For many adults, the thought of changing careers can be overwhelming. Even if you lost a job or you’re just feeling the need for a change, you may not be thrilled with the idea of starting over. Family and financial responsibilities often leave adults feeling less idealistic than college kids and sometimes with a twinge of guilt at the thought of disrupting a stable career to find a new one that makes you happier. However, your hesitations don’t have to hold you back from making a career change that makes you feel more passionate and purposeful.
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Changing your career can be a positive step forward because you’ll naturally rise farther and faster when you’re doing something fulfilling. That’s not to say you should drop everything and go seek your career passions in some vague, unplanned search. Rather, start by nurturing your passions to find the right career direction, narrowing in on just what makes you tick.
Here are 5 helpful suggestions to lead you in the right direction.
1. Document your daily life.
One of the advantages you have over a college-aged student on the brink of his or her career is your years of experience in the workforce. You already have some ideas about the kinds of tasks you like and are good at versus the kinds of things you’d prefer to avoid. Focus in on exactly what these activities are by analyzing your daily life.
As you go about your routine, pay attention to the things that give you energy. If you’re feeling upset or otherwise low, do a little forensics to pinpoint just what it is that’s making you feel that way. Look for both skills and tasks that affect your moods.
Use a career aptitude test to connect factors that positively affect you with real jobs. Be sure not to ignore any supporting environmental factors as you go. A boss that’s always looking over your shoulder, for example, may make you feel like you’re not trusted in the workplace. For an introvert, having to answer phones may make you dislike a job about which you’re otherwise deeply passionate. Keep your notes in a written or digital diary and start looking for themes that run much deeper than, “I like this” or “I don’t like that.” You’ll need them as you change course.
2. Make your own internship.
If you’re working, it can be difficult to make the time and wage sacrifices required for a traditional internship—many of which you can only get through college anyway. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create an internship-like work experience on your own. If there’s a person out there in the professional world whose work you admire, why not reach out to them and offer to lend them a helping hand? Whether it’s just an hour a week or ten, you could do anything from stuffing envelopes to researching a topic for their next book to being a virtual assistant. You’d be surprised how eager many successful people are to find help, and if you do a good job, you’ll have made a great connection while also receiving some form of mentorship.
To find a good contact, tap into your network. Reach out to relevant contacts on LinkedIn and send an email detailing your “internship” to friends and family members. Social media is a great place to start as it allows you to network more naturally around topics in which you share interests with others. Having contact with people who inspire you will be a great reminder of where you’re going and how to get there.
[Read more: Adventures of a 50-Year-Old Intern]
3. Surround yourself with supportive people.
For the people closest to you, it can often be difficult to see you differently than you are now. Career shifts and going back to school to achieve them can also come with (short) periods of instability that can affect the whole family. If you’re going to make this work, it’s important to you have your partner and family on board. Their job should be to help you through the low points and celebrate your successes rather than validate your worst fears. To grapple with the stresses a midlife career change can cause, it may make sense to work with a career coach or a therapist to help keep you focused on the ultimate outcome of this new adventure.
4. Choose a few extracurriculars.
Just like when you were in school, recreational activities can be a great way to explore new career interests and skills in a very low-pressure environment. The key here is to dole out your time purposefully. Don’t join a kickball team unless you want to become a professional kickball player or there’s someone whose career you really admire on the team. Do you think your penchant for creating wacky gadgets could make a real career? Join a Maker club and give your design skills a test run. See yourself as a team leader who just hasn’t gotten the right opportunity? Join a volunteer organization with a cause you love, and work hard to rise through the ranks. Don’t like one thing? Try another. It’s much better to experiment in many different ways as a volunteer than to plunge into a new career and suddenly change again.
5. Try a few courses.
From community college courses to free online classes, called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), there are numerous ways to give new subject areas a spin. Community college tuition rates are among the most affordable, and MOOCs offer free online classes with instruction from professors at the world’s best universities. Both are low-risk ways to give new subject areas a whirl.
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After all of this exploration, you may decide to stay within your field but move toward different disciplines or roles. Or it may indeed be time for a complete career overhaul, including a return to school for a second degree. Whatever you decide, remember that your career change isn’t a magic pill, and it won’t fix all that ails you. You’ll have to work your way up and be open to all kinds of new tasks. However, if you are truly focused, committed, and willing to work hard, you’ll likely grow much faster than you would as a recent college graduate. When you put all of your knowledge and experience into making a new career work, you’re sure to rise fast.
Britt Klontz is an Outreach Executive at Distilled. She studied the intersection of the Internet and new media and loves the abundant networking opportunities that social media provides.