Changing Careers: To Leave or Not to Leave

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By Jennifer Ward

“One day, or day one. You decide.” – Paulo Coelho

Life is full of exciting moments, and changing careers is definitely one of them. But somewhere between that decisive moment and the first day of a new job, awareness starts to settle in – this major shift is also scary. Eventually, there’s this realization that everything we know, and everyone we know, will leave us. However, we are also aware that if we don’t push ourselves, nothing will ever be different.

Change is Difficult

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We are naturally comfortable with routine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if these routines become rigid, they can build fear, holding us back. Change pushes us in ways we can’t imagine. Change is also necessary to be successful. If we aren’t willing to step away from what is comfortable, then everything will remain the same. For some, that is okay as long as you are happy. In my situation, I wasn’t, and I decided to move in a different direction.

I am not a swimmer. Believe it or not, I never learned how. For me, changing careers was like diving headfirst into the deep end of a dark pool. It was terrifying, and I didn’t know if I was going to sink or swim. But when we are willing to take risks and venture into the unknown, it can leave us feeling more empowered than we ever imagined.

Know Your Worth and Go Where You Are Valued

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In my twenties, I didn’t know my worth. I think a lot of us don’t realize our value, especially when we’re young. Returning to college was, for me, a huge turning point. I began to realize that I was capable of far more than I had ever imagined and far more than some of my supervisors gave me credit for.

One defining moment in college that helped me see my potential was speaking in front of an audience. At the time, I was enrolled in a creative nonfiction writing class and tasked with drafting the beginning of my memoir. Throughout most of my life (and this includes college), I have struggled with public speaking. Although I never read my writing in front of my classmates that semester, my professor was intrigued by what I wrote and continued to encourage me to share it with others. She invited me to read an excerpt from my story at a Women’s History Event in a room full of professors and students. It was nerve-wracking but, at the same time, liberating. I had conquered one of my biggest fears.

Later, I found myself sitting in my midtown office one afternoon, sharing this same story with a former boss of mine. After I finished, she told me through a low chuckle, “I could never picture you speaking in front of an audience.” It was at that moment that I realized she didn’t see my potential and she didn’t believe in me. I knew then it was time to make a move.

Opportunity Versus Money

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Opportunity for growth holds far more value than any amount of money. Money alone cannot compensate for the opportunity for advancement and recognition. Many people have asked me over the years why I would leave a job working in healthcare administration (making far more money) for a job teaching public school. The answer is simple: The opportunity wasn’t there.

Each job has its rewarding moments and its challenges. There’s a lot to consider when deciding to leave one career for another. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that money cannot buy you happiness in the working world. Even if a higher salary is a motivating factor, that alone isn’t enough to sustain our satisfaction. I didn’t see an opportunity for growth in my former career, and at a certain point, it wasn’t enough for me. One of the questions I asked myself before I became a career changer is: Why do I want to leave and start over? I knew the answer right away. And if you know the why, then you don’t really need to know anything else.

Interested in my story? Check out my personal essay here, published last December in The Penman Review.

Have you changed careers? Have you thought about making the move? Let’s start a conversation in the comments below.

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