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4 Unexpected Lessons You’ll Learn From Changing Careers

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Leaving your job

Murders. Corruption. Politicians milking cows.

It was everything I imagined being a professional journalist would be.

My first job out of college was officially covering two small towns outside Burlington, Vermont, but I really wrote about the entire state. It was heaven. Gruff editors hollering over the muffled voices on the police scanner provided my daily soundtrack. I was sure this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

But, unlike Allie Gray Freeland’s assertion that your first job out of college is your most important, my first job actually had little bearing on what I do, what I earn and how I conduct myself a decade later.

Your first job out of college doesn’t really matter to your career big picture. It simply pays off the work and decisions you’ve already made. Here’s what really matters: when you undergo your first career change. That’s when you’ll learn the most about yourself.

Most likely, you’ll change careers at some point in your life. (Although not as many times as you may think—the stats you hear about people changing careers 5-7 times in a lifetime are usually attributed to the Bureau Of Labor statistics, which promises they never actually calculated that.)

Here are four big lessons you’ll learn when changing careers:

1. You’re more than you went to school for.

I self-identified as a journalist in every facet of my life. It was what I did 24 hours a day. I was a journalist on the job, when out with friends and at dinner parties.

When the industry tanked and started making changes contrary to the core values I got into the field to pursue, I jumped ship. I felt sick to my stomach in job interviews just thinking about leaving my career, but I knew it was the right decision.

And here’s what I realized: you learn a lot about yourself when you untangle yourself from your career.

While you should make a change if you’re not happy in your current job, turning what you love into a career isn’t always healthy.

Find a job that fulfills you. And love the life you live.

2. Your imperfect job background is valuable.

Before my interview for a job in a new industry, I had to Google industry jargon from the job description. My boss knew I didn’t have a traditional background for a marketing manager, and she looked at the bigger picture.

Whatever you do, you have skills that extend well beyond the job you do.

Be bold. Be proud of what you know.

You will bring things to the table that your coworkers, who might be on a more direct career path, have not encountered.

Let me tell you: having to knock on the door of a recent widow and ask to borrow their favorite photograph of the person they lost hours before makes everyday work stresses not that difficult to tackle. You, too, have something like this in your background, something that makes you more valuable than you realize.

3. You have a lot to learn.

College has prepared you for your career. Once you’re ready for a career change, you will have spent countless hours absorbed in your industry. You will have succeeded. You will have failed and learned from those failures.

After 10 years of working in your industry, you’ll finally be comfortable doing it.

So making that career switch will be refreshing. Scary, but refreshing. All that amazing learning you underwent when you fell in love with your first career starts anew. You begin discovering. And you will get better and better.

4. There’s more to life than work.

I’m not going to credit my marriage to my career change, but I can’t say I’d have the same relationship had I not changed careers.

When you’re not truly married to your job, you open your heart more to the world around you. It’s not to say that if you’re work-obsessed, you don’t get joy from other things. But when your career doesn’t define you, it’s easier to find joy in other parts of life.

In my new career, I actually put in more hours on the job than I did as a journalist. But it doesn’t consume me like my first career did. It doesn’t define me.

I love being a husband. A father. A homeowner. A neighbor. A friend.

Are you considering changing careers? Tell us in the comments what you’re struggling with.

Andy Netzel (@Andy216) is a recovering journalist who loved his first job at The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. He now shapes the brand voice, directs social media and manages marketing pieces for a national retailer.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=119719364832541 Drop Dead Money

    Might I add a fifth lesson?
    No matter where you go, it’s all about the people. The people you serve, the people you work with, and the people who serve you. That never changes. The face of it may change as the groups change, but the core of it never changes.

    It’s what makes you successul or not. If you were successful in the people dimension, odds are you’ll succeed in your new endeavor. If you weren’t, you probably need to do some soul searching about that (hint: it’s not alwasy their fault).

    The people thing is what makes you happy or not. Long after you’re gone, it most likely will be all you remember.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=763730580 Andy Netzel

      Yes: Working as a confident member of a team is always important. And if you switch jobs (or careers) and have the same problems over and over again — look at the common denominator: Yourself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1266652973 Sharon Smith

    I am a recovering journalist hoping to make the same type of transition. Thank you for writing this story. Any tips on how you made the transition would be greatly appreciated.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=763730580 Andy Netzel

      Find an employer willing to take a risk. Write an amazing cover letter. Use your connections/journalistic skills to get that resume on her desk. Remember that to non-journalists, great newsroom stories are fascinating and often portray you as a problem solver who is composed under pressure and will laugh at their deadlines. And do crazy reporting on the company and industry. Know what will be important to them. You will be a risk, so don’t fake it otherwise. Embrace the high-risk high-reward label. Focus on the latter. Good luck. There is life after journalism — a pretty good one.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=6516385 Ralph Braseth

    I’ve not posted here before, but I found this topic very interesting. I left journalism to become a journalism professor. I’ve helped more than 300 students find their first jobs. Now I’m helping dozens transition out of journalism. I hear this from my whining journalists: “I don’t have any other skills.” Are you kidding me? You can flat out write. You go out into the field each day to collect new data largely unfamiliar to you. You bring it back to the shop and get the data to make sense to others. You work well under deadline pressure. You’re skilled at working with people from U.S. senators to crack heads (very little difference). You are largely self-directed. Ladies and Gents, those are skills that transfer to almost any job. One step at a time here. Start off my using your skills to craft a cover letter and knock the damn thing out of the park. Do it in less than a half page. Treat it as you would a headline or anchor introduction. The goal is to get someone’s attention. You’ve been doing that since day one. So take heart and get moving. You’ve got pressing deadlines.

    From someone who cares. -ralph braseth, loyola university chicago.

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  • Bay McLaughlin

    ‘Your first job out of college doesn’t really matter to your career big picture.’

    I couldn’t agree more! It literally has almost no bearing on where you end up, how much you can earn, or your overall happiness.

    I teach people looking to make their first career choice or those looking to make a change, to truly think about their personal currencies.

    For me, I believe that as humans, we have deeply similar reasons for existing, staying motivated, and working towards tomorrow.

    I like to help people think about two main currencies: 1) Experience 2) Education… money isn’t even on there. I always believe that you should invest your first decade as a professional gaining as much experience and education as possible. You don’t truly know what you want to do, what fulfills you, or how you can have the type of impact you want to have without trying a variety of jobs, roles, and companies.

    ‘Whatever you do, you have skills that extend well beyond the job you do’

    Absolutely! The one thing that I don’t think people truly understand when going into these job interviews or pursuing a new role, is that the person interviewing you knows immediately wether you can talk the talk vs. walk the walk. If you don’t have experience in the type of role you’re applying for and you still get the interview, that’s a really good sign! Be yourself and let them know why you’re interested, what brought you to this career change, and be as specific as possible regarding how you will positively bring your different experience into their organization.

    Great article. Thanks for sharing the positivity and perspective.

    @betabay
    betabay.me