Thinking About a Major Career Change? Here’s How I Did It

My earlier post, about the life-altering decision to follow my heart and do what I love, seems to have struck a chord with many people. However, changing career, especially a successful one to a more uncertain one like starting your business or become an artist, can be daunting. Fear sets in and fear can be paralyzing. We know that we should act, do something, but we don’t.

“Why don’t I share what I did ?” I then thought. So here it comes, my career change guide!  I’ve outlined below the steps I’ve taken once I’ve decided to leave the corporate world. 

A career change guide listing the seven steps to follow when thinking about a major career change.

1) Start With the “Why”

Examine your motives. Take some time to reflect on why you’re thinking about such a major change in your life. Are you happy with the field you work in, and the company, but your boss is a pest? In this case, it would be more helpful to change roles and simply work for somebody else.

Or you’re overwhelmed, and tired, and stressed out? Stretched at maximum and beyond, even though you love what you do, and your boss is an angel? Changing your career may not help if you don’t learn to manage your time and your stress level.

The point? You must be doing this for the right reason

You must go into a direction you’re interested in, rather than running away from something, like a bad boss. You’re just postponing the inevitable.

Find your call. Think about what fills you with energy during the day. What did you enjoy you doing as a kid? What do you do when procrastinating? What activities absorb you so completely that you forget space and time? All these are good indicators of the things you should be doing.

Steve Jobs quote on loving what you do

When I ransacked myself, I knew in my heart what I was burning to do. Art. Easy.

2) Do Your Homework

OK, so you’ve found your calling. You want to start a jewelry brand. A garden services company. You want to dedicate yourself to helping people in need and run a foundation. 

Whatever it is, don’t jump to the fun part like creating a fancy website (it’s so much fun, I know!) or ordering new business cards. You’d be setting yourself up for failure. 

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. - Benjamin Franklin. Click To Tweet

Invest some time to research your new field. You could, for instance, join professional associations and look up more information on the Internet. Attend meetings and join relevant groups on LinkedIn or Facebook. Sign up for alerts and newsletters. Set aside some daily search time and gather information.

Connect with people. This is key. For example, once I started getting serious about photography, I joined the Swiss Camera Club on Facebook and went to a photo walk in Lucerne to meet other fellow photographer wannabees. I even got a photo included in the local news coverage of the event.

Talk to your mentors, talk to friends, talk to your neighbors, talk to your delivery man – they all can offer insights and different perspectives. You can prepare a 30 seconds elevator pitch outlining what you’re planning and asking for input and advice.

Don’t be shy and put out feelers in your network, both in real life and on, say, LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people, most people are glad when someone is interested in their particular field and expertise and are more than happy to help.

Try it out! You can start on a small scale during your leisure time, weekends and test your approach as I did. I’ve built a web site, created a professional Facebook side, joined Twitter and Instagram, all during evenings and weekends – and then started posting things, commenting on other photographer’s work in their social media and following photographers that inspired me.

3) Prepare Financially

There’s no way around this: you need to think about money. A major career change is stressful, and financial uncertainty it’s likely to top the list.

Make an honest review of your financial situation and decide what you need to do to survive during the time your new career takes flight. If you want to start your own company: don’t assume money will come in the first day. It won’t. If you feel you don’t have the skills for this or simply want a second opinion (it’s an important decision, after all) – seek professional advice. It’s an investment well worth the money. Or ask someone you know and trust who has a successful track record in personal finance. 

Manage your debts. Ideally, you shouldn’t start your new life with debts. Clear any debts if possible or use help to create a debt management plan. A mortgage is fine as long as you are confident you can keep up with the payments. Don’t take any loans so you’d be in debt before you have even started. Which brings me to …

Use free resources. Don’t invest a lot in the beginning, you can do that later when you’re feeling confident that things are going well. There are a lot of free options out there to get you started – you only need to do an Internet search. For instance, you can start with a free WordPress site and leverage the free themes and plugins; and look up copyright-free images and sounds. Later you can host in on your own domain if you wish, add more fancy plugins and an online shop.

Save first, spend later. I would also recommend having a six to twelve months buffer saved. Things will happen, as things tend to do in life, and you want to be prepared when that happens. Say your heating system malfunctions a very cold winter. You’d have no choice than to fix it then – you cannot wait until spring when your royalties come in. Knowing you have a buffer would alleviate the stress of the unknown.

Investigate options. Research whether there are any grants or scholarships you can seek. This way you can get some funding without getting in debt.

Think about what you’d be gaining by earning less money. Things like more time for your family, a better work-life balance, the sense of peace and personal fulfillment. 

4) Leverage Your Current Skills 

You may think that you’re starting from scratch in a new career. After all, you’d be doing something completely different. Right?


You have work experience in your current job. You can successfully apply some of the skills in your new career.

Do a skills inventory. What are you good at? What did you learn in your career? Examine your past and current roles, as well as any volunteer work. It could be communication, influencing people (all those corporate meetings selling new projects to executives, heh?), finance, marketing, or tech support. 

Say you work in marketing and want to be a photographer. You could use your marketing knowledge and experience to promote your photos. One of my friends’ husband, who did work in marketing, was inspired by my side photo project (at the time) and started a photography business. Successfully I may add, the guy is a marketing wizard. 

I can't say it enough that learning how to learn is one of the greatest skills anyone can have. - Mark Cuban Click To Tweet

At the same time, an inventory will show you what skills you’ll have to learn. Maybe you’re good at designing jewelry but have no idea how to create transform the raw silver in the ring or the bracelet you can see in your head or put on paper. Therefore …

Bridge the skills gap. Need a course? Search the Internet. There are plenty of free online courses, YouTube tutorials on basically everything (learning Japanese? training your dog? how to succeed in business?), and nerd blogs answering the very question you’re asking. You could also enroll in an evening course or one-day seminars or workshops.

Sign up for courses while in your current job. Communications skills, project management or influencing without authority are skills that can be of help in any career.

5) Create a Plan 

By now you should have a pretty good understanding of what it is that you want to pursue (for the right reason), knowledge about that new field and people who can help on the journey, the financial impact, what you know and what you don’t. 

Are we ready then?

Not quite yet. Just bear with me for a bit longer.

Now that you have gathered the information, you need to create a plan. This will be your roadmap for the journey in front of you, the beacon of light guiding you along the way.

Make it a written planYour head’s for having ideas, not for holding them as “Get Things Done” David Allen puts it. Do you need any new skills (identified above)? Then plan for learning as well. Having a written plan makes it more real, reminds you of your commitment, and helps you track progress. 

Involve your inner circle. You may want to involve your partner, close family and maybe a few trusted friends as this will likely impact them too. Listen to them and consider their input. But in the end, follow your gut. Don’t let others dictate your way.

6) Keep the Door Open

Don’t burn your bridges. Leave your job graciously. Hand over your responsibilities and train your replacement as you wish someone else would do it for you were the roles reversed. It’s tempting to focus on your new career and just do the bare minimum before leaving. In two words: Don’t! It’s simple courtesy and it costs nothing. Even more so if you’re not parting ways amicably. Be the bigger man (or woman). You never know what happens and you may need a way back. Which is why you should …

Have a back-up plan. Many people don’t want to think about failure, so they start the journey into the unknown with no plan in case things go south. Don’t do this! You know how they say, “Better safe than sorry.” It’s likely not what you want to think about, but it’s an easy investment in your future self. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’d go back to your old job, but for instance, you could come back as a part-time consultant to wait out the bad times. In the same spirit, keep up to date on what happens in your old field, renew certifications if needed and so on.

You just need a good plan and then a back-up plan! -  Katherine Kelly Click To Tweet

Stay in touch. In all that excitement and thrill often brought by new beginnings, you may forget to keep alive the connection to your old world. Your former colleagues or business partners may not necessarily be part of your every day now, but they can be your ambassadors or mentors. They can testify about your skills and provide introductions or advice. You could invite people for lunch, congratulate them on an anniversary or promotion, and send them tips about things you know they’re interested in (send me any good tips on how to get rid of snails in the garden and I’ll be your friend for life!). Do this regularly, and not only when you need something – people see through that. 

Nurture your network today and it’ll be there tomorrow when you need it.  Click To Tweet

Be present. Maintain a presence and be active on professional networks e.g. on LinkedIn by appreciating and commenting on your connections’ activities and sharing articles on topics of general interest such as time management or creativity. Make it easy for people to remember you. Say that one of your former colleagues’ cousin works at a fashion magazine and she is looking for some hobo jewelry for a fashion feature photo shot. Your colleague now remembers that you left to start your own jewelry business; s/he’ll pass on your name to his/her cousin. It may or may not work out in the end, but it’s a first step. Maybe your jewelry is not hobo enough for this shoot, but s/he may like it and reach out to you in the future.

7) Have Faith in Yourself

Embrace your fear. All beginnings are a thrilling mix of excitement and fear, like a rollercoaster ride. Don’t let that fear overwhelm you. You know you are doing the right thing. Trust. Have faith. True success is being afraid and still doing it anyway. It’s OK to feel fear; I would be concerned if you didn’t. But don’t let that fear stand on your way. Acknowledge it (I am afraid of this unknown), look at it objectively (it’s normal to be afraid when you’re doing something new) and then act.

The meaning I picked, the one that changed my life: Overcome fear, behold wonder. -  Richard Bach Click To Tweet

Feel the love. Know that you are never alone. There’s always help when you need it – but only if you ask for it.  Reach out to people, in real life and online; ask questions when you don’t know how to do something, or things go wrong and you need a solution. Talk it over with a friend. Reach out to formal support groups or organizations. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Overcome the biggest obstacle. You. Very often we are our own saboteurs. We compare ourselves to others, and not in our favor. We measure ourselves and find us lacking. We don’t believe we have anything to contribute. We don’t believe we have what it takes to succeed. We find us incapable of acting, frozen like reindeer in the headlights.

So … I’m giving you a push. Don’t just read this article, act on it. Now. Good luck!

Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish. - Marcus Aurelius.  Click To Tweet

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More On This Topic

Chieh Huang “How to know if it’s time to change careers” Video (4’)

Ruth Chang “How to make hard choices” TED Talk (14’30)

Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, Ikigai

Life Instructions

Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. – Mary Oliver

A Leap Of Faith

The Fear

“Aren’t you afraid?” people were asking when I left the corporate life to start a new career, a new life in fact. And I was. Afraid. Afraid of leaving everything I knew. Afraid of leaving a known, respected persona. Afraid of the unknown. Of course, I was afraid. Terrified actually. What did I think I was doing? I had a good, fun job at one of the greatest companies in the world. I was good at it. After 20+ years, I knew the culture, I knew the people, and I knew what I was doing. Expert was my middle name. I had prizes on my desk to prove it. Why would I leave all that for an uncertain career in a new field? Was that really smart?

The Turning Point

Well, it turned out it was. There seemed not to be enough hours in the day to do all the things I wanted to do: writing my Science-Fiction novels; doing research for all those SF novels; reading all the books I had bought but never had time or energy to read; traveling the world; completing those photo projects I promised myself every January I’d do, and updating my portfolio; creating a new garden (and then garden); and so on. The list of things I wanted to do seemed to grow longer and longer while I was getting more and more frustrated at work. I was working on my book on and off, taking photos during our vacations, but things moved oh, so slowly. I simply couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t stand it, but I was afraid.

Fear is normal and it has a role. It keeps us alert. What started as a survival mechanism in the savannas of our ancestors can be paralyzing in our modern society. But when that burning desire to <insert your dream here> overrides the fear, when the butterflies in your stomach are butterflies of excitement more than of fear – then you know it’s time.

The woods behind our house in Switzerland where I used to walk every day and dream about a different life.

Last year work became more and more something to be survived, while my notebooks were filling with novel outlines, inspirational quotes, and ideas for new books or photo projects. When we found the perfect house to buy, on the same island we lived before the move to Switzerland, in the same area that we loved so much – I saw this as a sign. I knew then it was time to take the plunge.

A Leap of Faith

You know that moment in the Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade movie when Indy has to jump off the edge of the cliff? You need to have faith. Jump and trust that the net will appear. What you want is on the other side of fear as a wise man (or woman) said. I’m sure it’s one of my notebooks from last year.

Orhan Pamuk on Painting

Painting is the silence of thought and the music of sight. Orhan Pamuk, “My Name Is Red”

Orhan Pamuk is one of the most prominent Turkish novelists, and recipient of the first Nobel Prize to be awarded to a Turkish citizen in 2006.

Orhan Pamuk – My Name is Red

Happy Birthday!

For years I would have this image of the Twelve Apostles in my mind, as a placeholder of things to come.

One day, I said to myself, one day I will go back to Australia and see new places. I would be free, I would no longer have a day job to weigh me down; I would do what I wanted, when I wanted it, for as long as I wanted it. I longed for freedom and unleashing all the creative forces that I knew I had, slumbering, in me. Oh, I did take photos or write in my spare time, but it would only leave me frustrated as it seemed there was never enough hours in the day to do everything I wanted to do.

That day was November 30th, 2019. I quit my job at Microsoft after more than twenty years, bought a plane ticket to Sydney and never looked back. Was it hard? You bet! I did like my job; I was good at it and it allowed me to be very creative, travel the world and connect with people all over the globe. Leaving all that, and all those people, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But I simply had to go.

The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road, Australia

On December 18th, 2019 I stepped once again on Australian ground with an exhilarating feeling in my chest, lightheaded and eager for the adventure to begin. My dream had come true. It’s only fitting that I start this blog* on my birthday. Cheers to new beginnings!

*For those of you who used to follow my old blog, I have some bad news. For technical reasons, that blog could not be moved to WordPress (that I use now). I do have the old content, but it could not be integrated into this one. It’s been a hard blow, as it came exactly at the time I was planning my new life. I’ll recycle some of the old posts that are not time-sensitive, e.g. on photography, art, books and so on. If it’s something you miss, let me know in the comments and I’ll add it.