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Is it time to change careers?

Planning and being realistic are keys to a successful transition.

By Teresa Mears Nov 12, 2009 5:19PM

We love stories about people who change careers, even though we have not actually done it. Several years ago we interviewed a number of people who had changed jobs in mid-life, including an insurance agent who become a fine furniture maker, a PR specialist who became a garden designer and a science teacher who finally fulfilled her lifelong desire to be a doctor and graduated from medical school at age 50.


Who among us hasn’t dreamed of leaving a job that bores us and doing something totally different, no matter what our age?


For some, the recession has thrust that change upon them, whether they were ready for it or not. Several of our journalist colleagues have become teachers. Some are again considering law school. One is studying nursing, courtesy of a state program to retrain downsized professionals.


Research indicates that workers who change jobs generally are more satisfied in their new positions than their old ones, even though they often take cuts in salary and benefits, AARP economist Sara Rix told USA Today, in a piece that told the story of seven successful career changers. In this recession, "I don't want to whitewash things -- some people barely scrape by," Rix told the newspaper. "But there are success stories. They give other people encouragement that there is something out there."


Curt Rosengren, who writes the On Careers blog for U.S. News and World Report reminds us that changing careers isn’t quick and easy. He offers 7 Steps to Sustain a Career Change, including anticipating difficulty and coming up with a realistic time frame.


Here's the reality: Real substantive change doesn't happen with the wave of a magic wand. Success requires commitment, effort, and persistence. It unfolds over time. It's easy to come out of the starting gate sprinting full speed toward change. But this isn't a sprint. You have to be in it for the long term.


Not only that, you need to prepare for the transition, Kerry Hannon, author of the upcoming book “What’s Next: How to Follow Your Passions to a Fantastic and Fulfilling New Career,” writes at CBS MoneyWatch.

These are Hannon’s 8 Lessons from Real-Life Career Switchers:

  1. Subject yourself to an honest appraisal. You may love gardening, for example, but would you really love spending the bulk of our time digging in the dirt alone?
  2. Get the skills you need before you leave your current job.
  3. Take advantage of education tax breaks, such as the $2,000 lifetime learning tax credit.
  4. Apply for financial aid. It’s not just for young people.
  5. Consider moving to a less expensive area.
  6. Train on the job.
  7. Downsize your lifestyle.
  8. Get your foot in the door and make contacts in your desired field before you make the leap.

Rather than change careers, we've changed jobs several times within the same field, switching from writer to editor and back again, focusing at various times on subjects as diverse as local planning and zoning and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Don't overlook opportunities for a change within your own field or with your current employer. 


Have you changed careers? Do you want to? Or has the recession forced a career charge, welcome or unwelcome, upon you? If you want to, and you haven't, what is stopping you?


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