Career change decisions don’t work like accounting decisions. For instance, in accounting, we are taught that we should ignore sunk costs when making a decision. To some would-be career changers, a first career can be viewed as a sunk cost. The truth is, your first career isn’t really a sunk cost. It’s an investment that can provide leverage for your second career.
Some time ago, the New York Times ran a really good article that could serve as a case study.
The author, Joel Greenwald, found his first career as a doctor. He was a reasonably content physician, but not really happy with this career. After less than a dozen years, while still in his thirties, he realized he wanted to change. He began a new career as a financial planner.
As he points out, this change wasn’t easy. When you’re a financial planner, you need to find clients. You need to “build your book.”
But after a certain period of time, Greenwald realized he had an edge. He knew a lot of doctors. He could speak their language. He now has a successful financial planning business, specializing in physicians and dentists.
Of course, you’ll find many ways to leverage experience. Often your skills and competencies transfer in surprising ways. Greenwald finds some similarities in the way he relates to financial planning clients and the way he used to relate to patients.
Sometimes you bring confidence and a style of relating to people. If you’re an experienced speaker, you’ll be able to raise a company’s presentations to a new level, especially if you’re working with a startup. If you’ve got a sales background, you’ll be able to persuade, motivate and accomplish in any environment.
Sometimes you can use skills from one field to begin working in another.
For instance, I once knew a lawyer who wanted to work in animal rescue. She began doing pro bono work for an animal shelter while she learned the ropes. Then she got hired as an assistant director and later was invited to direct an agency in another location.
You may be able to get not just a foot in the door but a whole head and shoulders in the hallway when you sign up for a position in the new field, leveraging your previous experience.
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