If you’ve recently found yourself unemployed, or if you’re looking for a new job while you tough out the old one, this might be a good time to consider all those alternative careers you’ve been dreaming about (i.e. dog groomer, teacher, chef, writer, pro basketball player – okay that last one might be a stretch; no pun intended). After all, just because you majored in Art History and ended up being an insurance adjuster, doesn’t mean you have to continue crunching numbers until they plant you in the ground.

But before you shift career gears you really need to discuss the matter with your family and close friends first. However, the secret to making a break for more rewarding employment is not just yakking about it ad nauseam until everyone wants to gag you with your own resume (in which case your friends will probably tell you “Go for it already!” just to shut you up). Before you take the plunge you have to consider all the factors.

“Factors? What factors?” You may ask. “Don’t I simply make like a Nike athletic shoe and just do it?”

You could, but down the road such impulsive behavior might end up leaving you resentful and disillusioned (not to mention broke). As romantic as it sounds, about-face career changes are not for everyone, no matter what you read in books or see in the movies. Here are four important questions to ask yourself to see if you’re ready to make the jump:

1. Who Am I?

The first thing you need to mull over is your own personality (and be honest). For example, if you’re considering starting your own business, be realistic about how you’ll handle those uncertain times when money IS NOT coming in. Juggling an inconsistent income and incurring debt are both facts of life for any new business owner. If you’re the kind of person who can’t bear the thought of being on the hook for a business loan or has an anxiety attack if you have to pay even one bill late, then self-employment may not be for you.

But that’s not to say you can’t boldly jump into a new industry. Instead of starting your own company, find a job working for someone else who already has an established business. True, you may not make as much money in the long run, but you’ll sleep better at night knowing you have a steady and secure income doing something you love.

2. Can I Afford to Make a Change?

If you’re a burnt-out attorney, but you dream of being a photographer, you have to realistically ask yourself, “Would I be happy living on what a relatively unknown, inexperienced photographer makes?” In other words, are you willing to readjust your lifestyle to fit your new career? The answer lies somewhere between how happy your new career will make you versus the money you’re currently getting for a job that doesn’t excite you.

You can compromise, however, if you’re willing to be patient. Before you quit your old job spend a year or two saving up a nest egg to support yourself through the salad days of your fledgling new career. Living off the paltry salary of a starving artist isn’t so daunting if you know you have a savings account to fall back on.

3. How Hard Do I Want to Work?

Even if you decide to work for someone else who has an established business, know that you will work harder (and probably longer hours) if you’re employed by a small business. This can be quite a shock if you come from a corporate culture where you had the luxury of focusing on a single job or talent. Employees in small companies (especially start-ups) wear many hats, so if you like variety (and you’re a quick learner), this might be the work culture for you. However, if you just want to do your own thing and nothing else, then you have to make that clear to a potential employer up front.

For example if your dream is to work in a bike shop repairing bicycles, but the shop owner also expects you to stock shelves, take inventory and work the sales floor, then you may want to consider passing on the job (or get the owner to agree that you only have to work on bikes).

4. What About Those People I Live With?

As much as you want to make a career change it’s irresponsible NOT to consider your family obligations. Do you have kids to raise? (Which by the way, if you haven’t already noticed, are quite expensive.) Is your spouse willing to take on the sole responsibility of supporting everyone, if it should come to that? Make no assumptions. Talk to your spouse before you solidify any life-altering decisions. You don’t want to find yourself going through a career change and a divorce at the same time.

If your career currently feels a little unsteady (or if you’re beating the street looking for work) now might be a good time to take a chance on a new vocation. Don’t be afraid to expand your options when looking for work. In addition to applying for jobs you’re best suited for, see if you can also convince an employer to pay you a reasonable wage to do something brand new and fun. What have you got to lose? (Besides unemployment.)

Are you considering a dramatic career change? A little one? What’s keeping you from making the leap? Tell us below and share this post with your friends.

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