Are You Ready for a Career Change?

5 Steps to Get You on the Path to the Work You Love

To Bill Phillips, there was no question. A natural at math and science, his career path seemed clear: engineering. After college, he landed a job in his field, and life continued on its comfortable trajectory. Then a slow economy prompted the fear of a layoff and got him thinking about where his true desire for work lay.

Phillips decided to go in a new direction: toward his passion for real estate. Two years later, that risk has paid off. He owns a successful real estate firm in Colorado.

Like Phillips, many people find themselves at a crossroads in their careers. After sacrificing years and thousands of dollars for training, degrees, and internships, they're in jobs that pay the bills, but they still find themselves asking, What do I really want to be when I grow up?

"Life is too short to be in something for a long period of time when you really feel that it's offtrack," says Dan Miller, author of 48 Days to the Work You Love.

There will always be days when you wake up and don't want to go to work. But you spend more than a third of your waking hours on the job, so if the daily grind is rubbing your soul raw, then it's time to make a change.

More than a Paycheck

By definition, work won't always be easy, but it can (and should) be rewarding.

The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare, meaning to call or to summon. Your vocation is about more than a paycheck; it's about how you invest your life.

Frederick Buechner said, "The place that God calls us is that place where the world's deep hunger and our deep desire meet." The key is to figure out what that intersection could look like in your life.

The great part is that you can fulfill that calling in a number of ways. If, for example, you feel called to serve as a picture of Christ's love for people, you might be a coach, social worker, physical therapist, or even a writer. Or if you believe you are called to help guide others, you might be an accountant, a counselor, or a professional organizer.

Whatever career path you choose to travel, God, as the author of work, has a unique purpose for you — one you can fulfill with joy.

Miller points out that the words work and worship both come from the Hebrew word avodah. "Everything we do is service to God," he says, "including our daily work, whatever that may be." The Apostle Paul echoes that idea in Colossians 3:23: "Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men."

"It's important to keep the bigger picture in mind," says Barb Woytek, who switched from a career in the medical field to administrative work. "God places us in jobs and careers where He can be most glorified in and through our lives."

Taking Care of Business

If you sense a growing dissatisfaction in your current job, consider making a switch. Here are five steps to get you on the right path to the work you love:

1. Take a look at yourself.

Miller says about 85 percent of a successful career move is looking inward. Deciding on a new direction begins with an examination of your gifts, goals, passions, and personality. "When we are not true to ourselves, to our unique God-given characteristics," he says, "we lose the power of authenticity, creativity, imagination, and innovation. Our life becomes performance-based."

If you need an outside perspective, mentors, parents, pastors, and friends can help you see your unique qualities and passions. Various personality-, skill-, and gift-testing tools are also available online.

Miller recommends reminding yourself why you chose your career path in the first place; this may have little to do with the required technical competencies or working environment and more to do with helping people, learning constantly, or having variety on the job.

2. Create a transition plan.

Miller also suggests setting a few major goals and preparing to take action. Think about where you'd like to be five years from now in terms of your career and also your quality of life. Ask yourself: What is the purpose of this change? When do I hope to make this move? What resources will I need to accomplish this? Whom should I contact? What are the potential benefits and challenges?

3. Narrow your options.

Armed with a good idea of your competencies and personality, brainstorm several career ideas. Narrow them down to a reasonable list and commit to exploring those options. Shadow an individual working in a field you're interested in, attend an event for professionals in a potential career, talk with people in your hopeful job, or sign up for a class related to your desired field.

If you're still short on ideas, volunteer at an organization to explore your passion for certain positions. Or network at local job fairs and other community events to meet people with a variety of passions. You may discover career paths that you had never even considered.

Be open-minded also. You may, for example, conclude that part-time or freelance work allows you to pursue an activity you love while still holding onto a steady paycheck.

Finally, carefully consider your reasons for a change, Miller says. Trendy, new jobs may sound exciting or profitable, but if you would, for example, love to employ your creative gifts in landscaping, it would make no sense to turn to Web design. Also, beware of transitioning just because someone else has a plan laid out for you or because you feel another position would provide a fatter income.

4. Seek skills.

Consider the type of training you might need. But know that formal education is often unnecessary in light of your current skills and future on-the-job training.

Professionals who have switched careers say even though they don't always use the technical skills they had honed in their previous position, other competencies they had sharpened, such as patience, learning from mistakes, and problem-solving have been invaluable. And people skills, Miller says, often transcend degrees in the job market.

5. Make the move.

No matter what you choose, surrounding yourself with people who can encourage you often helps. Through your local chamber of commerce, church, or other community organization, find an experienced individual in your field who's willing to provide advice as you make a switch. And ask a trusted friend or mentor to help keep you focused on your goals.

While it's normal to struggle with fear of failure, the uncertainty of change, finances, and other issues, Miller recommends focusing on the positive, rather than negative, aspects of a past position or your fear about the future to generate confidence and enthusiasm. Change isn't easy, but it's like a brick, he says: You can either use it to build or to break.

"Be careful about focusing on what you're coming from," Miller adds. "Be clear on what you're moving toward."

More on Career:

Where Should I Work?

48 Days to the Work You Love

What On Earth Am I Here For?

Alison Hayhoe, who grew up on Canada's West Coast, is a magazine editor and freelance writer in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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