How to make a career change.
What should you do? You've been working hard as a lawyer, as a flight attendant, as an office manager, but now you realize—and perhaps you realized it long ago—that the job is depleting you. It's draining you, and turning you into a lesser version of yourself. But for any number of reasons, you feel you can't quit. Maybe the benefits are so good that you're golden handcuffed in; or you think that after devoting yourself to a profession for so long it would be a waste to try to move onto a new profession; or you think that nobody will hire you in a new field because you lack the relevant experience. What should you do?
Here are some thoughts:

1. Don't assume that you're in the wrong job. Look before you leap. You might just have forgotten what drew you to the role in the first place. For one week, track your activities, noting the ones that make you feel strong and the ones that make you feel weak. At the end of the week, pick two that create in you strong positive emotions. Relive those two moments. Feel again what you loved about the job in the beginning.

2. The clearest sign that you're in the wrong career is if you cannot imagine a future in it. If you've looked hard at the activities that strengthen you and know deep in your heart that there's no way for those strengthening feelings to be recreated and no way to push your job gradually toward creating more and more of them each week, then it's time to act: Make the decision in your mind and plan your exit strategy. Don't dance around it. Don't second-guess it. Accept it. You know that your job does not and will never call upon the best of you. Nothing can compensate for this. No amount of money. No benefits. No amount of time invested. Nothing.

3. Start by focusing on your interests. What magazines do you read? What articles are you drawn to in those magazines? What kind of people do you find yourself hanging around with? Pick two interests or subject areas that always intrigue you and research them. Study the life that you want to live.

Use your strengths to build a bridge in a new direction

4. Build a bridge. You may not be able to dump your job immediately—you need the money, the benefits, etc.—but you can start yourself moving in the right direction. Find things you can do that won't take up much time but will start to give you the knowledge and experience you'll need to move your life toward your strengths. Do what Ayesha, a participant in the Oprah workshop, did. She knew that her role as a senior-level validation engineer was depleting her and she was fascinated with writing for the Web. She didn't just quit her current responsibilities to pursue her dream. Instead, Ayesha started a blog and called up a family friend who hooked her up with some training that could help her build a bridge between her current role and the life she really wanted.

There's no reason that change has to be a sudden, wrenching upheaval. That said, if your current situation is causing psychological suffering: Get out now.

5. Get specific. Specificity is the antidote to anxiety—not just your own, but the anxiety of those who may have reservations about hiring someone who is switching careers. In job interviews, the interviewer is frightened she will make the wrong decision. That's why she pays such close attention to people's résumés: It gives her something to hold onto, something to calm her fear that she'll make a bad hire. If your résumé doesn't include the experiences that she is looking for, compensate by getting very specific on what your strengths are and why they are drawing you toward this new line of work.

Switching careers isn't simply about moving away from what you no longer love; it's about moving toward your passion. Convey that passion in vivid, specific detail by describing your strengths. Write a cover letter that uses phrases such as "I am at my best when…" and then goes on to describe a very specific activity that strengthens you, and then write down why you know—KNOW, not think, KNOW—that this strength will help you make a great contribution in this new role.

And, if you get the interview, be ready with two or three specific examples of this strength in action and how you think it will help. Practice saying the examples out loud to a friend or a spouse. Use your own certainty to address any uncertainty an interviewer may have.

Start the journey to a new career now

6. Start the journey now. You can't be a novelist overnight, but two pages a day will give you a book in a year. If you feel like you're in a predicament, remember that it took a while to get into it; it may take you a while to get out of it. But start now. Commit to taking at least one action each week to move your life, gradually, one person, one bridge at a time toward the life you want. Keep a progress log. When you hit an obstacle, pull out your log and refer to it. Hang on to the small wins you've had. They are fuel for your fire.

Often, the biggest challenge is simply in admitting that you need to make a change. Fear of the unknown is natural, but you may be surprised to see how just stating your intention and then taking action can begin to open things up before you. Remember, what you focus on expands; results follow focus. Focus on what "working" will look like—not on the what-ifs. Take things slowly, build momentum and see what happens. Keep your awareness high. Taking smaller intentional steps instead of big, drastic ones will help you overcome your fear—and as you see more results, you will build even more courage to move forward.

Continue Marcus Buckingham's 8-step Strong Life Plan


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