But switching career tracks can also be a high-stakes gamble. Before striking out on your own, learn how to avoid these classic career-change disasters.
Disaster No. 1: Jumping into a new career to escape a bad job. If your job makes you want to curl up under your desk and cry, it's tempting to leave it all behind and head for a new industry. But changing careers is a drastic reaction to a bad work situation.
Job unhappiness may be related to a specific co-worker, a negative attitude, an outside-of-work stressor, or a whole other slew of other problems that won't be fixed by jumping into a new career area. Instead, focus on pinpointing what part of your situation needs to change for you to be happier at work.
Disaster No. 2: Not doing your research. When you're considering a career change, it's all too easy to limit yourself to careers that are familiar or popular. But switching your path is about finding a new direction that's right for you. And that pursuit can take you farther off the beaten track. Block out at least 10 hours of dedicated research time to discover, brainstorm, and research your full range of potential career matches.
Disaster No. 3: Caving to outside pressure. Don't change careers to make other people happy. It's your life. It's your time. You deserve to find a new career that fits what you need, value, and care about.
Disaster No. 4: Not investing in the right training. Not all career changes require a whole new degree, but most career changers do need to ramp up new skills. "The best reason to go back to school for job changers is to get required technical skills or specific job skills that are in demand," says job search expert Hannah Morgan. Going back to school without a strong focus can be a costly mistake, but the right education can be an investment in your future that can pay big dividends.
Disaster No. 5: Stressing out about following your passion. Pursuing a passion can be an invigorating reason to change careers. But don't leave your job because you think your success depends on finding work you love 110 percent. "Forget that. It's absurd," writes entrepreneur Penelope Trunk in one of her most popular blog posts: "If you are overwhelmed with the task of 'doing what you love' you should recognize that you are totally normal … Just do something that caters to your strengths."
Disaster No. 6: Ignoring passion altogether. While career happiness doesn't depend on head-over-heels passion, you should find a job that engages you. If you have absolutely no "fire in your belly" for your new career area, you won't be willing to put in the time and effort to build your skills and make a successful new start.
Disaster No. 7: Focusing on the wrong measures of success. Society hammers in the message that success is measured in money, fame, and power. There's nothing wrong with any of those metrics, but they aren't the whole picture. Define success for yourself and then go after a career that helps you achieve what you want.
Disaster No. 8: Expecting change to happen right away. Career changes aren't overnight affairs. Successful switches take time, energy, and concerted focus. But remember, you'll spend almost 50 years of your life working. Isn't it worth taking the time to find a career that will make you want to get up in the morning?
Have advice on how to avoid career change disasters? Share your favorites ideas in the comments.
Annie Favreau is the managing editor for Inside Jobs—a site that helps career changers and choosers discover strong career options + find the right education to make it happen. Follow her on Twitter @InsideJobs.