People are getting promotions and running successful businesses and I’m just sitting here wondering if it’s too late to start over.
Whether you’ve been working in an industry for a number of years, just graduated college, or looking for a new job and thinking to yourself, “Is it too late to start over?”— Don’t panic, I’ve been there. As you’ll read below, I’ve reinvented myself throughout the years, but it wasn’t an easy journey.
These are the lessons I learned along the way.
Your career and your degree don’t have to match.
When I graduated college, I couldn’t wait to start my career in psychology. I landed a job as a behavior therapist working with children on the autism spectrum and things seemed to be going as planned.
I had done everything my parents expected me to. I went to college, got decent grades, and landed a good paying job. On the surface, I had a great job in the healthcare field. One year later, I felt stuck in a job that wasn’t me. I was deeply unfulfilled, wasn’t enjoying my work, and felt like I was wasting my potential. More than anything, I felt the clock was ticking on my chance to make a difference. I had spent so much time and money to earn my degree, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was too late to try something new.
If your degree alone guaranteed a job, this kind of logic would make sense. But the more I looked up the back stories of CEOs and successful people I admired, the more I realized that by and large, your major had nothing to do with your career trajectory. Now there are certain jobs that require specific degrees like architecture, law, and medicine, but you don’t have to study English to be a great writer (Anthony Bourdain); you don’t have to study business to be a great entrepreneur (Jack Ma) and; you don’t have to study political science to be a great politician (Margaret Thatcher).
The real world doesn’t care about your degree as much as your ability to do the job, your work ethic, and attitude.
How I knew it was time for a career change.
In the depths of my despair about my job, there were signs everywhere that it was time for me to quit.
- Every Sunday, I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of dread about Mondays.
- I couldn’t imagine doing my boss’s job or being as proud as she was about working there for 15 consecutive years.
- I felt like I was procrastinating more than I was actually working and I started taking bathroom breaks just to sit down and be alone.
- I found myself justifying why I was working in the field: “Well, the job is okay, but at least the pay is good and my benefits are alright.”
Above all else, I was reading articles like this one nearly every day. If you looked at my search history the month before I quit, you would undoubtedly find queries like “when to quit,” “resignation letter templates,” and “how to transfer skills to new roles.” I was also spending an offensive amount of time looking for new jobs while I was on the clock.
As much as I’d like to say there was a slow, strategic approach I took to leave my job, there wasn’t. From one day to the next, something clicked for me and I decided enough was enough. I went into work just like I did any other day, completed my projects, created some transition documents, and submitted my resignation letter at the end of the day.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a resignation letter, use this to kick things off:
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name:
I would like to inform you that I am resigning from my position as [JOB TITLE] at [COMPANY NAME], effective [MONTH DAY].
Thank you very much for the opportunities for professional and personal development that you have provided me during the last [DURATION OF EMPLOYMENT IN MONTHS/YEARS]. I have enjoyed working with the team and appreciate the support provided me during my tenure with the company.
If I can be of any help during this transition, please let me know.
Switching careers can feel extremely lonely.
There’s a misconception out there that changing careers means you’re leaving a job one day and starting a new one the next day. In an ideal world, that’s how things would turn out, but in reality, changing careers can take time.
Sometimes it involves quitting and going back to school or some type of training period. Other times you’re earning certifications while working the job hunt. If you’re like me, it’s six months of interview after interview, getting turned down, and learning from each failure before you finally find the next career move.
Because of the uncertainty around making a career change, you may notice that your family and friends might not understand what you’re trying to do and think that you’re being unrealistic. Former colleagues may get offended by your frustration with the industry and start to distance themselves from you. During these moments, it’s hard not to feel like there’s something wrong with you. I remember dozens of sleepless nights where I stayed up wondering if I was broken or not strong enough to hang in there long enough for my career to take off.
Trust me, you’re not broken.
Although my coworkers looked happy in their jobs, the truth is many of them were secretly looking for something else and eventually moved on.
It may seem obvious, but the best thing to do when you’re feeling lonely is to deliberately surround yourself with people — the right people. Look for friends that are also trying to change careers. Join Twitter chats and find groups for people learning new skills and trades. If you have the money, hire a career coach. More than anything, get comfortable with asking for help.
If no one knows what you are looking for, no one will know what job to recommend you for. This is why it is so important for people who want to make a career change to put as much effort into networking as possible. You can start doing this right now, simply by reaching out to your contacts list, participating in volunteer activities, and even by reaching out to strangers who interest you.
Doing it is better than thinking about doing it.
Before I quit my job, I spent an enormous amount of time researching careers and job titles I could potentially apply for. I would read up on job requirements, salary expectations, benefits, and a million other factors until I felt overwhelmed and needed to take a break. I was so scared to make a mistake that I’d justify any lack of action with hours of research.
While talking to my friend Dennis about my dilemma, he said something that’s stuck with me all these years:
You sound like you’re driving around lost, but you have a few roads you can take. If you take one of them, it might not be the right road, but you can always make a u-turn and course correct. If you don’t take any roads, you’ll stay lost forever.
Hindsight being 20/20, I now realize that the best way to tackle these decisions is not by researching, but by actually applying and interviewing for different jobs and positions. Although it helps to know what you want, ironically, most people only find out what they want by learning what they don’t want.
When I first decided to leave the psychology field, I tried being a personal trainer, a tattoo artist (don’t ask), and a motivational speaker. I tried a lot of different things and introduced myself as a lot of different job titles to different people, partially to see what I was good at, and partially to see what I felt passionate about. I decided that being a life coach wasn’t too far off from being a behavior therapist, so in an effort to find more clients and get better at public speaking, I joined Toastmasters. Funny enough, it was there that I met someone that recommended I look into public relations and gave me my first gig writing speeches and copy for ads. Deep down, I had no idea what I was doing. But I decided to go for it and it turned into my first job as a digital marketer.
When I started doing it rather than think about doing it, things started to change. I was stepping into different worlds and crossing off possibilities, rather than leaving them as open questions in my mind. Had I not actually tried to do all these things, I might have never joined Toastmasters or discovered my talent for marketing. In short, action precedes clarity, not the other way round.
What do I do next?
Changing careers isn’t easy. If it was, you wouldn’t be reading this article right now and worrying if it’s too late to start over. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible — it is.
When making life changes, you, yourself, are going to be your most compelling advocate. What you tell yourself and the actions you take will do more to guide your career than overthinking and making mistakes ever will.
When in doubt, revisit this article and remember:
- Break out of the mindset that you can’t change and accept the fact that you can. Once you embrace that you can always do something different, it will be easier to take control of your life.
- Ask for help and put yourself out there. Get the word out that you’re looking for a new job and surround yourself with people who can help you on your journey and offer guidance.
- Take action and say yes to opportunities. You can learn what you like a lot faster by trying new things than you can by avoiding making mistakes. You’re going to make them anyway, you might as well mess up while doing something that leads to you feeling happy and fulfilled.
Remember, this isn’t just about a job, it’s about what you want to do with your life. Good luck!
By the way, if you’re hiring…
If you’re looking to hire a kick-ass digital marketing director, shoot me an email at email@example.com. I bring 9 years experience leading digital marketing, social media, and analytics programs for Fortune 500 companies. If you’re a world-class technology company that needs someone with ambitious vision and wildly imaginative approaches to demand generation, I know someone I think you’ll love. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯