How to make a career change

I’m usually just a lurker around here, but I would love some advice, so I’ve finally registered.

How, exactly, does one go about making a career change without completely throwing their already-established life out the window? I’m a 31-year-old male with a bachelor’s degree, having worked in my current career field for almost nine years (at two different places of employment). It’s not a terrible job, it’s not particularly difficult, I’m very good at it, but I have never derived any PLEASURE from it. I go to work, do my job, collect a paycheck, and come home. I joined the military after high school and I just sort of landed this job by accident because it matched my military training. I then got my degree in this same field because it got me a series of promotions. About the only thing I like about my job is the money. It pays decent money. Not great, but enough to be comfortable. But lately this general feeling of dissatisfaction that I’ve always had with this job has morphed into an overwhelming urge to GET OUT! Find something I actually LIKE to do. A job that I actually ENJOY going to every day. I’m at my breaking point!

It just feels like there are so many obstacles! I’m single, divorced with half custody of my son. I’m three years into a 30-year mortgage. I have student loan payments, but they’re not overwhelming. Other than my mortgage and student loans, I have no debt, but no real savings either. Certainly nothing that would enable me to be unemployed for any reasonable length of time while I seek training and apply for jobs.

Here’s the problem, as I see it. None of the careers I think I would like have anything in common with what I’m doing right now. So it’s not as if I can make an easy leap to some closely related field where my current education and experience would be useful. And going to school part time in the evening puts me at almost 40 before I can even begin applying for other jobs, at which point I would start at entry level which wouldn’t pay nearly enough to support my financial obligations.

If I was in a dual-income household, or if I didn’t have a son to care for, I would likely just throw caution to the wind and take the leap and hope I land on my feet, but at the very least, I have my son to think about, and it feels irresponsible to give up a stable job and a steady income on the off chance I find another career I don’t hate.

So how do other people manage to do it? Does everyone feel dissatisfied with their job like this? Is this some sort of early mid-life crisis? Should I be happy just to have a job?!

It’s easy to get burned out after a while, what you’re experiencing may just be burn out. However, you say you’ve never liked your job, so that may not apply here.

You don’t say what your degree is and what your current job is, which make answering your question a bit more difficult. From the information you’ve provided, I would imagine you have three options:

  1. go back to school. The logistics of this I leave up to you, but perhaps you can earn a second baccalaureate with less work than it took to earn the first (essentially using some of your previous credit hours to go toward another degree). You say you would be 40 and starting at the bottom. So what? If you can’t stand your current job, and don’t want to start fresh without going back to school or utilizing your current education, that leaves two options:

  2. re-enlist in the military.

  3. get a job at McDonalds or Starbucks or someplace where education is not needed.

Two anecdotes: I also am 31. I work as a part-time hospice worker & caregiver. I’m a full-time college student, and my goal is to get a B.S. in mathematics, and eventually a teaching degree. Until then, I remain at my soul-crushing job. You do what you have to do.

I have a buddy that has a B.S. in general studies. He somehow got a job as a caseworker for welfare and food stamp applicants. Made good money, great benefits, and had three day weekends. Got married and bought a house. He absolutely HATED his job. Finally quit, thinking his baccalaureate would land him something decent. Nope. Ending up pumping gas part-time at Costco. Finally quit and opened up a house painting business, he hasn’t made a dime yet.

So you do what you gotta do. My grandmother (who has a Ph.D) once told me “higher education is the only insurance against poverty”. I agree. However, simply walking away, starting fresh and doing so without using you education and experience would be difficult if you want to stay away from dead-end minimum wage stuff. There are jobs out there that require a college degree but don’t care what the field your degree is in, they just want you to have one. I have no idea what fields have this requirement or how prevalent it is; perhaps someone more knowledgeable than I will be along to shed further light on this. Might be something to look into.

Or, you could always open a bar. Friday night all-you-can-eat chili or spaghetti, live music on the weekends, cute waitresses… that was my dream for years.

Edit: I applaud you for putting your son’s needs first. Whatever you decide, make sure you analyze how your decision will affect him Sounds like that is something you already are doing. Excellent.

Depending on what kind of a shift you want and what your current education is, there are ways to re-educate/upgrade yourself that don’t require going back and getting a new BA. Certification in Project Management, Facilities Management, LEED professional certification are some of the things a plumber I know took. Now they are basically running a convention center.

Welcome to the SDMB, deryk. I’m going to move this thread from MPSIMS to our advice-giving forum, IMHO, where hopefully you’ll get more responses. (It’s not a big deal for a mod to move one of your threads, don’t worry about it.)

Again, welcome! Enjoy your time here.

twickster, MPSIMS moderator

I believe personal fulfillment through employment is largely a myth. There are several reasons:

  1. When you take a hobby, and make it into a job, usually you end up hating your hobby, not loving your job. Many things which are fun in themselves are NOT fun whatsoever when done on someone else’s timetable and to someone else’s specifications.

  2. Jobs that have surface glamour or appeal, like working the publishing industry or any media business, usually pay incredibly badly, because there are an almost infinite number of people just like you attracted to the surface glamour and appeal.

  3. Being poor will eventually sour you on nearly any line of work, worrying about money (and worrying about sacrifices your child is making thanks to you) is very, very stressful. Don’t discount that your current job permits you a comfortable living free from the stress of poverty. BTW, being out of debt is great, you need to start saving.

  4. If by chance you enjoy things that most people find boring or gross, and which pay well, then by all means follow your muse. But I bet your burning desire to be a prison medical technician or garbageman or actuary or court stenographer is not what we’re talking about. Good paying jobs pay well because either most people can’t do them, or most people won’t do them.

  5. If you do go back to school it makes almost no sense to start a new BA. A Master’s program or professional certification takes less time and is more marketable. Think about it: a BA is 50% general requirements, 50% major coursework. You already have general requirements, you just need the 2 years of specialized coursework, that’s a Masters. Generally you can enter professional school with any undergraduate degree, and with a few exceptions most Masters programs accept a large range of undergrad majors.

Background: worked in marketing for SF/Fantasy, started to hate it, worked on a horse farm, started to hate it, went to law school at 30 (on scholarship, paid off my loans in 2 years), work for the gubmint, like it just as well as anything else I’ve done and it pays better (note I make low pay for a lawyer. But more than I ever made before).

I think if more people just thought of their job as a thing they do for money, and not for thrills, they would be a lot happier.

I didn’t find my true career until I was well over 30. I started writing sf a few years before that, and sold my first story at 29, but that’s a sideline. However, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that I started working with computers, and didn’t move officially into computer support until I was 45.

So try to figure out what you really want to do, and then see how you can accomplish it. One nice exercise is to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and write down those that sound interesting. The winnow down that list and figure out what you might do to make it happen.

It doesn’t matter if the fields have any relation to what you’re doing. Pick one and find out what you need to do it. If you can do it while keeping your job, that’s a plus.

Thanks for the replies, everyone! Just to add more detail, right now I’m working in the tech industry. I started out with tech support, dabbled in application development, and am now doing network administration. I’ve just never liked working with computers. Honestly, when I think about what I might like to do for a living, the “hospitality industry” really fascinates me (although I hate that term). Stuff like event planning or catering or even working in a bakery or a restaurant (an ACTUAL restaurant, not some cheap chain). But I still have no formal training in any of that, and the odds of me earning nearly as much as I do now are slim. And, of course, there’s this:

This is what I’m most afraid of. What if I put in all the work to get a job doing something I THINK I’ll love, and I end up not only making less money, but also not liking it any more than what I’m doing now? I guess I could always just come back to what I’m doing now.

One thing I’ll add is that starting over at 40 isn’t that bad a thing. You’ll still have something like 20 years to rise in your field and will likely rise faster than someone younger due to your complementary experience in your previous jobs. It can be surprising how much you can bring to a seemingly totally unrelated field.

I’ll also note that the ‘hospitality’ field doesn’t generally require higher education. I think you could walk into a lower position with little education and then work and go to school if you wanted to rise higher.

Many of the top rated/top paid jobs are in the tech industry which is what I work in as well. I thought about getting out a few years ago and becoming an ER Nurse or something until I took a hard look at the whole picture. You have to be careful of ‘the grass is always greener’ thinking because it probably isn’t especially since you are in one of the best industries to be in already.

The dirty little secret is that working for a living sucks a lot or all of the time for many if not most people. Forget all those magazine articles usually written for women that talk about ‘fulfillment’ and crap like that. It is great if someone can honestly say their jobs is fulfilling but I think that is either a lie or cover as often as not.

Technology is my profession as well as my hobby and I still don’t like working in IT sometimes but I that is just because I hate doing anything that anyone makes me do and that would apply to any profession. I have worked in the hospitality industry and there isn’t much good to say about it overall. Get a night or weekend job actually doing it before you bail. Being a professional chef or baker is completely different than doing it for yourself at home and not in a good way either.

Have you considered switching companies instead of professions? I have worked at 10 different companies in 16 years and companies are as different as people are. Some of them are horrible in general, some are just a bad fit, and some are quite tolerable. The tech industry is vast with lots of sub-specialties including some that are allied with the service industry. If you have only worked for two companies, you don’t have the range of experience to know if you are just in a less than ideal situation for your style and interests.

I don’t think it is that smart to consider the change you are suggesting. Money and job openings matter a lot and you are in one of the best fields for that right now. Find a new company and develop some tech skills that you are interested in or at least find tolerable. Become the IT guy at a restaurant or hotel chain or something similar. They really do have those positions. You will make more than the people killing themselves in the hospitality industry and still get to be in the same environment.

You said that you now have a bachelor’s degree. Is officer training/OCS an option, in the sense of going back into the military and becoming a commissioned officer? At least in the US, having a BS or BA seems to be the primary qualifier.

To add to Shagnasty’s excellent post, perhaps a transition to an IT position at a hospitality company would be a good option. That way, you get to see the culture of the industry and may have an opportunity to talk to the folks with the sort of job you want and be able to chart a path forward.

Many people try, and don’t succeed. Or if they do, they take a substantial cut in pay, or loss of relative status in the new field. Most of the successes I’ve heard of (just a random sampling) involve people who were tremendously successful in their original field, or a definite failure.

Of course not. There’s always a handful of outliers who like their jobs.

It could be described that way. I’d guess in your case it was closer to the ‘burnout’ end of the spectrum.

Happy? I don’t know, but certainly in the current economy many people would be happy to have your job. But that shouldn’t stop you from seeking fulfillment in life. It should make you a little more cautious about making a big change. Just knowing that you are taking steps towards a more suitable career might help you out.

Why are you so focused about a fulfilling job? You spend 9 hours a day, 5 days week working at your job. That leaves a lot of time when you aren’t working. Do you have any hobbies that really excite you?

I was in a similar position to you when I was 30, with limited child rearing responsibilities and a far amount of time on my hands. I didn’t love my high tech job, but it paid well and provided an opportunity for me to travel, which I enjoyed. And when I wasn’t working I was outdoors doing all kinds of fun and interesting stuff.

My advice would be to stick it out or perhaps look for a similar job in a better company, and then focus on your time away from work. If you go home and sit around in an empty house most of the time with not a lot to do then I can see why you would be so focused on your work. If you have distractions that are fun for you then being ho-hum about your job wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. And there’s always the chance you get married again so being in the midst of a major job change might not be the smartest move at this point.

Hello Again, thank you for putting to words so elegantly what I was thinking. Great post!

I, too, have a regular job. Not really fulfilling, nor fun, nor what I would consider my passion. The thought of doing it until I retire makes me want to curl up into a ball in the corner and suck my thumb and cry “Mommy!”.

However, the hours are not aweful, the commute is easy, the pay is reasonable, and I have time to focus on my kids, and my own interests and hobbies. The other important factors, which are not quantifiable, is if you work with a great group of people that you can enjoy being around, and if you have a boss that you get along with.

My job is rewarding beacuse it affords me the opportunity to have a decent life away from work and provides for my family’s comfort and security, and while I am there it is a decent enuf environment. For that I am grateful. It is all in how you look at it.

I’m also looking at a career change, not because I dislike my job but because my industry (print advertising) is getting its ass kicked so heavily by the internet that I have no desire to spend the next 25 years working in a field with charts such as these*. Contemplating a future where I have to fight harder and harder over smaller and smaller crumbs is depressing as all hell.

So I’m biting the bullet and making the change now, when the decision is up to me, as opposed to later, when it will be no longer my choice.

I have no desire to learn a complete new set of skills** but am working on transferring my skill set to new industries, preferably those that won’t be impacted/destroyed by the internet***. I’m also working with a career coach on tailoring my resume/cover letters for those industries I’m interested in - some people claim this is a waste of time****, but I find it valuable and well worth it, especially given her vast knowledge of the local (San Antonio) job market.

I have no idea if any of the above helps the OP, but at least you know you’re not the only Doper currently facing this issue.

*The article is about television, but the first chart is re: newspaper advertising revenues. You can change “newspapers” with “magazines”, “phone books”, “ValPak mailers”… almost any subset of the print advertising world, and you’ll see the same curve.

** Stories of people quitting their office jobs to go to chef school, stuff like that. Er… no. That’s not what I’m doing.

*** I’m in Texas, so petroleum fits this bill rather nicely. So does agriculture and food distribution.

**** The “you can find anything you want on the 'net” people, most of all. Possibly… but generic advice is exactly that - generic.