Have you heard of the sunk cost fallacy? It’s the false belief that you should keep working at something just because you’ve already spent time, money, and effort on it. In short, it’s throwing good money after bad.
I’ve experienced this first hand, and it’s never a good idea. I figured out pretty quickly into grad school that I’d made a mistake. But instead of cutting my losses, I felt like sticking with it was better than being a quitter.
Guess what? I finished my degree, but after just three years on the job, I left the field entirely and haven’t looked back. My student loan debts, however, will stick with me for a long, long time.
My point here is not to advocate for student loan reform–although that’s a worthwhile conversation. It’s never too late to change career paths, no matter how much you’ve “sunk” into it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a recent grad or five years away from retirement–you don’t have to stay with a job or a career if you feel called to try something new.
With that in mind, there are ways to approach a career change that will set you up for greater success.
Please don’t quit without notice before you finish reading this. Having a plan is the most essential part of making a successful career change.
First, do you know what it is that you want to do? Or do you just want out of your current career?
Too many people leave one career without a clear idea of where they want to go next. If you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to start with a survey of the things you like to do already along with the skills you’ve acquired. Then brainstorm ways you could turn those lists into a brand-new job. It can help to have someone whose opinion you trust to give feedback at this stage.
It’s also smart to research the kinds of jobs available in a field that interests you. What kind of requirements are common? Will you need to get a degree or certification? If so, is that something you are willing to do?
Perhaps the most useful thing you can do during the planning stage, however, is to network.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That’s a cliche, but it’s not totally wrong. While baseline accomplishments can get you in the door, your professional connections can keep you there. Not only that, but talking to people who work in the industry you’d like to join can give you insight into what it’s really like. You might even discover that the career you thought might be a good fit for you isn’t right after all.
Remember that networking is a two-way street. If you’re only ever asking for favors and mining for information, your new connections will not flourish. Focus on building relationships more than gathering intel.
Go Slow or Take the Plunge?
Once you have a solid idea about where to go next, the only question is whether you’ll try to gradually transition or jump in right away. A lot of that depends on your risk tolerance.
If you’ve got a healthy savings account or a support network that can keep you afloat for a little while, then it might make the most sense to go all-in on your new career. However, as long as you’re not too miserable in your current job, then starting with a side hustle or volunteer opportunity might be a better move.
In either case, try not to put off the first move forever. While you can make a career change at any point in life, the sooner you do it, the longer you’ll be able to grow into your new role.