9 Steps Toward a Successful Career Change

When I decided to leave my job in the music industry and pursue a career in healthcare, I received a lot of skepticism from people. "Why would you leave a super cool job at MTV?" Sure, working in Times Square for the huge media channel was fun and definitely an exciting learning opportunity but at the end of the day, I wasn't happy. I'm one of those people who would rather try to find what actually makes me happy than hope that the job somehow changes. I knew deep down inside that after four years at Princeton and the many sacrifices that my parents made for me to be successful and happy that I had to make a move and follow my heart. The truth is that it took more than a hop, skip, and jump to go from working in entertainment to dental medicine. A huge leap of faith, many stumbles and fumbles, and lots of studying both inside and outside the classroom helped me reach my goal. I didn't have a perfect plan and I really don't think there is one but here are some helpful tips for anyone looking to make a successful career change:

1. Locate Your Finish Line. What exactly is your dream job? In this modern era, you may actually be able to design it for yourself. If you like fashion, you can write about it, photograph it, market it, or design it. If you like food, you can bake it, taste it, or package it. If you like math...well the possibilities are infinite. I think the hardest thing is probably figuring out what you are actually passionate about and how to monetize it. These motivational words from my dad definitely helped me get started, "If you throw enough things on the wall, eventually something will stick!" or "Make a list and go by process of elimination." or "If all else fails, read the classifieds and find out who's hiring." (Read more about how I came to choose dentistry).

2. Work Backwards to Devise a Plan. Once you've decided on a career destination, research it, and devise a road map to get there. Sketch your plan in pencil because it will definitely have to be revised at some point (we'll get to that later). Figure out what kind of background training your dream job requires. Education, experience, or both? Find someone who actually has the job and ask her how she acquired such a position. Some jobs at a glance have very clear prerequisites like four years of dental school to become a dentist. However, when I read the dental school application, I realized that I had to take pre-medical classes as well and that things like shadowing and laboratory research are strongly recommended. Drafting your plan is a time to be honest with yourself about what you are willing to sacrifice to reach your goal. Are you ready to give up sleep, money, social life, shopping sprees, or that unrestricted freedom to just do what you want? 

3. Cost Benefit Analysis. Weighing the pros and cons of your choice is tough on the ego but essential for long term stamina. Choosing to go back to school for at least four years may require you to move back home with parents, or to a undesired location, and even postpone marriage and family plans. So, it's good to have an accurate picture of the benefits that your hard labor will reward you. Talk to people at various stages of development in your desired field and in different positions within the same industry. The best thing to do before jumping in is to see how rough the currents are at the deepest end of the ocean. Do the tides ever calm or is it a never ending tsunami?  

4. Find a Mentor. Asking for help is difficult for most people. We all think we can do everything by ourselves but the truth is that having someone in your corner helps volumes. Team up with a mentor in the same field or one entirely different. Look into your college alumni networks, sororities, or reach out to your role model on social media. Building a team of supporters also requires briefing existing friends and family on your new commitments and professional goals and the fact that it may keep you away from various social outings or family events.

5. Look for Inspiration. There are so many forms of inspiration. A great book like Michelle Obama: Becoming is one that I strongly recommend. It follows the many different kinds of challenges that the First Lady encountered as a student at Princeton and Harvard Law School, and later on as a young professional. Volunteering within the profession can also bring about more motivation and provide networking opportunities at the same time.

6. Just Do It. You have to jump in and start paddling at some point. It might take a year of volunteering or researching before you are ready to apply to school or have enough experience for a certain position. Press play and start making progress towards your goal.

7. Stay Focused. My older sister says "Everything is for one thing!" and it really is! Changing career fields requires patience as well as hard work and at times you may feel like you're spinning your wheels.  Don't get frustrated if things don't seem to be moving along as planned. Stay focused on your long term goal (this attribute will also aid you in paying off your newly acquired student loans). I also recommend maintaining a constant variable such as a fitness regimen. This constant commitment can help preserve a sense of control in your new zone of many undefined elements.

8. Revise Your Plan. Whether it's a new job or a new academic pursuit, don't forget to reassess your performance. Are you progressing towards your goal? Perhaps, you need a new plan of action? Another mentor? Fewer distractions? There is no clear cut path towards the finish line and remember destiny is unique for each individual.

9. Become a Mentor. Spread the knowledge and share the wealth. Everything you've learned in your journey is valuable to someone who was once in your position as a newby. Mentorship is awesome for the spirit and necessary for the growth of every industry. Even though I'm no longer in entertainment, all of my experiences along my way into dental medicine have aided me in one way or another and I hope they can inspire someone else to take the leap of faith to find true happiness.

Are you considering a career change and nervous to take the plunge?