The Smarter Way to Change Careers

Here's how to work toward a new job you'll enjoy, while making money along the way.

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Curt Rosengren
I frequently talk to people who have lost their jobs and are giving serious thought to tackling something new. They realize the path they’ve been on isn’t one they want to follow—or, more often, they’ve been oh-too-aware of that for years—and they want to make a change.

The trouble comes when they shift out of the fantasy and into reality. And the reality typically boils down to this: “I need a job!” When you feel the pressure of being unemployed, it’s typically not the ideal time to reinvent yourself and change careers. Most people don’t have that luxury. They need a paycheck coming in sooner, not later.

[See 14 Secrets to Career Change Success.]

The present doesn’t define the future

I’m a big fan of acknowledging reality, rather than holding on to our wishes for reality. So if you want to change careers but you’re unemployed and need a job ASAP, the need for a paycheck clearly takes precedence. The trouble people run into is when they look at the temporary situation— the job they need to get in the near-term so they can earn money—and make it permanent.

The story looks like this. You’re unemployed and know you need a change. You spend time exploring and fantasizing about what to do next. But it’s not too long before the reality of needing money coming in the door rears its ugly head.

So you look at that reality, sigh, and decide that a career change just wasn’t meant to be. You need a paycheck, right? So what can you do? You shuffle back to the status quo and stay there another 10 years.

But here’s the REAL reality. Even if the job you take right now is a carbon copy of the jobs you’ve had in the past, that has nothing to do with what your career will look like in five years. It’s just the practical, pragmatic step you need to take right now.

[See How Positivity Opens Doors in Your Career.]

Take a dual track

Instead of letting your immediate path define your long-term path, take a dual track approach. That means do what you need to do to keep the lights on, and at the same time start taking steps toward where you ultimately want to go.

Instead of heaving a sigh that your career change dreams aren’t meant to be, look at getting that same job as an interim step that will give you the space to start taking action on that change (that has the added bonus of feeling a lot less disheartening). Then start taking career change action simultaneously.

If you don’t know what that new direction is yet, start there. Spend time exploring and figuring out what career you want to create (this article is a good place to start).

[See Feeling Stuck in Your Career? Tips to Get Moving.]

If you do know where you want to go, ask yourself what needs to be in place in order to make it happen. What steps need to be taken? What foundation needs to be built? What knowledge do you need? What experience do you need? Where can you get it? Who do you need to know? How can you build a network of the kinds of people who would be helpful in your transition? What could get in the way of that change? How can you plan for that?

Make a list of steps you can take to move you towards that career change, and then take them, consistently and persistently, in parallel with the interim-step job.

There are two benefits to taking a dual track approach. First, it keeps you from getting stuck on a path you don’t want to be on. And second, because the steps you take in parallel with your interim job take you closer and closer to that new career, when the time does come for a change, it won’t be so much like jumping off a cliff.

The dual track idea doesn’t just apply to people in the job search. It also applies to anyone who wants to make a change that doesn’t feel feasible in the here and now.

Give it a shot. Take a look at where you want to go. Then ask, “What do I need to do to make that happen?” Identify the steps, and start taking them. It’s a no-risk deal. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

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.