If you heard writers on the subject or college career advisors, you’d think that you were supposed to pick one career when you were eighteen and continue with that career until you died or reached the age of retirement. This is an old-school idea that has managed to persist somehow, despite the fact that it has become quite normal for people to switch careers multiple times. You probably know several people personally who have switched recently.

But switching careers is no light decision. It can mean having to go back to school or taking a pay cut. If you are thinking of switching, you want to make sure you do it right.

The central idea to switching careers is making sure you’re switching for the right reasons. These reasons typically fall into one of two categories: best fit for your skill set and life-altering events. If you experience one or more of the following five signs, it might be time for you to switch careers:

1. You’re using your second-string skill set.

switch careersThink of your skills in terms of players on a sports team, with starters (or first-string players) and benchwarmers (second-string). You will have some skills that you are extremely good at and you are usually very aware of these. They’re the ones people compliment you on, the ones with which you feel a sense of exhilaration when you’re using them. Then you have your second string. You’re pretty good at these, too, good enough to get by, but not uncommonly good.

Often, when work options that would utilize of first-string skills don’t materialize, we take jobs that require our second-string skills instead. This works out for a little while, but after awhile, you begin to notice that you’re just sort of good enough, not really the office superstar. This grows into a nagging frustration that you could be doing something else that lets you use the stuff you’re awesome at.

Chances are, there is a distinct job out there that you would excel at. Knowing what that is, and knowing how to get there, will be your biggest challenge. What you don’t want to do is to drop your second-string job and hit the road in search of your true purpose in life. Find that purpose first and then move forward.

2. You’ve found something viable that harnesses your first-string skill set.

This is the ideal situation. Maybe you were at a job using your second-string skills when you started doing some first-string work on the side. Things are starting to click and you have some income coming in. You’re starting to think you might be able to do this full-time.

This is a discipline way to open a smooth transition from your second-string job to your first-string. You’re not forcing yourself into temporary unemployment while you figure things out. You’re taking baby steps to make sure it works for you in all respects. The smoother the transition, the more likely your new career will stick.

3. Your industry has no future.

Some industries are not viable in the long-term. Some are simply headed for obscurity, like photographic materials manufacturing. Others are just not survivable over the long-term, like working on oil rigs or working construction. If you think your work falls into this category, you might consider finding work in a more long-term industry.

4. You are physically unable.

Unfortunately, life events, like a traumatic injury or a debilitating disease, can occur to anyone. Sometimes these events can force you to change your career very rapidly. A construction worker who suffers a lasting injury to his back may have to branch into a career in an office. A soldier who is injured in battle and discharged may have the difficult task of coming home and finding suitable employment.

In the face of these unexpected career changes, education programs can often provide enough time for the one affect to figure out their options and what they want to do next.

5. Your priorities have shifted.

Still, other life events can interrupt your career plan. Having a child, getting married, having to take care of aging parents, or having a high-needs child can all make you change your career. For instance, an attorney who gets married and has a new child may decide that she needs to stay home to care for her new child. To make this happen, she may become a writer instead or leave her current practice to open her own private practice from her home.

In short, changing your career doesn’t mean giving up or running away. It means optimizing your work for your skill set and your circumstances in life.

Are you contemplating a career switch? Maybe you switched recently? What prompted your decision? Join the conversation in the comments below!

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