What's the best way to turn my non-career around with a fresh start?

I’m going to withhold some details out of personal privacy, but also because I’m generally looking for more generic advice than particular and nuanced answers to my personal situation.

Basically, I’ve been out of school with a B.A. for the better part of a decade working exclusively for nonprofits, but doing vastly different jobs that don’t quite coalesce into a particular “career path.” I basically had a realization the other day that I’m tired of being broke and tired of working for nonprofits that, in spite of their noble purposes, are as internally dysfunctional as traditional for-profit businesses. In other words, if I’m still going to have to put up with the same amount of bullshit as everyone else, I want a 401k with matching and paid vacation instead of a 403b with no matching and comp time.

I’m also kind of wanting a completely fresh start, or at least wanting to reasonably pull a career 180 - I’m sick of the particular type of work that most of my experience happens to be from.

So, let’s say you have a B.A. and a bunch of random and unfocused - but still solid and reasonably marketable - experience, and want a new beginning. What do you do? Is it doable without going back to school? How do you jump into a different field or industry without looking at entry level positions aimed at kids right out of college? I need to do this NOW before it’s too late and I suddenly have 20 years of experience doing the opposite of what I want to be doing.

Not sure exactly what type of experience you have, but my advice would be to leverage that experience as much as possible (as opposed to starting over). For example, the company I am with handles marketing for numerous non-profits, and would probably look favorably on someone with “client side” experience.

So think in terms of some of the service providers or vendors in the private sector that non-profits rely on, and go there. They would value your experience.

Now if someone could tell me how to get out of the hell that is direct marketing, I’d be forever indebted…

The first thing you have to do is to figure out where you want to end up. This is the hard part, and it takes some time. What sorts of things are you good at? What sort of things would you like to be good at? What sectors would you be interested in working in? What do you absolutely hate to do? If you answer those questions, you’ll be well ahead of a lot of other people.

After you have some idea of where you’d like to end up, the next step is to start researching how you get there from where you are. It may involve more school, or certifications, or similar work. Or it may just be a matter of building up a portfolio in your spare time. It depends a lot on your goal.