9 Ways to Prep Now for a Career Change Later

Making a career change can be a challenging endeavor in the best of times.

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Curt Rosengren
Making a career change can be a challenging endeavor in the best of times, so this economy certainly doesn’t help. Sadly, a lot of people (a majority, I would say) allow that to keep them frustrated and stuck--not just for the present moment, but for the long haul. They think about making a change, decide they can’t do it, and stick their dissatisfied noses right back down to the same disheartening grindstone. They will repeat the process the next year, and the year after that.

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If that sounds familiar, what are your options? Suck it up and chalk it up to the fact that work is a four-letter word? You could, but there’s a better option. When you add time and action to the equation, what feels impossible today could be an open door in the future. If you feel trapped in that I-wanna-change-careers-but-can’t space, here are nine things you can start doing right here, right now to start breaking free:

Set a goal and make your career change a project. Blast yourself out of “someday I’ll make a change” mode. Set a goal for when you want to make that career change. By when do you want to have made it? A year from now? Two years from now? Three? Set some parameters around your career change efforts and make it a project.

Waiting for the time to be right is a surefire way to find yourself either on the same unsatisfactory path 10 years from now, or in the midst of an emergency career change because you let the pressure keep building to the point of a meltdown. I would prefer not to see either of those happen to you. My guess is you feel the same.

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Get to know yourself. I can’t tell you how many people I have seen who jump from the frying pan straight into the fire because they were too impatient to spend some quality time exploring the question, “What makes me tick?” The more you know about what energizes you and what you want out of your next career, the more chance you have of making the right change, not just change for the sake of change. (Here’s a good approach to start with.) If you can’t flip the switch immediately, you might as well put that time to use and create a good solid understanding of who you are so you’ll recognize the right change when you see it.

Identify new career possibilities. Once you have a deep understanding of what makes you tick, start exploring possible career paths that would let you experience that. Don’t just make it a willy-nilly shotgun blast, sampling this and that in the hope that something will taste good. Use the insights that your self-exploration yielded to help you focus in specifically on the kinds of paths that are characterized by what energizes you.

Network. Once you have clarity about what makes you tick and where you want to go, you can start building a network. The idea is to create a framework that you can tap into when it comes time to make that change. Again, it’s about taking advantage of the fact that it is going to be a while before you can actually flip the switch. Build your network before you need it.

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Learn. Use the time before you can make a change to build the knowledge and expertise you will need in your new path. That might mean taking classes, but it might also mean creating an informal “curriculum” for yourself, jumping in and starting to study. What foundation to you need to develop in the new path? What skills do you need? Where can you find it? Develop a list of books and other resources and, bit by bit, start developing that expertise.

Ask the expert. This is a complementary idea to the one above. When I’m about to embark on something new and I don’t have the faintest clue what I’m doing, one of things I always do is go to those who know. Who are the experts in the field you want to move into? Drop them a line and see if you can ask them a few questions. Some will say yes, some won’t, and some won’t respond. The ones who do respond are a goldmine!

Who has already done what you want to do? Again, contact them and ask if you can learn from their experience. You’ll be amazed what you can learn and what ideas get sparked from conversations like these.

Work with your finances. Unless you’re independently wealthy, money is going to play a role in your career change. Do yourself a favor and take a good, honest look at your financial situation. What are your commitments? How much do you really need? Can you start saving and create a buffer to help ease the pressure when it’s time to make that change? Can you cut anything back so that more of your income goes into preparing for that change? Don’t just close your eyes and hope it will work out for the best when change comes. Prepare for it.

Create a support team. Changing careers can be a stressful, challenging (and ultimately rewarding) experience. Having an informal team of people around you who can support you, whether emotionally, logistically, or with knowledge, can make a world of difference. Look at the people around you. Who could be part of your support team? Reach out and let them know that you would like them to be part of it.

Maybe that support won’t be relevant until the time for change actually comes, or maybe they’ll be able to support you as you prepare (e.g., they might be able to introduce you to people you should know as you build your network). But if you start cultivating the team ahead of time, it will be solidified and available when it’s time to make the change.

Build a health and well-being foundation. Finally, start creating habits that support your health and well-being. The better your habits (exercise, a healthy diet, etc.), the more energy you will have to put into doing the work that needs to be done to make that change. And the last thing you want is to try to begin developing good habits at the same time you are undergoing the stress of change.

When you look at all the things you can do to prepare for a career change, it’s almost seems like it’s to your advantage that you can’t make a change yet. The key is to start taking consistent, persistent action in your career change project so that when the time comes, you’ll be ready and not still sitting there and waiting for the time to be right.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.