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Sometimes you realize early on that the job, or even the career, that you've chosen just isn't for you. In other instances, the urge to move on hits you a little later, in your late 30s, 40s or even beyond.
In either case, there's no shame in switching things up. These days, it's certainly not uncommon. In fact, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI), the average job tenure is only about five years.
Career experts say that, if the time is right, jumping ship is a good thing. "It's kind of like rebalancing your stock portfolio," says Cynthia Shapiro, author of Career Confidential. "Look at the situation every three years and ask yourself if it is getting you where you need to go."
When you find that you're ready to try something new, follow these steps to make the transition as seamless as possible:
1. Take small steps.
If you're thinking about making a huge change, especially one that's particularly risky like going back to school or opening your own business, you may want to start out slowly. Sure, signing up for a few college courses might not seem too hazardous, but if you consider the toll it takes on your wallet, it's definitely not a decision you want to take lightly. Bottom line: You need to make sure the change you're making fits into your life, so talk it out with family members, work out the financials, if necessary, and start small. Take one course, for instance, to see how you like it, or start your business on the side while keeping your day job for the time being.
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2. Do your research.
Sure, you'll have to fill in some of the blanks later, but you can at least start painting a picture of your future by talking to colleagues and friends about your plans and cruising the classified ads. Online discussion boards can be a great resource, as are the enthusiast sites that cater to your next move. Then check out organizations that represent the field you're joining and universities that have relevant degree programs. So what if you're not interested in taking the classes? The program's website and collateral material can be a gold mine of information.
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3. Embrace your fear.
Making a change, whether big or small, is going to stir up some apprehension. It's completely natural—in fact, most people are terrified of change. At the same time, though, we need change in order to have a full, interesting life. "As long as you're intending to move forward, there are probably no wrong moves," says Susan Crandell, author of Thinking About Tomorrow: Reinventing Yourself at Midlife. Turn your fear into motivation.
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4. Find a mentor.
There's a ton of research that shows that having a mentor is huge when it comes to career success. Once you've changed jobs—and especially if you've changed careers—you need someone to guide you. Not only can a mentor help you settle in, he or she can also introduce you to others in your field and company. So how do you find that person? By attending networking events, talking to colleagues and getting to know superiors at your new company. Once you find someone you feel comfortable with, ask her to grab a coffee with you. Let her know that you respect her and her work and that you'd love it if she'd be open to you bouncing ideas off of her from time to time. Let the relationship evolve from there.