What I Wish I’d Known When I Made a Drastic Career Change

Eight people who took the plunge share the biggest challenges and surprises of starting over

When Cat Jones left her job at a large health care company to join a small nonprofit, the first moment of culture shock happened before her training even started — because, as the organization’s sole employee, she wouldn’t be having any.

Without any formal process in place for her onboarding (or anyone to implement it), Jones, 30, was left to teach herself everything she needed to know, from donor engagement to graphic design. “I wish I’d done research first, instead of assuming I could do everything from day one,” she says. It wasn’t until she started that Jones realized just how much she didn’t know.

While there are no statistics on how many people make a dramatic career change, most of us hopscotch through our working life to some degree. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor found that the average person changes jobs a dozen times in their career. For anyone making a drastic career change, settling in means learning new things about your goals, your skills, and yourself. Some of those lessons are easy to anticipate; others, like in Jones’ experience, are learned on the fly.

Below, people who have made it through their own big career switch share what they wish they’d known before taking the plunge. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

You’ll spend some time defending your choices.

I have actually had two big career changes: First I trained as an actress, then I became a police officer. I made the decision to leave the police force because it wasn’t the right fit for me. I started my new career as a blogger and haven’t looked back. I get asked the same question all the time: “You left the police force to write? But the police force is a stable job!” Yes, but I’m much happier behind the screen of a computer than I am issuing tickets and attending to crimes.
— Laura Martin, 35, blogger at MissLJBeauty.com, U.K.

It will be harder to sell your skills and experience.

You have to be prepared for rejection and a lot of “no” when you’re making a career shift. Not everyone can see past your prior job title to understand how you could bring more to the table. But those people are out there!
— Rachel Youngblade, 33, content marketing manager and writer; Oakland, California

You’ll have to be more proactive about creating a new professional network.

After eight years of moving between marketing, product management, and quality assurance at the same company, I left to create my website, Catexplorer. It’s been a steep learning curve. I’ve had to adapt to not having any co-workers — while working at a company, I found that I always had people to bounce ideas off. But now I’ve created my own support network through family, friends, and other solo entrepreneurs.
— Hasara Lay, 30, entrepreneur; Sydney, Australia

There’s no such thing as too much preparation.

I went from running a team of 100 people at Blue Cross to being the sole employee of a grassroots nonprofit. I don’t regret it, but anyone deciding to switch from corporate to charity should know (and ask) exactly what’s expected of you. I should have realized that having no experience meant I needed to educate myself a bit before starting, even though I assumed there would be a training process.
— Cat Jones, 30, annuities processor; Lawrence, Kansas

You’ll learn on the job in more ways than one.

I went from being a public school teacher to a firefighter paramedic. I had begun to volunteer as a firefighter and absolutely loved it, so it was an easy decision to make firefighting and EMS my full-time job. The most challenging part was definitely the additional education that I needed. I had to take several years’ worth of classes in order to feel confident in the new career.

— Mike Gnitecki, 34, firefighter paramedic; Longview, Texas

I knew a lot about corporate America but very little about small businesses, so I checked out books from our local library and tried to flood my brain with every resource I could find. But as my journey into entrepreneurship unfolded, I discovered that the greatest knowledge came from trial and error, as opposed to anything I read from a book.

— Amy Rebecca Bloom

Your co-workers are more important than ever. It’ll take some time to find your footing.

As a trained architect, I had no idea what I was getting into when building my own business. I just wish someone had told me the importance of having the right team surrounding me.

Lori Cheek, 46, founder of Cheekd, New York Cityer, 42, founder and owner of Let Your Space Bloom; Baltimore, Maryland

You might be surprised at the support you’ll receive.

When I quit my job, I was nervous to tell my boss that not only was I leaving, but I was leaving for an opportunity rather than a concrete position. I was worried she’d take it the wrong way. But I was surprised at how supportive everyone was and how many people said, “I’d love to do that, too!”

— Rachel Youngblade, 33, content marketing manager and writer; Oakland, California

You’ll be frustrated at yourself for taking so long.

I left my stable HR job to pursue a full-time blogging career because if I have to spend most of my life working, I want to have control over where that working environment would be. If I have to sit at a desk for hours on end, I want to be able to do it in my pajamas. I wish I would have done it sooner, honestly — I can’t tell you the countless hours I spent thinking about making the change. I wasted a lot of time.

— Thena Franssen, 35, blogger at HodgePodge Hippie, Missouri

I wish I would have had the courage to start my own business long ago. I absolutely love it, and I wish I had gotten a jumpstart long before my children were born.

— Amy Rebecca Bloomer, 42, founder and owner of Let Your Space Bloom; Baltimore, Maryland.

This article was originally featured on Medium.com in the Forge publication and written by Anna Goldfarb.

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