Career change: Plan carefully before making a leap

In this kind of economic climate, many people have been forced to or are planning to change careers. For readers considering a change, here’s a plan to follow:

Step 1. Soul search. Consider all aspects of change including lifestyle, pay, and any education you'll need. Be realistic about what you value in life and work.

Step 2. Downsize. Get rid of huge car payments, huge mortgage payments, and huge expectations for dinners, vacations, and clothes.

Step 3. Network. Headhunters and help wanted ads are geared toward people who have skills in a certain area. People who change jobs do not have skills in the new area, so networking is the best way to get someone to give you a chance.

Step 4. Try it out. You'll never know if you fit into the career environment until you try it. A baby step, like volunteering– or taking a part-time job– will allow you to go back to your original career if need be.

After step four, there is nothing but taking the leap.

My husband changed careers following this plan and by all measures, he’s flourishing in his new career. He’s at a top non-profit agency, he’s writing significant papers, he’s working with geniuses. But he’s making no money.

I keep telling myself that this is what we knew would happen: we traded money for career happiness. I assure myself that my husband will make more money later, when he’s not swimming in the ranks of college interns.

I know he feels guilty because he really, really, really, doesn't want to go back to his old job. And I can't stop thinking, "If you're unhappy in both careers, why not be unhappy in the one that pays more?"

I know you're thinking, "Gosh, Penelope, can you be a little more supportive?" But don't say that until you've had a spouse throw away a lucrative career. And anyway, I'm trying; I see there is one more step on the career change checklist that we probably should have done:

Step 5: Set spousal expectations. I should have gone through the process with my husband. I should have evaluated with him what sacrifices I can make, what lifestyle expectations I had, even how happy I expected him to be. I was so determined to let him make his own decisions that I'm finding now that I'm the one floundering.

You think you’ll know at some point that a career change was good. But that's not true for everyone. Or, maybe it's true for everyone, but not in the first few years. Yes, you can be sure that the new job is more fun or more rewarding than the old job, but how much more fun do you need to be having in order to justify the financial sacrifice?

I'm not sure. So we keep going on the career change path, hoping to find the answer buried beneath the indignities.
Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more. She penned this column several years ago (when she had a husband), but now she's busy with new things–- too busy to write more columns.