Last year, I decided to finally follow my heart and change careers. Navigating a career change was not new to me. In 2002, faced with the choice of accepting a generous severance package from The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), Inc. or working in a different department at the same pay grade, I opted to temporarily bow out of the Washington, DC rat race to focus on family and finish up my graduate degree.
Dual Career Path
During my time away from the rat race, I had the opportunity to do a practicum in international education at George Mason University. Years ago, as an undergraduate student, I had dreamed about becoming an international student adviser. I wanted to help international students just as my international student adviser at Université de Montréal had helped and mentored me. During this practicum, I was advised to gain additional overseas experience by applying for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program.
My time in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) could be the topic of another post, so I won’t go into detail here!
Fast forward to my re-entry to the United States after living in Japan for two years. Initially I lived in Sarasota, Florida, where, ironically, I wrote the obituary column for the Sarasota Herald Tribune. I say ironically because my dad died two weeks after I arrived in Japan–to say this job was somehow therapeutic would be an understatement.
From International Trade, Publishing, Youth Exchange, to Global Health!
I then jumped from publishing back to a more international flavored position after relocating to Denver, Colorado where I was the Senior Trade Commissioner’s Assistant at the Canadian Consulate.
Several months later, I relocated to the East Coast where I shifted back into the publishing world yet again, first, in the federal government as a QA Editor for the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress, and then, after getting tired of the crappy commute, joined a standards-setting organization closer to home, the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), as Senior Editor for three years.
Inevitably, I left USP temporarily to work for Youth For Understanding (YFU) as a coordinator for the Community College Program (CCP), then rejoined USP six months later, having made the leap from my previous department (Publications) to the Global Health section. Notice a pattern? Naturally, my dual career path is emphasized on my LinkedIn profile.
Another hop, skip, and a jump later, and I landed back at BNA, but under new ownership as BNA was acquired by media and financial giant, Bloomberg. After two years of (B)BNA, I reached out to a career coach, Denise Riebman at Career Happiness Coaching, whose consulting practice and coaching style was a natural fit for what I was seeking at this juncture in life. Denise gave me lots of homework and questions for me to further reflect upon — work I often did during my tortuous Washington, DC metro commute from suburban Maryland to Crystal City, Virginia!
Following My Passion: International Education
After numerous informational interviews, which, surprisingly, I relished as I had the opportunity to speak with like-minded, down-to-earth professionals eager to share information and mentor others, I circled back to my mentor of years past.
She forwarded a job posting for an international student adviser position at Penn State University in University Park, PA and suggested I consider moving outside of the DC area. I had heard of Penn State, of course, but had never considered applying for jobs outside of the DC metro area. I decided to go for it, figuring I might not even be considered for an interview.
Fast forward to the eve of my birthday where I received the happy news that I was accepted for one of three international student adviser positions. I was asked, “When can you start?” and asked if mid-October would work as I needed to give at least two weeks notice, find temporary housing, get my home in Maryland ready to sell, and find permanent housing so that my family could relocate.
5 Tips for Keeping Your Zen When Navigating Career Change
I find myself reflecting on what advice would I offer to someone unhappy in their current career, especially at the mid-career level. It was difficult limiting myself to five tips, but here it goes….
- Find a supportive career coach. His or her goal should be to guide you in the search for a career where you will be happy, not milk you for hourly fees which can add up long-term. My coach respected that I was on a tight budget.
- Set aside a realistic amount of time each week to (re)discovering yourself and exploring potential career paths. Invest time and energy to update your LinkedIn profile and resume and solicit feedback from your support network.
- Be open to accepting a lower level position to break into a new field. Note that this may be difficult if you are an expert or the ‘go to’ person in your current position.
- Consider relocating. Recognize that this may be challenging if you have a family, but not impossible.
- Re-frame your career search as an adventure. If you view your career search and self-exploration as an arduous task, you are more likely to give up before reaching your ‘destination.’
Last, as my career coach advised me, rather than focusing on the negative during your self-exploration (and what you don’t want to do), focus on what makes you happy! Although reflecting on your values, identifying what matters most to you at this point in your life, and deciding what trade-offs you are willing to make is serious business, you can still have fun!
What challenges do you face if you are currently contemplating a career change?