Finding the Courage to Change Your Career Path

change career path

The work that you do to make a living takes up a large portion of your time and energy. Day after day, the average human works for years, logging in hours upon hours of labor.

That’s not a bad thing, if you love your work.

Unfortunately, too many of us can barely even tolerate our jobs. We long to do something that manifests our true purpose in life.

So why do so many people continue working at jobs that make them miserable?

It All Boils Down to Fear.

You know the feeling–the dryness in your throat, the knots in your stomach, the sweaty palms.

I’ve actually been there twice–at the crossroads of staying put and struggling through every lousy day, or making a move to do the work that truly made me happy.

I’m here writing this post, of course, because I finally made the decision to take the path toward my dreams, but not before recognizing the sundry fears that had kept me on the wrong path for so long.

Once you identify the fears behind your excuses for staying put, you can then find the courage to make the career change that you already know you need to make.

The Obvious Fears

Most people will have no problem identifying the fear of change and the fear of living in poverty as two main reasons people decide to stay in a career that doesn’t make them happy.

But I encourage you to dig a little deeper and find what’s really keeping you trapped in your current job.

When I decided to change careers, I realized that it was the more visceral, less apparent fears that really kept me stuck.

I’ll describe them here. Maybe they’ll be familiar to you as well.

The Deeper Fears

1. Disappointing Others

I pursued architecture long after I knew it wasn’t the right path for me because I believed people were counting on me to be a successful architect. I’d gotten everyone’s hopes up, and I wanted to make them proud.

It could be your parent’s longtime dream for you, or it could be the pride you see in your partner’s eyes when they tell people what you do.

You don’t want to lose that. People you love seem happy about your career choice, but it doesn’t make you happy.

I decided to leave architecture because I realized that the people who really mattered to me would never want me to live a lifetime of misery. They would be more elated to know that I was happy

2. Losing the Status Symbol

Some careers are more prestigious than others. It sounds superficial, but if we’re honest, it really matters to a lot of people, and if we have a bit of prestige, it can be hard to let that go.

The label of “architect” elevated my status. I enjoyed to ego boost. The way people responded when I told them I was majoring in architecture made me feel good about myself.

The same can be said for lawyers, doctors, and engineers, etc.

I had to realize that as long as I relied on my job title to make me feel valuable, I’d never really be free.

We all know people with high powered jobs, and prestigious titles who feel wretched.

3. Being Judged by Others

“So, you couldn’t handle it, hunh?”

“Not everybody’s cut out for this work.”

“It’s a lot of hard work to be successful in this career.”

“Some people wish they had a job.”

“You should work to live, not live to work.”

The implication is that you’re merely quitting because you’re incompetent, weak, lazy, afraid of hard work, not so smart after all, ungrateful, unrealistic, and foolish to think that you deserve to make money doing what you love.

In the words of Steve Maraboli: “People who lack clarity, courage, or determination to follow their own dreams will often find ways to discourage yours.”

Others will have their opinions and criticisms, but unless they’re your children or life partner, they don’t have to live with the consequences of your decisions. You do!

People gave me lots of advice when I decided to quit teaching fulltime, but I was the one who had to wake up before dawn, spend hours planning lessons and grading papers, and corralling boisterous youth day in and day out, all while neglecting my real passion for writing. They couldn’t do it for me. So I respected their opinions, but relied more on my inner knowing.

4. Starting Over and Wasted Time

Even though I’d only spent a couple of years in the wrong career (as opposed to decades), I still felt downright sick at the thought of all that wasted time, effort, and money.

Not just my time and money, but that of all the people who helped me along the way.

I’ll admit that it left me bitter for a while, but I eventually saw that it wasn’t wasted time. I had gained valuable knowledge and expertise that actually helped me in the pursuit of my dream job. I just had to reframe my prior experiences.

Dr. Noelle Stern says in her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go after Your Dreams that “at every stage, each of our experiences is exactly what we’ve needed.”

The fears listed above were all internal barriers to change. They emanated from and could only be pushed aside by me. After much of that proverbial soul searching, I finally recognized what my real fears were and was finally able to cultivate the courage to make the career changes that essentially saved my life.

So, are you trapped in a career that you know is not the best fulfillment of your life’s purpose? What’s keeping you from changing your career path?

Photo by la_farfalla

37 thoughts on “Finding the Courage to Change Your Career Path”

  1. So true Sarah, funny, I’m just writing a post for my own blog on a very similar subject. You have reminded me about the fears we all face – certainly I faced them when I started my own business 10 years ago. Great advice. Stu :)

  2. Great article, Sarah!
    I especially like that you reframed your “wasted time” and chose to look at your years in the wrong career as a learning experience.

    Fear is so very powerful and any way we can walk around it, through it, or over it is a good thing.
    Personally I use EFT (the Emotional Freedom Technique), and Thought Training to help me (and my clients!) get over fear.

    These work especially well when we understand consciously what our reality is, but those darn fear feeling still seem to be there.

  3. After eighteen years in the wrong job I did the same as you Sarah and quit. Now every day is filled with excitement about what the future holds. Don’t get me wrong there is fear there also, but I have not slept so well in years – so that speaks volumes. I know I am in line for something far better, I just have to trust. Good for you on following your heart – it takes guts!

  4. Been there, thought and fear the same things…and left the carreer behind. Great post Sarah. I connected so that I thought how come I did not write this first :) lol

  5. Sarah, WOW! First, your writing is amazing, and I am so glad you chose to pursue your dream.

    I too was a teacher for ten years in the public schools. The fears you mention – that no one really talks about – disappointing others, looking prestigious, etc. are some of the reasons I didn’t seek a change until I got really, really sick. I really feel that getting out did change my life. It is hard to admit that, even to this day. I was not exercising, eating crappy food, and just wishing my days away.

    Luckily, my husband got out before me (seven years of music teaching) and cheered me on the whole way. Now we are living a life we really love. Facing fear really saved my life. Thank you for sharing your powerful story!

    1. Thanks, Tammy! Way to go. It’s always great to have a personal cheerleader. And isn’t it true that life gives us plenty of signs that it’s time to move on and make a change? As you say, one common warning sign is emotional or physical sickness.

  6. Sarah! Brilliant article. I was supposed to be a music teacher. But I hate music teaching and I knew I my first day of student teaching. Yet on I pressed with grim determination. I finally escaped 7 years after I began. Letting others down and money were certainly factors in why I stayed so long. Every single facet of my life has improved since I left and started my own guitar studio. Now I am looking at some other options too. Feels grand!

    1. Wow! A guitar studio sounds like so much fun. I hate to say it, but teaching is often a way of getting close to what we love, while remaining a safe distance. Like me teaching English instead of actually writing. But kudos to you for stepping out for your dream.

  7. I woke up to myself a few months ago. It is ‘I’ who has to make the change and you’re right fear is the reason of not making the first step but I realised I must overcome my fear and move forward and gradually that’s what I’m doing one step at a time. I’m following my dream and being more passionate about it more than ever before. It does takes time and I must learn to push myself and get out of my comfort zone and see myself failing to win!

  8. Spot on Sarah. I spent over 25 years in the wrong career for a lot of the reasons you mentioned. I left not being sure of exactly what was next. I allowed myself to get hold of the idea that my career as a mentor, guide, spiritual adviser, writer ….. would simply have to morph along with my age and my interests. Its been a 6 year journey doing many things that I love and letting go of always needing to know what’s next.

    Thanks for a great post.

    1. Brian, you’ve overcome another common fear, which is fear of the unknown! That’s why so many people keep certain jobs, because at least they KNOW. But when we embrace the mystery and adventure of life, as you have, we can enjoy life much more deeply. Congrats!

  9. Very true- I too was a full time teacher. I too was in the wrong career. I burned out pretty badly after eight years in the classroom. It wasn’t simply the “teaching”, it was a lot of things including the school culture. I am, by definition, a “failure” I left a secure position with guaranteed benefits and retirement plan. All I can say is THANK GOD I did. I now work from home for 1/2 the money, no benefits, no retirement and I am so much happier. Thank goodness my husband and I both are ready to cut back materially in order to enjoy being a family more.

    1. Indeed, it is a joyous thing to be free! “Burned out” is the right way to describe it, and I totally agree with it being the school culture, etc. I probably could’ve stayed longer if the culture had been different.

  10. I like my career as a college instructor. The hours are good, I get summers off, and I’m teaching topics that I enjoy teaching. But I am on a slow track to changing that career. Teaching provides the financial security I need as a 49-year-old single dad, but I’m slowly working into a writing career. Today I released my second book, “At the Crossing of Justice and Mercy,” @ My hope is that I’ll be able to change my career completely in the next 5-10 years. Perhaps even retire early.

    1. You bring up a good point, Dan. It’s not always the careers we hate that we want to leave. Sometimes we really like our careers, but there’s simply something else we want more. Congrats on your second book!

  11. You have written my story, Sarah. The fear of poverty—”We just got out of debt, and I’m thinking of leaving my job?!” The fear of loss of prestige and the lost years sunk their claws into me as well, and kept me in a most dreadful place for too long.

    When we finally confront what is keeping us from changing, as you suggest, a whole new brighter vista awaits. I can’t believe I settled for so long. I hope your post encourages others to review, re-energize, and remove themselves from soul-sucking situations, so they move towards truly fulfilling lives!

  12. This is one of the toughest decisions for anyone. Leaving “security” to risk taking on the unknown. Thanks for sharing your insights around changing career paths. It’s something I’m in the middle of doing myself!

  13. Hi Sarah, I really liked this article and found lots of wisdom in it.

    What about necessity? I find myself working with lots of individuals who want to make that change and plan on doing so, but there are financial obligations (most commonly school debt) that are keeping them from making the switch, not fear. I’m also finding more and more people that have “recovered” from student loan debt that refuse to make a more dramatic career change because they refuse to go into debt again (something I think is very valid). I’d like to hear your thoughts. :)

  14. Hi Sarah
    I faced the same crossroads. Eventually the pain of being miserable in jobs i hate became so unbearable that it forced me to quit. It wasn’t an easy decision and all the fears came up for me. I still wonder if i’ll be able to make a decent living out this writing thing! But I’m giving it a bash. :)

  15. Thank you for this beautiful post. I faced and I am facing all of the above mentioned fears. It is so hard to hear other people giving advice trying to tell you what to do when it is like well it is my life. I am the one who has to live it.

    The other big one is the prestige. It is hard to get rid of one’s ego.

    Being judged by others is something I am working on in therapy. It is very difficult for me. I am working on it as I try to become me.

  16. Great post! I like that you are saying that there some things we think are the barrier on our path, but in fact there are barriers that we don’t want other people to know about them. And the reality is that they are what stops us from taking a certain action.

    We don’t want to feel guilty of anything so we backup with reasons why we don’t take one single but important action.

  17. Hi there,

    I really resonated with your story. I am in a similar situation, as I am searching for a career that fulfills me. I graduated with an English degree in 2005 but have been working in the restaurant industry for years because it has paid better than what many of the jobs in the writing field offer. Unfortunately, it has left me feeling unaccomplished, drained, and stuck. I am also a singer/ songwriter and I would love to have a career in that field. Seeming how I still need to pay the bills, I don’t know how to make the leap or really where to leap to in the first place. The things I am passionate about, (music, health, relationships, writing) seem to be unstable career choices without defined paths. This makes me think that one would have to be supported by someone else while they are pursuing that career, which is not my situation. Any suggestions on how to get out of the restaurant industry and into something I love while still making ends meet? Inspired by your post, but still so many questions. Thank you

    1. Hi Magda,

      It’s been a while since you have posted but you literally described my current situation. I was just curious to know what you decided. Hope all is well.


  18. Thanks for laying out all the fears I’ve also been facing! Your writing is awesome. It is logical, easy to understand, and conveys strong messages. Being able to read the fears makes it much more clear and real for me. I’ve been a corporate accountant for a decade. Every time I quit a job, another opportunity would show up (I have to admit, I have pretty good interpersonal skills and great friends that love to look out for me) so I fall back into accounting. Every time I want to divorce accounting, a so-called “great opportunity” shows up. And I fall back into working and feeling miserable again.

    I’m leaving my current job in 3 weeks. I hope to have the courage to let it go completely. I did try to spend the last 2 years researching new career ideas and discovering myself. I just couldn’t figure it out. I feel lost and stuck… for a very long time already.

    What I do know is I have to let go and not look back, not fall back.

  19. Wow! Simply thank you to everyone for their encouragement, honesty and realistic fears. I have been working with children for almost 20 years and I have had it! However, I do see possibilities to transfer my skills. But hearing everyone’s stories is very inspiring and giving me the courage to move forward. Imagine a world where everyone is doing work they love!?!

  20. Very good read that was. A very thought provoking article. Thanks for writing. It is always, a big decision. A cruicial decision to take. Almost like jumping over a cliff not knowing where will you land. But you know that you have the parachute of confidence which will make the landing smooth wherever it is.

    Big cheers for the writing.
    Good day.

  21. I can relate to just about all of the these points. I am currently at the start of a career change. I thought ‘enough is enough now’ and have found the strength to pursue this, and I wont give up. This post was a much needed reminder of why I am doing what I am doing. Thank you for sharing it with us. I was feeling a little demotivated before I came across this, and it’s given me the kick up the backside I needed today to keep going.

  22. Agree with all points raised here. Almost everybody seems to be facing that dilemma at some point in their career. It is better to be proactive and start a career with a finite timeline in mind and plan your career progression accordingly. Always be skill ready for the next career change.

  23. hi Sarah. great article. Im really searching for something like this that will help me convince myself that I did the right choice.

    I believe I have the right choice, but my fear is eating me up especially with the “poverty” part.
    It seems getting a job with the same career path is the easiest way. But its not what I want.
    I was an operations Manager for a world renowned retail company, and earnings are fruitful for the expenses plus some luxury. I was able to save, which is what Im using right now to pay for expenses.

    Since I quit from Sales operations.
    Now, Im cutting down on expenses and eliminating luxury.

    and I cant seem to head off from here.
    my heart wants to go into cooking / business / crafts / creative stuff we do with our hands

    But Im not sure if the returns will be successful enough to sustain the expenses.

    Yup. Fears.

    Need advice pls.



  24. I’m not sure anyone will se this as the original post is years old! I’ve been stuck in an academic career that I fell in to after finishing my psychology degree and I detest it. Sat at a desk all day makes me want to cry, it makes me feel anxious and I find my work uninteresting and monotonous. So I have took the plunge and used all of my savings to train to become a yoga teacher (I’ve been practising for years as it was the only thing that reduced my anxiety and made me feel calm) and complete a mindfulness course so that I can practise. I wish I had thought about doing this a long time ago but I was scared that it was too ‘out of the ordinary’. My past experience and my degree will compliment what will hopefully become my new career. I’m scared but need to do this now..

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