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My New Year’s Resolution Is to Switch Careers. Now What?

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our co-workers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

Like probably 90 percent of people hitting the New Year, I’m thinking about switching careers. But I’m not talking about, “I’m going to quit my office job and go be a lumberjack in the wilderness!” daydreaming. I want to make a real, actual career change. I’m currently 12 years into a career in I.T., but I’ve realized — hopefully not too late — that I want to be a dietician.

Realistically, though, are the two fields too radically different? And am I too late? Too old — I’ll be 40 in a couple years? Basically what I’m asking is: Do major career changes ever work out? — Jun-seok P., Aurora, CO
The holiday season is when we spend the most amount of time on self-reflection, culminating in New Year’s resolutions that most of us make, but few of us keep. Jobs and careers are some of the top issues people commit to act upon, so you’re not alone. But changing careers requires more deliberations than those usually found after a few glasses of wine or spiked eggnog.

Many times, people change careers because they’re fed up with working for company X, or they’re fed up with occupation Y — maybe, for instance, your parents pushed you into a career you weren’t really interested in. But you’re always in a better position if you’ve been thoughtful as to why you want something different — namely, you’re looking toward another career, rather than running away from your current one.

With that in mind, consider these important questions:

  • Introspection: Why this career? Why now? What’s attractive about this new career? What will you be giving up? What will you be gaining?
  • Research: How much do you know about the new career? Do you understand the difference between a dietician and a nutritionist? Have you researched the different types of specialties (for example, school/hospital/community dietician)? Have you investigated licensure requirements? Do you need a degree, or certification only?
  • Accessibility: Are there programs near you and/or online that you can attend? When, where and how long are the programs offered?
  • Affordability: Can you afford to quit your current job and plunge full-time into the course of study needed for the new profession? What alternatives are there (part-time work, part-time school, financial aid)?
  • Support: What do you need and from whom? I’m not talking financial here, but the emotional support from family, friends and colleagues to help you reorient your life and priorities to make this dream happen.

Courage is the most important attribute you’ll need to be successful. Changing jobs is relatively easy: The largest study reports that people born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11.7 jobs from ages 18 to 48. But true career changes are much more difficult because they’re usually not linear. Not to mention, as you hint at in your question, our current era of specialization makes such a switch all the more challenging. And while that will definitely require some degree of training — see the affordability questions above — there are creative ways of gaining experience in a new field without completely giving up on your day job or racking up a ton of student loans.

For example, one of the most available and underutilized learning experiences is volunteering. Not only can you try your hand at new skills while you help worthwhile causes, but there are two other significant advantages: 1) you usually get to create your own hyper-inflated job title (director of social media, anyone?); and 2) you can make use of the board, donors and other volunteers to network.

As for your concerns about your age, remember that 40 is the new 30 and “encore” careers don’t begin until 60. So you’re practically still fresh out of college.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at askterry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.