What's the Biggest Career Change You've Ever Made?

The title pretty much says it all - what’s the biggest career change you’ve ever made? Florist to professional baseball player? Whatever it is, I’d love to hear about it. How long had you been thinking of pursuing the new career? How successful was it? How hard was it to get started? Were other people supportive? I’m a college student, and at times I feel like I’m on the verge of locking myself into something for the rest of my life (and I had feeling pigeonholed).

I suppose a related issue is how big of a lifestyle change have you made, but that’s probably a topic for another thread.

Marketing/Editorial for a major U.S. retailer (medium-sized midwestern college town)
Manager of a horse farm/horseback riding instructor (middle-of-nowhere rural Virginia)
Law student/soon to be attorney (New York City)

I worked as a fruit picker, on a hay baler, and emptying porta-johns at a construction site, but I never considered those to be a career.

My first career was designing mufflers for cars you may have driven. It was boring as all get-out, so I quit and went to graduate school in engineering. I went from making $60K (in today’s dollars) to less than $20K. I gave it a lot of thought, because I always give everything a lot of thought, but in the end it wasn’t a tough decision. I remember having decided definitely to go back to school, then changed my mind and was definitely going to stay with the car company, and then a week later definitely was going to school, etc. In the end I just closed my eyes and jumped.

At the time, I was married to someone who was also in school, and we had no kids and no mortgage and had never developed any expensive hobbies, so my thought process was purely one of: what did I want to be doing ten years down the road. If I had to make a similar decision today, there would be a lot more factors involved.

I spent four years in grad school and came out with a master’s and a doctorate. Then I became a fancy consultant for the military space program and the rest is history.

Don’t know which is the biggest change, but I’ve been (1) an English teacher, (2) a programmer, then systems analyst, and (3) a traffic manager for a freight forwarder. This is not counting part-time jobs (library page, typist), being a stay at home mom, and being unemployed.

** what’s the biggest career change you’ve ever made? **
I taught preschool and became a Registered Nurse

** How long had you been thinking of pursuing the new career? **
Weeks—I loved teaching preschool but it doesn’t pay much, so one summer I decided I needed a better-paying career

How successful was it?
Very. I tripled my income in the year after I graduated and have been steadily earning more every 6 months since

**How hard was it to get started? **
Hard. The pressure was intense and I felt I couldn’t make one misstep—a D meant being 6 months behind my plan

**Were other people supportive? **
Most were very—my ex being a notable exception; he’d tell anyone who’d listen I wasn’t going to do it, then that I wasn’t going to make it, then that I wasn’t going to stick with it. 12 years later, he probably still says it but he’s sitting in a trailer park alone…

A waiter in an upscale restaurant


Explosives and instrument technician for oil and gas wells

My career change is going to take several years, but at least I’ve started on the path.

In 1990 I started doing secretarial/admin work. In 2001 I got into payroll. In 2007 I started to loathe it so much that I just up and quit and vowed not to get another job until I hired a career coach who could help me figure out what I should do that would keep me interested, challenged, and happy.

So after a lot of work and introspection, I decided I needed to get a university education and head for medical school. This was actually 20 years in the making. In 1987 I had made preparations to enroll in nursing school but at the last second my tuition funding fell through. 10 years later I started studying massage therapy (got a very good education in anatomy and physiology), loved it and did very very well.

I spent most of this year upgrading high school math and physics and just last week started my first year of a Bachelor of Science program. Getting into med school is highly competitive, so I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t get in.

I have nothing but support from family and friends. I sold my home to finance my education, and I moved in with my mom and she is supporting me while I’m in school. She knew how much I hated my job and she’s happy to be able to do whatever she can to help me through school. I am very fortunate. My friends are a little jealous that I have the freedom to do this. I’ve always enjoyed school and I love science. So far it’s going really well and I can already see that there will be many more opportunities for me if med school doesn’t work out.

It’s definitely worth the time to assess your innate skills and passions and use those to help you focus on a career that will make you happy. My goal in life is to feel happy with my work, not how much money I make. I just need “enough” money. When I was able to tell my career coach that I already knew how much “enough” was, he complimented me and said that I was already miles ahead of most of his clients.

Don’t worry if you want to change your program or major. Most people do. Just make sure you’re having fun along the way, otherwise you’ll be wondering why you’re putting yourself through this!

Going from private practice to public practice in medicine. And since the public practice is in a maximum security prison, that added a certain extra dimension to the shift.

I’m still so damn grateful I made the switch.

This is interesting. And I never realized it before now.

First job while still in High School: Computer Repair, Operations, Programming and Troubleshooting (1974-1976)

Radio and TV personality (1977-1991)

Sales/Marketing (1991-2004)

Computer Repair/Troubleshooting (2004-present)

I came full circle.

I’ve had two major shifts.

The first was when I was 20, when I went from a factory worker (hauling 70 lb. boxes of wood slats for 11 hours a day) to being a mail sorter for a place that handled defaulted student loans.

My second was really only temporary until I could find more work along the lines of what I was used to, but I went from doing technical support in a call center to being a bouncer/event staff security guy. I only did that for a few months before I got into customer service-type work again, but when I got laid off from that I went back to the bouncing until I landed a job as an account manager at a background check company. I have a feeling that if I’m ever out of “real” work again, I’ll be bouncing again.

Construction worker to real estate agent.

I broke my collar bone in a motorbike accident and couldn’t operate any machinery, let alone dig a hole, so I did the course and I’m still here four years later.

Actuary to singer. For a couple of years while I was looking after my ill parents, my main source of income was singing in a small group at weddings and funerals.

I left my safe, well-paying with good benefits job at an insurance company to go back to school and learn to be an art director. I was working in marketing, so it wasn’t a huge switch in terms of the field, but it represented a big change in my career path.

And…after I graduated I was asked to stay on at the school (I was working there while I was studying) and become a partner. That resulted in a big pay cut–being an owner of a start-up isn’t immediately profitable–and a major lifestyle change.

Happiest I’ve ever been, even when I lie awake at night wondering how we’re gonna pay all the bills.

what’s the biggest career change you’ve ever made?
Oceanographer (scientist, professor) to radiologist (a.k.a. doctor)

How long had you been thinking of pursuing the new career?
'bout 2 years, but it should have been longer, or harder.

How successful was it?
Reasonably. Could have been much worse. I feel like a guy who fell out of an airplane and landed in another airplane. Damn lucky.

How hard was it to get started?
Very. Med school as a mature student sucked.

Were other people supportive?
Very. Especially Ms. Attack

I suppose a related issue is how big of a lifestyle change have you made.
Huge. Don’t own a house, don’t currently have a permanent job (I’m doing a one year fellowship), don’t watch TV or play video games. Its been mostly work, study, family for quite a while. Huge debt. But hey, I get to sit in the dark and look at x-rays, so its pretty cool.

Doing pretty much the same kind of thing, communications maintenance, but I went from…
14 years active duty Air Force to being a civilian.

It was tough, giving up 14 years with only 6 more to go to retirement. I knew though, that being “management” in the Air Force for 6 more years would drive me insane.

My wife was supportive, but a little scared of the unknown.

I’ve been pretty successful. Even during the telecom crash when the company I was with went out of business, I only spent 2 months unemployed.

From: IT Mgr/Web coder for a small advertising agency in Nevada ($37K/yr).

To: English Teacher/Newspaper Editor in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia ($8K/yr) *

To: Software Developer / Company Owner in Dubai, UAE ($150K+/yr)

  • This was a huge amount of money for the location and we managed to live on about half of it. Yes, this works out to about $11/day.

From: UPS truck driver

To: Offshore Oil Worker

To: Flight Instructor

To: Programmer
Not sure which was the biggest change. The flight instructor gig was part-time while I was finishing my degree, so I guess the switch from oil-field hand to student/part time pilot was probably the most drastic.

** what’s the biggest career change you’ve ever made? **
My last job was as a subsitute teacher and now I’m a Registered Nurse. Previously I’d also worked in secretarial and admin assistant jobs in small offices and there was a long stretch as a stay at home mom.

** How long had you been thinking of pursuing the new career? **
About a year. I had become increasingly restless as a sub and it pays like crap. The school nurse told me about 2 year nursing programs and I was off and running.

How successful was it?
I start my first job Monday. I will earn about 5 times as much as before. Even more rewarding is finding a new sense of purpose to my life. I’d had that with substitute teaching but it had gotten old and the school system had gotten frustrating.

**How hard was it to get started? **
Hard. Nursing programs are very, very competitive. I had two semester of pre-reqs and an entrance exam to qualify. There are a limited number of slots available. We had to apply 9 months before the program started. Even once you are in, washing out was a constant possibility. You could re-apply but reentry was not certain.

**Were other people supportive? **
Amazingly so. My family was behind me all the way, even while they complained that I was no fun and constantly had my nose stuck in a book (That part was true, you study almost constantly) My friends were all supportive. Even people I barely knew would encourage me. The only people who had negative things to say were other nurses, but that’s a whole different subject!

I have a relative who went from being a big time drug dealer to being an IBM corporate attorney to owning and running a restaurant.

What’s the biggest career change you’ve ever made?

  1. Volunteer at Veterinary Clinic - junior high and high school
  2. BS Biology and PhD Ecology - decided not to be a vet and instead become a prof in Evolution of Animal Behavior
  3. Reporting Analyst - 1 year There are few jobs in animal behavior, and I wanted a house
  4. Software Quality Assurance Analyst - 7 years (got the house)
  5. Business Analyst - 1 year and counting. And thank goodness I moved, because the company completely eliminated the QA group I was in. I’d have been laid off if I hadn’t switched (which I saw coming, and which was partially behind the change).
  6. ??? I’m sick of the tech industry, but I’m currently well paid. I might get laid off, though. Depending on where I’m at financially, I might bail into something else if I get laid off.

How long had you been thinking of pursuing the new career?

Deciding to switch from vet to prof happened my freshman year of college when I took an Ornithology class.

Deciding not to be a prof took years, and during that time I finished my degree. It’s really hard to walk away from something you trained for and wanted to do. I was pushed out partly by economics and partly by health problems that made it difficult for me to continue.

I’ve been wanting out of tech for years now, but I need the money (that little mortgage thing!). I’m not willing to go back to school for anything else, either, because I don’t want to give up the house or take on a lot of debt.

I often wonder if I’d be any happier in something else anyway. I get sick of my job because of the complexities and trying to figure out the complexities under time constraints. However, if I’m not in a job I find challenging, the stress of absolute boredom is far, far worse. I just wish there were a happy medium out there that paid well.

How hard was it to get started?

I was lucky when I went from ecology to tech that the bubble hadn’t burst yet. Companies were starving for tech people, and once I reassured them on my resume that having a PhD didn’t mean I was going to be difficult to work with or demand a huge salary, I landed three job offers.

Before I figured out that the employers were scared of the PhD, however, it was extremelly terrifying and stressful. And before I had figured out what I wanted to do outside of academia and how to find a job, I felt like I was throwing myself off a cliff in the middle of the night in a thunderstorm. It was one of the worst stretches of my life, complicated by growing health problems that were limiting the options of the types of work I could physically do.

Were other people supportive?

My mom warned me when I wanted to get the PhD that I’d never get a job, but when I told her how much I wanted it, she was supportive. Everyone has been the whole way through.

I feel lucky, because I know that’s not always true for people. But part of being an adult is taking responsibility for your own direction and decisions. If you want something and are willing to work for it, you don’t really need anybody’s approval, even if it would be nice to have. There was someone in my life who was opposed to me getting a house, for example, and who left me in tears after I’d bought it. Didn’t stop me, and I didn’t fail they way they predicted.

**I’m a college student, and at times I feel like I’m on the verge of locking myself into something for the rest of my life (and I had feeling pigeonholed). **

I remember feeling that way when I was in college. However, my experience in life is that it’s not being pigeonholed that’s the risk so much as suddenly discovering that everything about your current situation is no longer an option and you’ve got to figure out what to do next. I’ve stopped trying to figure out what I’m going to do in five or ten years. It has never, ever been what I imagined.