making a career change can be a tough decision because there are many “what ifs” to consider.

Will it really make you that much happier?

Are you willing to invest more time into the unknown?

Is there a different path altogether that you should consider?

Before you decide to make that career change from finance manager to scented candle maker, you need to get real about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

When you CAN make a career change

Of course, there are variations on the list below, but over the years of talking to career changers and advising my husband on a career change, these seem to be the less risky/high-value moves for professionals to make.

You can make a career change if:

  • You’re moving to a new specialty within your skillset. For example, Communications Coordinator to Public Relations Manager.
  • You’ve completed formal education in a new skillset. For example, Nanny to Registered Nurse after earning a Bachelor’s degree.
  • You have a strong network connection or recommendation. For example, your husband’s friend hires you to oversee operations for his small business.

When you CANNOT make a career change

Again, there are variations on this list, but most professionals should consider staying put if these situations apply to them.

Don’t make a career change if:

  • You’re close to retirement. If you’re within a few years of retiring, stick it out in your current profession and get yourself a countdown clock to keep track of the days until you’re out of there.
  • You would need to invest more than $100K in formal training. Look, it’s a lot to take on loads of new debt later in your life. If you have a ton of money, go for it. But, if you don’t, think long and hard about the cost/benefits of investing in new training.
  • You would need to invest years of your life in formal education. Time is the greatest gift you have. If you don’t enjoy the process of learning, you’ll never commit your time to complete a new degree or certification. People who are life-long learners do this naturally. If you’re not one to take a course on a whim just for the hell of it, don’t invest your precious time into years of education.
  • Your family needs you now. How much your family members lean on your support changes as you go through various stages of life. Before you decide to commit your time and money to a new career, consider the cost to your family. When my husband made a career change, we had a two-year-old and a newborn. It was REALLY hard for him to complete his degree online with all the demands of raising a young family. Can it be done? Of course. Should he have waited until they could at least go to the potty on their own? Probably.

What to consider before you make a career change

Usually, people leave their jobs or change careers for one or more of these reasons:

I have changed jobs for every one of these reasons (except the last one), but I’ve stuck with the same career because I’m not in a place to live out my true fantasy of becoming a potter in the English countryside.

Eventually, I may do that if the calling becomes strong enough. But for now, I’m good.

If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not to make a career change, ask yourself what is driving your decision.

If your answer is more money.

Consider staying in your field and get help finding something new to maximize your earning potential. 

You will likely make more money moving up in your current field than you will if you start from scratch somewhere else.

The same advice goes for a higher title.

Those are easier to come by than you think with a great resume.

If your answer is conflict-related.

Again, try staying in your field and get help finding something new before you blow it all up to sell piña coladas on the beach.

That may seem more appealing now, but believe me, there are good bosses out there who make work a lot of fun.

Remember, you can change where you work and who you work with without switching careers.

I have a saying that I use all the time with my clients, and that is, “You can do anything if you’re working for the right boss.”

If you want to make a career change because your life circumstances have changed, consider how many major life changes you’re willing to take on at once.

As someone who moved across the country twice, had two kids, changed jobs twice, and supported my husband in finishing his degree…all in four years…sometimes it’s good to space things out a bit.

On the other hand

If you feel a calling to make a change in your life because you want to do work you’re passionate about, you should go for it.

You only get one life, so why not do something you love? 

Keep in mind that when you decide to change careers, you will be starting at square one.

And you will take a pay cut.

Eventually, you may earn more in this new career because you’ll presumably be highly engaged in the work.

And if your new career isn’t high-paying to begin with, but it’s highly satisfying, that’s a win in anyone’s book.

So, what do you do?

I think more people should leave their jobs to do what they love if they can afford it.

You get one shot at life, so don’t waste it doing work that doesn’t align with your purpose or passion.

If you want to help people, you should help people.

If you love working in spreadsheets all day, you should do that.

Whether you make $58,000 a year or $65,000 a year really doesn’t make that much difference in the grand scheme of things if you find satisfaction in what you’re doing.

If that job making $58,000 a year makes you feel excited to get up every Monday, and that job making $65,000 a year makes you feel anxious every Sunday night, TAKE THE PAY CUT!

Your mental health is worth everything in this life.

Take care of it wisely.