How to Change Careers (When You're Anxious AF)
When I was 17, I felt a clear calling and purpose for my life: I was going to be a therapist. My future was clear, and many years after that were spent taking every psychology classes I could; my excitement increased with each one. Everything was a “sign” I was on the right track. I would scroll through Facebook, come across a meaningful quote and think, “That will make a great piece of art for my future waiting room.” When someone asked me what I wanted to do with my future and they found out I wanted to be a therapist, the response was always, “Wow, that is so you!” Stories of people overcoming mental illness or severe trauma left me inspired to be a catalyst for change; those were the stories I had to be a part of. Being a therapist was my destiny. Everyone in my life could see it, and the universe could see it. It all made sense. Why would I do anything else with my life?
When I graduated, I immediately looked for graduate programs for the following quarter. I knew I had to act quickly so I could get a jump on my higher education. Everyone else in my program was either getting entry-level therapy jobs or applying for master’s programs. The voices of past professors kept ringing in my head: “Don’t wait to get your master’s degree. You have to act right away.” Yet, with every passing moment, I continued to feel this knot in my stomach. With every phone call with a social work or counseling program, nothing felt right. My GPA was too low to set me apart for most programs and there were mountains of application fees. There was no anxious anticipation, only anxiety. Finally, I said to myself: “What if I waited? What if I didn’t get my master’s degree?” Instantly, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. The people closest to me reminded me that it was OK to explore other options.
But as more time passed, I became more and more anxious. The career I believed to be my “destiny” began to sound less appealing. Was my degree for nothing? Is my gut lying to me? Did I waste my time in school?
A month after graduation, I started my own website, where I wrote weekly blog posts and coordinated social media. Making my Instagram a creative portfolio, of sorts, was enjoyable. Marrying that hobby with my own writing was the icing on the cake. Marketing and social media-based jobs began to grab my interest. Through hard work and a lot of time, I was able to slowly—but steadily—grow my own social audience. The brand I built earned me an internship, which provided opportunities to explore a field that ended up turning into a job. When I was 23, out of college and considering a career change, I wondered if I was taking a step backward—but through this experience, I learned a lot of valuable things that launched me miles ahead.
1. Learning and exploring new things is never wasted time.
Just because you received and education in one subject doesn’t mean you can’t explore other things. It’s OK to dip your toes in different waters.
2. A career change isn’t the end-all, be-all.
A career change isn’t the nail in the coffin of future opportunities. We can never know what opportunities will lead to. You may begin work in a different field and meet someone who offers you an opportunity similar to your last job. Adding more skills to your resume could lead to you becoming irresistible to amazing companies you didn't know existed. A career change may end up meaning you move around between different jobs, or maybe it won’t. Both are just fine.
3. It’s OK to have doubts.
You will have moments where you question everything. That’s normal. Talk out every insecurity you may have: share it with a friend, write it in a journal, lament to your dog. It’s easy to make the mistake of internalizing feelings instead of processing them. Acknowledge your anxiety, and you’ll be able to move forward a lot more easily than if you kept the stress to yourself.
4. Try new things.
What does it mean to you? Maybe it means trying something that scares you every day, or mixing up your daily routine. Putting new things—whatever that looks like—into your life can help you realize changes won’t hurt you—even something as big as a career change. The change you make might not end up being the right long-term fit, but you can always change again. All of this is a process, and there’s no limit to how many times you need to try something different in order to be happy.
5. Remember your worth.
You deserve to live your best life. Don’t hold back from a big change just because people said you should go one direction and you want to take a different course. If you believe in your heart of hearts that a career change is meant for you, do it. You deserve it.
The journey will not be simple. You’ll still have your doubts and you won’t be sure half of the time. Give yourself the grace to go at your own pace, and never let comparison steal your joy There’s no formula to get you to your perfect career. Work hard, explore everything you can and never stop being willing to learn.
Michaela Love works with Rethreaded Inc and is passionate about mental health. On a normal day you can find her watching The Office for the 47th time or rating a recently watched movie on the Letterboxd app.