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Want a New Career But Unsure What? Do This First

Want a New Career But Unsure What? Do This First

I have made a lot of career moves myself – classical piano to banking to executive search to acting to media to entrepreneurship. So when I became a career coach eight years ago, I attracted a lot of aspiring career changers who also wanted to make a radical career move but didn’t know how to get started.

If you know exactly what new career you want – industry, role, maybe even specific companies – the path ahead is a traditional job search. A career change typically takes longer and is more complex than staying within the same area of expertise, but the action steps are similar. Cue advice on resume, networking, interviewing, negotiation, etc.

However, when you don’t know exactly what you want, deciding on that first step can be overwhelming. There is so much you could be doing, so you end up doing nothing. Or you try to do a little of this and a little of that, and you end up diluting your efforts. Or you pick one activity and it’s a dead end, so you lament having squandered your limited time and efforts.

If you know you want something new, but are unsure what exactly (just not whatever you’re doing now!), then you will have to experiment. “Activity, not analysis” should be the mantra of every career changer. You will not think your way into your new career.

This means that your very first step is to make space in your life for experimentation. To start, give yourself thirty days to experiment more. During these thirty days, here are four ways to invite more experimentation into your life.

[Related: 10 Career Mistakes To Stop Making Next Year]

Drop ten hours off your schedule.

Experimentation takes time. While you may not know exactly what activities you will select yet, you know whatever you choose will take time. Something you are currently doing has to drop off your schedule.

A good block of time to aim for is ten hours. This could be two hours, five days a week, or a full weekend day, plus shorter bursts during the week, or some combination of the two.

But before you stress yourself out deciding what you’ll be doing exactly, just clear your calendar for when you’ll be doing it. Remember it’s just thirty days, and you can go back to your old schedule after that!

Stockpile some money.

Experimentation takes money. It doesn’t have to be a lot – don’t assume you have to go get a new degree or take a massive pay cut. But you will be meeting people to rekindle connections and get outside your immediate professional circle, and even a simple coffee costs money.

You may do more structured relationship-building activities, such as joining a professional organization. Books, classes, or conferences are great ways to collect new ideas, meet more people, and gain momentum, and while you can find free resources, having a dedicated career exploration budget ensures you can take advantage of opportunities without delay.

[Related: 5 Powerful Money Habits to Adopt in 2017]

Practice learning.

Experimentation also means getting back in touch with how you best learn. If you’ve been disillusioned with your career for some time now, you are probably on autopilot and not challenging yourself on a regular basis. With career exploration, you will be constantly trying new things and stretching your learning capacity.

This can be tiring and uncomfortable, even if the subject is otherwise enjoyable. Don’t mistake discomfort for disinterest. For any early interests you explore - say you take a class on digital media because you’re curious - don’t make any career decisions relating to a move into that field. Just consider the class a foray into learning.

Mix in other subjects and other media (books, workshops) to get a feel for how you best absorb new material.

Practice enjoyment.

Just like you’re not used to learning, you may also not be used to having fun. A good part of your experimentation time, especially in these first thirty days, should be getting back in touch with things you enjoy.

Make a list of 100 things you’ve always wanted to do, professionally and personally, incorporating all aspects of your life. I call this exercise “100 Dreams,” and if you have a hard time coming up with 100, think of groups of ten – ten places you want to go, ten books you want to read, ten events you want to experience, ten skills you want to learn, ten daily habits and rituals you want to adopt.

Some of these dreams will be time-consuming and expensive – e.g., go on an African safari. But many will be bite-size and doable right now – e.g., keep fresh flowers at my desk. Do as many items as you can on your 100 Dreams list to get back in touch with that feeling of enjoyment.

Just like with the learning practice, don’t worry about relating this to a career move. You want to strengthen your awareness of what you enjoy so that when you are experimenting on the career front, your inner compass is primed and ready.

In these first thirty days of your career exploration, you shouldn’t be focused on typical job search activities, like redoing your resume or honing your interview skills. It’s too early for that. Instead, focus on experimentation.

Get back in touch with what you love. Get used to learning. Change up how you’re spending time and money. After thirty days, see if you want to continue as you are. Some of my clients realize they don’t need to change jobs, after all.

But if you want to incorporate more activity, your next steps can be more focused on specific career alternatives – e.g., picking one industry and targeting your research and networking more exhaustively on that for the next thirty days.

Career change is a multi-step process, and it’s not linear. The first step is to play around and experiment. You can get more serious later.

[Related: From Marketer to Career Coach: Living Life on Purpose]


Caroline Ceniza-Levine is the author of Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career and specializes in career change as co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching and Costa Rica FIRE, a travel, real estate, and FIRE site.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.