Around 2012, as print journalists were getting laid off and newspapers were shutting down around the world, I decided that it was time to change careers. I had no guide book, no guru, no career coach to show me the way. I just knew I had to do something or end up a casualty of print media’s inability to pivot to a digital age.
I threw myself to the cause with gusto, going as far as to leave Malaysia for Aussie shores for a fresh start. I invested in a completely new industry with just a vague idea that “it was cool”, and “it looked like a secure and profitable industry to be in”.
It’s now 2019, and my journey is still ongoing. I’m closer to finding out what I like to do with my life, but the journey is far from over.
Over the years I’ve devoured many career change articles on blogs like Career Shifters, I love the success stories, but wished that the sites would be more real about how hard it can be to change careers.
Yes, folks, nothing is easy, especially changing careers. Here are 5 uncomfortable truths I discovered over the years as I tried to change my career:
One: You may sometimes regret it
When I was a print journalist, I worked for a well-known newspaper. Everyone will go, “Oh!” when I tell them who I write for. I knew how to operate and behave as a print journalist. I was good at my job. I knew what to do. But when I started out as a nursing assistant, then a digital communications specialist and content strategist, I felt like an idiot most of the time. Everything was new. There was so much to learn. I made mistakes and got scolded for them. People lost patience with me.
At times, I longed for the comfort of the familiar and wondered why I put myself through this. Why didn’t I just hunker down and continue where I was? It would have been so much easier! But regret is a useless emotion, so I told myself to look forward. In the end, I’m pleased that I stuck it out, as my resume is much more interesting and my skills more marketable as a result.
Two: Your ego will take a hit
When you change careers, you often have to start all over again at the bottom of the industry, especially if you’ve decided to switch to a completely different industry. For example, I started way at the bottom when I decided to switch to a career in healthcare. In part, it was a deliberate decision - I didn’t want to invest in an expensive 4-year Registered Nursing degree without experiencing what the career was like, so I became a nursing assistant/carer, the lowest-ranked type of nurse in Australia.
It was one of the hardest times of my life.
As much as you grin and bear it and say that it’s okay, your ego does take a hit being ordered about (sometimes quite rudely) by people younger than you. And less-than-scrupulous folks do take petty pleasure in treating you badly if they find out that you were once a manager etc. What can I say? There are lots of immature folks out there. Therefore, it’s vital during these times to keep you eye trained on the goal: Which is to train up and get as much experience in your new chosen career.
Three: Your finances may take a hit too
Career change isn’t cheap. You may need to reskill. That means taking up a diploma or even a degree. It could mean buying expensive equipment (a friend who became a photographer had to invest in photographic equipment that cost up to RM10,000 or more). I took up a one-year CIM Digital Marketing diploma, which cost me about RM21,000.
Your pay may also take a hit. When I became a nursing assistant, I was only earning A$18 per hour and shared a house with strangers to make ends meet. This is why it’s really important to prepare your finances for a career change and be flexible enough to downgrade your lifestyle.
Four: It may take you several attempts to find your new career
The Careershifters article How To Change Career When You Have No Idea What You're Doing made an interesting point about changing careers - you can’t find a new career by “figuring it out”. You need to “act it out”. I agree! The only way you will know if a career is for you is if you get your hands dirty. I literally did when I became a nursing assistant. (And I’m glad I did, as I discovered that being exposed to people’s suffering day in, day out, took a toll on me.)
Some of the ways you can “act it out” is by volunteering as a tutor if you’re interested in teaching or start a freelance writing gig if you’re interested in a writing career.
What many don’t tell you, however, is that it could take you several tries to figure it out - and that all that experimentation can tire you out and leave you discouraged. just be ready for the long haul, and keep on keeping on until you find the right fit. Remember: The quicker you fail, the faster it’ll be for you to move on try something else that may hit the jackpot for you.
Five: The older you are, the harder it’ll be
Most career sites say that it’s never too late to change careers … but I disagree. It’s nice to be encouraging, but it’ll be a disservice to not admit that ageism is rife in some industries.
I once spoke to a nurse who told me that it was getting harder and harder for him to get shifts, and that he was thinking of becoming a paramedic again. However, he felt that it was a dead end and decided not to pursue it. When I asked him why, he shrugged, “I’m too old.”
“Doesn’t experience count? You’re a nurse! Your skills would be highly valued in the field.”
“Sure, but my physical health would be a barrier - many would pick younger paramedics because they are in better shape than me.”
He’s in his fifties.
I’m not saying that you should not even consider career change if you’re a mid-lifer or in your fifties, but there are certain realities that you have to acknowledge. Ageism is very real - tragically, and sadly. It’s wise to think of strategies to mitigate this or to realise that the long training required by some industries (say, medicine), could leave you at a disadvantage.
If you’ve changed careers, how has it been for you? Was it a smooth road or an uphill climb? Was it filled with detours? Do tell us below in the comments!