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by Jane Allen | March 31, 2009


Since this is my first column for Vault, and I'm the career change expert, I will introduce myself by telling you about a career change that I made. Way back when I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to be a psychotherapist. At 32, I finally decided to go for it. I began attending college full-time and working part-time at night, estimating that it would take about ten years to reach my goal. I knew that it would be difficult, but I had no idea HOW difficult.

The good news is that I survived and realized my dream. Here are some basic survival tips for those contemplating a career change:

1. Choose a career that you are passionate about. There were many days, during my journey, when the passion was all that kept me going. Don't choose a career based only on the expectation that you'll make lots of money. If your career doesn't fit with your values, interests, skills and personality, you won't be happy with it in the long run. You may wind up with a pile of money, but with a job that you hate.

2. Do your homework. Being passionate about your career isn't enough; you must plan and prepare. Before making your decision, talk to people in that field. Ask how they got started, what it takes to be successful, which are the best training programs (or educational institutions), what income to expect and their estimate of how long it will take you. Research the industry. Will there be a job for you when you're ready?

3. How will it impact your personal relationships? Discuss with your immediate family the life changes that will be necessary. Include them in the decision. You will need their support and encouragement, especially if changing fields requires a lengthy period of education or training. Remember that educational expenses equal less disposable income and time devoted to study means less time with family and friends.

4. Networking. Start your professional networking right away to meet (and learn from) people in your new field. Those contacts will be valuable for job leads when you need them.

5. You simply must take care of yourself. You know the drill: healthy diet, exercise, getting enough sleep, R&R time, etc. Life changes are stressful, and stress can create physical illness and depression. I (foolishly) thought that I would be able to work both my night job and a day job, too, during the summer. Wrong! Working two jobs was even more draining than my school/night job schedule. I needed a break during the summer months even more than I needed the extra income.

6. Expect to be surprised. No matter how carefully you plan, something unexpected will happen. Some of my surprises were:

  • I had forgotten how to study! It had been so long since I had to read massive amounts of information and retain it, that I had lost the ability to do that easily. I had to relearn study skills.
  • I enjoyed being a full-time college student even more than I thought I would.
  • My therapy practice gradually segued into individual and management coaching. My education and experience as a therapist made that an easy transition. And I found that coaching was a perfect fit for me.

It did take me ten years to complete two degrees, 2500 internship hours and studying for licensing exams. Even if your change doesn't take as long, you will still need passion, planning, persistence and patience to achieve your goal.


Filed Under: Job Search

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