So, You’ve Chosen the Wrong Career. Here’s What to Do Next.

So, You’ve Chosen the Wrong Career. Here’s What to Do Next.

It’s a long life, and most career paths are more winding roads than straight lines.

Still, if you’ve invested time and money in training for a career, only to discover that you hate your job, you’re probably in a bit of a panic right now. That’s understandable.

Here’s the good news: you’re not alone. While it’s hard to find statistics on exactly how many careers the average person has in his or her lifetime, the answer is generally, “A couple.” Even better news: not every career change requires years of school or expensive retraining.

If you find yourself unhappy with your career, and unsure of what to do next, here’s where to start:

1. Make Sure It’s Your Career You Hate, and Not Your Job or Your Boss

There’s an old saying: “People don’t quit jobs. They quit bosses.” Research bears this out. A 2015 Gallup poll showed that half of respondents had left a job because of their manager.

Similarly, a job can be a bad fit, and not reflect on the job-holder’s aptitude for the occupation as a whole. If you’re thinking of changing careers, it’s a good idea to start off by asking yourself whether you hate the career … or some aspect of your current employment.

How can you tell the difference? Beyond the obvious indicators like an abusive boss or a corporate culture that just doesn’t click, consider typical job duties for the role. Would you hate what you were doing each day, if you could do it in a different place?

2. Do Some Soul-Searching

When we’re in school, teachers and family members stress the importance of being practical. That’s fine advice, but it does have a way of squelching your ability to hold onto your dreams.

Now’s the time to step into your mental time machine and think about your aspirations way back when. What did you want to be when you grew up? Maybe the exact role is out of the question (the demand for pop stars and astronauts being a bit low) but you might remember some things about your original goals that will help you out today. You might need a job that’s more creative, or one that helps you save the world.

3. Talk to Kindred Spirits Who Love Their Jobs

True story: my mother went back to school at the age of 35 to become a registered nurse. Why? Because she happened to get a part-time job at a hospital, met some nurses, and realized that she like their approach to life and work, and felt at home among them.

The lesson is that if you can find your people, you can sometimes find your dream career. Talk to the people you love most about the jobs they love. Even if you don’t feel a connection with their occupation, you might learn something about what makes them happy at work — and that could spark a revelation as to what you should do next.

4. Go on Informational Interviews

Once you have a few possible occupations in mind, it’s time to start talking to people who have the jobs you want. If that seems daunting, it might help to know that most people love to talk about what they do, especially with someone who’s excited about their field.

Beyond that, you’ll likely find that people are surprisingly generous with their time, especially if you come recommended by a friend. So, start asking your connections if they know anyone who knows anyone who does what you want to do, and network your way into a conversation.

5. Look for Transferable Skills

All occupations require skills that transfer to other jobs; the key is learning to look for the commonalities, instead of focusing on how far you have to go to make the transition.

Looking at job descriptions can be a big help. Keep a copy of your current job description handy, fleshing it out with job descriptions for similar titles at other companies. Then, when you find a potential new career, compare what you do to what’s required in the new role.

Chances are, you’ll find that you already know a lot more than you think you do. That foundation will give you the confidence you need to start picking up the skills and networking your way into your new career.