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How to Navigate a Career Change in Your 30s

How to Navigate a Career Change in Your 30s

Nearly three-quarters of adults in their 30s crave a career change. The motives fueling these desires are as diverse as the humans themselves. Some people find that the career they thought they’d love is wholly unfulfilling. Others want to make more money, have more flexibility, or spend more time with their kids. Some industries are shriveling up and becoming less lucrative. And in other industries, possibilities may have opened that didn’t exist before. You only get one life. You spend about 90,000 hours of your life at work. So why not make the most of that time and do something you love that offers a decent paycheck and a chance to grow? 

As it turns out, career changes may be an inevitability. Estimates vary, but most people change careers at least once, and some figures suggest that changing jobs five or more times is common. If you're going to change careers anyway, you might as well make the most of it. Chart your own course. Spend some time thinking about what an exceptional career looks like for you. Then find a way to make it a reality. 

Planning for Your Career Change

Before you make any major decisions, it’s time to sit down and think about how to make your career change as manageable and successful as possible. 

Take Stock of Your Current Situation 

To understand where you want to go, you first have to ask what’s not working about your current situation. Some simple questions can help guide your decision:

  • What do I like about my current job? What would I change?
  • What am I most interested in doing? 
  • How much money do I need to make to support my family? 
  • How much extra time do I have available to devote to my training? Is there a way to get more time? 

Consider More Education 

A career change does not necessarily require long and expensive training. For some adults, it’s as simple as completing a few classes to finish your associate’s or bachelor’s. By 2020, more than half of all jobs will require a college degree or some college. The most lucrative jobs often require even more training. So carefully weigh your options for additional education. A few more classes could mean tens of thousands more in earnings each year. 

Cast a wide net when exploring degree options. There may be degrees you don’t even know about or classes that can help you master the skills you currently struggle with at work. Some adult students find it helpful to make a list of key skills they’d like to master. 

Is an online degree program ideal for your life situation? Download our guide,  What to Expect from an Online Degree Program, to find out!

Take an Honest Look at Your Finances 

Armed with an idea of what you might like to do, it’s time to proceed to the hard part: looking at your finances. How much money are you spending each month, and is there any way to reduce it? What do you have in savings? How much do you have left over for school? Are you eligible for any loans? Consider meeting with a college financial aid advisor, a personal financial advisor, or both to discuss your unique circumstance. 

You’ll need to assess not only how much you can afford to spend on your education, but whether you can afford to take any time off of work. Don’t forget about hidden expenses, like house cleaning, meal delivery, and childcare. They might seem like luxuries, but they can make it a lot easier to return to school. 

Explore the Job Market 

It’s easy to get jazzed up about a new career. Before you invest too much, however, consider the job market, especially the local market. What is most in demand? What do people earn on average? Don’t just rely on national data. Look at projections in your area to get a better understanding of your potential career. 

Steps to Make the Transition Easier 

Once you’ve decided what you want to do, it’s time to put your plan into action. These steps can help you make your dreams a reality. 

Prepare to Be Competitive 

The job market is competitive. Jobs don’t exist to help people pay their expenses; they exist because employers need people to fill specific roles. Consider what you can do to be the best possible candidate for the role you want to fill, because it’s not enough to simply check all the boxes. The right experience, education, and social skills all matter to prove you will excel as an employee. Choose a school that will fully prepare you. Then pursue additional training, such as internships and continuing education classes, that can further sharpen your skills. 

Don’t Rush the Process 

When you’re on the path to a better life, you may feel tempted to rush. But pursuing a new goal doesn’t mean you can leave your old life behind. You still need time for family, self-care, daily chores, and your current job. Don’t pack your schedule too tightly because you’re in a rush. Dreams take time to achieve. Haste makes the process more difficult and can cause you to burn out before you hit the finish line. 

Get Help with Family Life 

For many people, the biggest challenge of pursuing a new goal is balancing their education with their family life. Your kids might spend more time with sitters or in front of the TV during this time. It’s easy for parent guilt to set in, so don’t shy away from asking for help. Ask your parents if they can pick the kids up from school, or see about signing the kids up for camp during the summer. 

Your kids will not be traumatized if you are occasionally gone. Carve out some meaningful quality time, and reassure your children that this change will ensure a brighter future for them too. Then buckle up and prepare for some tough times. Your kids may be a little moody or throw more tantrums. Listen to their emotions and treat them with respect, but don’t quit. As difficult as it may feel to get through these tough moments, just remember the struggle is only temporary and the payoff will be well worth it in the end.  

Balance Work and School 

If you’re like most adult students, you’ll have to keep working as you return to school. Balancing your work and school life can be difficult, but a few strategies can help: 

  • Keep your course load light. 
  • Make a time budget and a detailed to-do list each week. 
  • Schedule plenty of time for fighting traffic. 
  • Ask your employer about incentives and accommodations for employees who return to school. Some companies even offer tuition reimbursement

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Anything worth doing is going to be difficult at times. There may be moments when you are exhausted, stressed, and confused about why you signed up—and paid!—for all this difficulty. Spend some time each day reflecting on your dreams for your future. Today’s challenges are temporary and will open doors for the rest of your life. Keep your eye on the prize. 

The Challenges of a Career Change—and How to Navigate Them 

Switching careers can be hard. After all, you have to figure out a way to support yourself as you work your way into a new career. That often means working and going to school, or working while pursuing an apprenticeship or other training. You may spend a few months or years running from place to place. Exhaustion and burnout can rear their ugly heads. And of course, because life comes with no guarantees, it’s easy to second-guess your decision. 

A few simple strategies can help you manage the challenges of changing careers, whether you’re in the planning stages or deep in the chaos: 

  • Know yourself. Understand your biggest stressors and anxiety triggers, then plan strategies for managing  them. 
  • Identify clear goals and actionable steps for reaching them. Don’t just pursue the first degree that comes along or change careers because a recruiter came knocking. Spend some time thinking about what you really want and how you might best achieve it. 
  • Identify your support network. If you don’t have family or friends nearby, can you build a new support network or seek paid support from a housekeeper, baby-sitter, or other helper?
  • Find a mentor. You need to understand what a career in your chosen field actually looks like. Your mentor can also connect you to useful resources for your job hunt. 
  • Become active in your chosen field on a volunteer or support basis. This can open career opportunities when you’re done with your training. A person hoping to become a nurse might volunteer at the local nursing home, while a counselor in training could volunteer for a crisis suicide hotline. 

SNU specializes in helping adult learners transform their lives. We believe you deserve a career you’re passionate about, and we encourage you to find a way to make a difference in the world. We’d love to help you explore your options for a better life. Contact us to learn more!

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