My career change was one of the riskier moves I’ve done in life so far, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made. This week marks 6 months since I quit my job, so I’ve been reflecting quite a bit. I want to share what I’ve learned, what I did right, and what mistakes I made so that you don’t have to.
To be fair, it feels a bit dramatic to call it a career change since I’m in my mid-twenties. I mean, how much of a career does one really have to change at that point? Nonetheless, I quit my job at a real estate law firm without a job lined up. I knew I no longer wanted to work in the legal field. And, not only did I quit my law job, I simultaneously declined law school acceptances. I completely shifted away from the future I had in place.
(Psst… Are you thinking about law school? This website + e-course are designed to completely analyze if it’s right for you.)
This was six months ago. During the four months that followed, I traveled, freelanced, and volunteered in Southeast Asia. After that, I began working again full time in New York City. I did not have a difficult time finding a job and was even hired for my current position from Thailand (thanks, Skype!). For context, I now work at an organization that supports philanthropy and organized giving. You don’t need to be employed to find a new job.
Lessons from my career change
1. High Risk= High Reward
Quitting my job was scary. Leaving my steady income, secure job, apartment in NYC and acceptance to graduate school were big risks. But, I had to get real and accept that I couldn’t see myself happily staying in the legal field at that point- especially with the price tag of law school. To me, it seemed scarier not to quit my job and stay in a pre-paved routine.
When I quit my job, I took a huge risk and bought a one-way ticket to Cambodia alone to volunteer. My reward? After traveling and volunteering alone, I landed a job in NYC that’s entire purpose is to improve philanthropy and humanitarian giving. Dream job! I doubt I would’ve gotten that job straight from a law firm, but it made sense coming from time volunteering abroad. I took a big risk, but my rewards have outweighed that fear time and time again.
2. Not having another job lined up doesn’t mean you don’t have a plan
This is the most common misconception about the “huge risk” that comes with quitting your job without another lined up. Everyone will tell you that you shouldn’t quit your job without having another lined up. It makes sense because of the very real things called income. But, I do not agree that it’s a hard and fast rule.
When I quit, I didn’t have another job lined up. But, I decided to travel alone, which was on my bucket list, volunteer to learn more about international development, and build up experience freelancing, which I knew could help me for years to come. I didn’t have another job lined up, I had a plan, and that’s all I needed.
3. You’re more capable than you think
You can handle so much more than you realize. We are all stronger than we know. Things that seem scary or bad are usually just not.
4. Think bigger than you could imagine
Don’t succumb to a routine. I truly believe that the best ideas are the craziest. If you want to make a bold move such a career change, you need to accept that some people (parents, relatives, friends, co-workers) are going to think you’re being careless, reckless or irresponsible. Ignore them.
5. No need to fear failure if you don’t accept it as an option
The older I get, the more I realize that failure is usually giving up, not actually defeat.
P.S. I realize a lot of this might sound fluffy and lovely in theory, but cliches weren’t pulled out of thin air. There’s a reason people continue to talk about following your dreams and persevering: people have proven time and time again that it’s possible.
Here are some concrete examples of what I did right in my career change, and what I wish I would’ve done differently.
What I did right
1. I actually did it
This is the most important thing I did right. I followed through.
The day I quit my job, I walked into my office, dropped my bag off at my desk, and then walked straight into my boss’s office. I didn’t sit down, check my e-mail, go to the bathroom, etc. because I knew if I gave myself time to “think about things”, I’d probably talk myself out of it. Doing it wasn’t easy, but I took the necessary risk to get to where I wanted to be, which is where most dreamers stop.
2. I did a resource audit
When I quit, I didn’t have a lot of savings on hand like experts recommend. So, I analyzed what other resources I did have and figured out how they could help me. Above and beyond money, some assets that were super helpful in this were:
- My apartment that I could sublet
- Frequent flyer miles from college that paid for plane tickets
- Credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
- Debit cards that reimbursed ATM fees
- Membership to a club with a location in Thailand (where I ended up going)
Each of these ended up helping me in unique but influential ways when I decided to quit. Some may seem simple or small, but every little bit helps. Analyzing my resources helped me realize my options.
4. I had a backup finance plan
Though I didn’t have much in my savings to live off of, I had sort of backup savings (weirdly). Basically, I had an overflow of funds in my Roth IRA that I could’ve withdrawn without penalty and still replenished in time for the tax year. So, I knew that if push came to shove, I could access that money without truly subtracting from my overall retirement fund.
While I didn’t end up having to use this money, I felt better knowing that I could if I really needed to.
5. I used this time to develop skills
While unemployed, I, as you can imagine, had a great deal of time on my hands. If I say so myself, I used that time well. I traveled and explored, but I also spent a lot of time on personal and professional development. I gained freelance experience, I learned web development (and even tutored it in Thailand!), and brushed up on my French skills. All of these skills made me a stronger candidate in the job market when I did apply for jobs again and they are continuing to help me earn income on the side.
Related: want to learn to freelance? Grab my freelance guide below! It’s in my entire library of side hustle resources.
What I did wrong
1. I worried way too much
As I write about all the reasons to quit your job, I totally acknowledge that it’s still really, really scary. I was scared to quit my job and, once I had quit, I continued to be afraid that I made a huge mistake. On top of that, I was, at times, very afraid traveling alone in new places. Most of the time, I was peaceful and happy. But, then the entire “I’m a human being” thing would kick and I would feel very stressed and worried. I do wish I would’ve worried less. But of course, it’s easier to tell myself not to worry now that I’m on the other side.
2. I could’ve budgeted better
When I first arrived in Asia I got a bartending job. I began incorporating that money into my daily budget. Instead, I should’ve calculated how much I could spend per day with the original savings I had and stuck to that. All extra working and freelance money should’ve gone into savings for when that ran out or for emergencies.
3. I should’ve freelanced less
Though freelancing helped me immensely financially and I am happy I learned concrete skills while abroad, if I could do it over I would’ve spent less time on my computer overall.
4. I should’ve invested wiser
Because I wasn’t sure where my next paycheck was coming from, I was often, understandably, very hesitant to spend money. Looking back, I think I could’ve saved myself a lot of headache with spending more money on a couple things. Though I got lucky when I began to freelance, I don’t think it would’ve been a bad idea to invest in a freelance e-course or something of the like so that I could’ve spent more of my time actually freelancing and not simply learning how to freelance.
Thanks for reminiscing with me, friend. My career change came with lots of ups and downs and there are still aspects of it I’m recovering from (that’s what happens when you don’t have an income for four months). Overall, I’ve never felt braver than I did when I came back from Asia. I felt brave for quitting my job, brave for listening to the voice inside of me telling me I wasn’t happy, and brave for traveling alone. I think our generation has a lot of resources and opporunities that come with a career change, making it easier than ever. Let’s take advantage of them!
Have you made a career change? What was the hardest part for you? I’d love to hear your story and any advice on working in a new field!