4 Keys to Coping With Career Change

How do you move forward when you realize your work life needs to take a radically new direction?

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By Natalie Bounassar

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In the middle of my sophomore year of college, I had a life-altering epiphany: I had spent the majority of my life thus far pursuing a career as a performer. And after some college training and a significant production experience, I realized that I needed to change career paths.

What I had envisioned myself doing was different from the professional I was becoming.

Anyone who has gone through a sharp 90-degree turn can attest to how jarring it can be. My sense of reality was shaken. The ground seemed to have been taken out from underneath me. I struggled to find a place to put my feet.

It didn't matter that the switch was my choice. Change is difficult and intimidating, especially in my case since I was essentially starting all over again. I was going to set aside all the knowledge and experience I'd acquired to pursue a career that I knew far less about and only imagined might be a better fit.

Grappling with a desire to change career paths, although not uncommon, can be overwhelming, especially if it means leaving the stability of a current job and training. Here are a few tips for overcoming the change-induced anxiety:

Related: What I Learned From Being a Broke, Unemployed Graduate

1. Do research.

Educate yourself about the new industry you're interested in. Read job descriptions and qualification requirements. But don't become discouraged by them. This is simply information gathering. Follow posts by industry magazines and journals on Twitter. Grab a few books from the library.

I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn searching for people who held positions at companies I was interested in. I sent a lot of messages to people I didn't know, asking them to tell me about their jobs and career paths: What steps had they taken? Some people didn't answer, while others were extremely helpful.

The trick to successfully using LinkedIn is to refrain from asking people for connections all the time and instead request knowledge. Do you have friends currently working in a desired industry? Talk to them. Perhaps they can help you gain a foothold.

Related: When It Comes to Finding Your Path. Don't Overthink. Do.

2. Remember, experience is a great teacher.

I have gained incredible knowledge along the way from participating in experiences. Yes you should try to prepare yourself first. And while it's true that individuals possess different learning styles, experience is the best teacher.

Through internships and jobs, I learned industry details and tips for success that I couldn't have found in a textbook. I also learned difficult lessons from certain mistakes that I won't make twice.

If you keep yourself on the ledge as you try to gather information, you might remain afraid to jump. "It's a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you're ready," actor Hugh Laurie has said. "There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now."

If you have the courage to jump, you'll find the courage to learn to swim along the way.

3. Keep in mind that a switch doesn't mean a mess-up.

I had to process a lot of emotions and thoughts when I changed career paths. I had to keep telling myself, I am not indecisive, I am not a flake and I didn't mess up.

I also was overly concerned with how people would perceive me for having changed my mind. Would they think I had failed at my first career? Would they peg me as someone who quickly jumps ship or lacks commitment?

Here's what I realized: Without having gone through various experiences, I might have never figured out where I really should be.

I believe every step people take is purposeful and serves to teach them something. Without choosing to major in performance, I would not have selected the school I chose, worked with the people I did, produced a benefit concert and then realized that I'm better suited for a career behind the scenes in the entertainment industry.

One thing has led to another, and each part of my career has been influenced and enhanced by the last. Don't waste energy worrying about the impact of a career change on your image: Channel the energy into your work and let the results speak for themselves.

People regard failure as a dirty stain -- something that decreases their net worth and wears away at their value. Stop regarding failure as a four-letter word. Some of the best opportunities for growth lie in a seemingly "failed" situation.

Don't be afraid of making mistakes as you transition into a new field. In every failure lies an opportunity, the chance to better yourself or turn in a different direction. Let mistakes and "failures" change you for the better. Don't be discouraged by your trials. Learn from these situations and apply the lessons learned as you move forward.

4. Know that nothing is permanent.

Just because you're deciding to leave one field (or position) to try another doesn't mean you will never return to that profession or have that job again. It also doesn't mean you can't change your mind again and try yet another field or experience.

Take a shot. The worst-case scenario is that you will miss but you won't know until you try. You'll regret it if you don't take a chance. If you decide in a year that your new career path is not right, you will find a way to stay afloat. In America's results-oriented society, people often forget the beauty and necessity of the process.

Related: 5 Thoughts That Crush Success

Natalie Bounassar

Media Professional

Natalie Bounassar is a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago. She has worked as associate talent booker on ABC's Windy City Live and as a post-production assistant at Harpo Studios. Bounassar is the founder of Entry Level Escapades, a blog dedicated to helping graduates pursue and excel in their careers. 

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