Tips to Landing Your Dream Career From Those Who’ve Done It

Tips to Landing Your Dream Career From Those Who've Done It
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By: Joshua Finley

Do you love your job? Do you look forward to waking up every morning, heading into the office (or powering up your computer, wherever you work), and making a difference in the world?

If you can’t honestly answer yes to these questions, don’t feel too bad. You’re not alone. Many, at best, tolerate their jobs, and some actively dislike them.

Here’s some free advice: If you’re in the latter group or even a “tolerator,” it’s time to begin thinking about alternatives. And while those alternatives might lie within your current organization or your current line of work, it’s often the case that the proper cure for dissatisfaction at work is to start fresh — to pursue a different career or at least a different focus in your current specialty.

This isn’t easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but it can be done. Read on to learn how to find your ideal career at any age, with advice from people who’ve actually done it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Follow Your Passion Early On …

Finding your dream career isn’t only about “following your passion.” Not every passion can support a productive, self-supporting career, sad to say.

However, “follow your passion” is certainly good advice early on in your career when you’re still finding your footing and your earning power isn’t especially high. This is what successful entrepreneur Sky Dayton, who briefly worked as an animator before founding early dial-up internet provider EarthLink, did after graduating high school. It’s what many other future business leaders did, too. 

It’s a great way to learn something about yourself and how you work. Even an unsuccessful experience could be an important “reality check” as you think about what will and won’t work in the longer term.

… But Don’t Be Afraid If You Don’t Find It Right Away

On the subject of career reality checks, everyone knows that some jobs just don’t work out. Some careers just don’t work out, too; that’s why you’re reading this.

The important thing isn’t to play it safe and seek out only those lines of work that seem to tick all the boxes. You want to keep your expectations in check even when you’re looking for your dream job. What really matters, and what could make the difference between eventually finding a fantastic fit and continuing to muddle along, is being willing to cut your losses early, take what you’ve learned, and recover from the setback.

Be Comfortable With Transition

Younger workers today are much more comfortable with career transition than their parents or grandparents. According to Gallup, about 60% of millennial-generation workers are considering switching jobs or careers, and Gen Z workers show similar flexibility.

Whichever cohort you fall into, you can learn something from this. Namely, that career transition — whether expected or unexpected, welcome or unwelcome — can be a productive process in the long run.

Think About Your Preferred Work Environment

Do you love being outdoors? Prefer a quiet, low-lit room with few distractions? Like sitting, standing, walking, or a mix of all three? Thrive in fast-paced, even chaotic environments?

These and other questions will help you determine your ideal work environment, which is an important early step in determining where you’ll excel in your career. 

Your preference won’t be the only deciding factor, but it could steer you toward certain types of jobs within a broader career field or sector. For example, if you like working outside but have other skills and passions that steer you toward a desk job, you might look for remote or flexible jobs that allow you to take your laptop outdoors on nice days or involve site visits that take you out of the office.

Do Something Different on the Side

Pursuing a side business or “hustle,” ideally one not too closely related to your day job, is a great way to uncover skills or interests you didn’t realize you had. Just remember not to work so hard that you upset your work-life balance — that could set you back more than one bad job experience.

Put Money Away If You Can (And Work to Diversify Your Income in Other Ways)

Earlier in your career, strive to manage your finances like Warren Buffett, the famously stingy megabillionaire who used money saved from teenage odd jobs to fund his first investments. Come to think of it, “be more like Warren Buffett” is good life advice in other ways.

Saving as much of what you earn — and looking for ways to earn more income regardless — in the first years of your career makes it easier for you to afford whatever comes next. If that means taking some time off work to figure things out, great. If it means quitting your current job for one that pays less but makes you happier, even better. For better or worse, financial flexibility opens lots of other doors.

Tap Your Professional Network for Ideas

As your career advances, you’ll be glad you met certain people. One of the important times to call on your professional network is when you’re thinking about making a change, whether it’s jumping to a similar role with a competitor or doing a total 180 and going into another line of work. 

If nothing else, it’s helpful to be able to turn for advice to people who’ve been in the workforce longer than you. Don’t be afraid to have those conversations now. 

Go Back to School …

You really can go back to school at any age. No, it won’t be easy, and it might not be cheap. But if you’re serious about following your dream into the career you know you were meant for, it could be the right move at the right time. 

Besides, getting a degree is a lot easier than it used to be. Most career-focused learners do the whole thing without ever setting foot in a traditional classroom. 

…Or Get a Professional License

“Going back to school” doesn’t necessarily mean getting a four-year or professional degree. Studying for a professional certification is another option, as is finding an apprenticeship. 

“Apprentices can get paid while gaining professional work experience, avoiding student debt and learning career-ready skills,” says apprenticeship expert Brandon Galarita.

In some fields, you’re expected to do both. The nice thing about pursuing an apprenticeship is the opportunity to earn a living wage while you do it, as Galarita notes. The downside is that it can take years to complete, which leads to the final bit of advice.

Map Out Your Future

Changing careers can take years, especially if you need to go back to school or complete an apprenticeship. So make a career plan sooner rather than later, looking at where you want to be three, five or even ten years out and working backward from there.

It’s Never Too Late

Looking for a new job is stressful and humbling. Trying to ease into a new career is downright scary. 

But as you’ve seen, it can be done. Some of the world’s successful leaders made the switch, pointing the way for everyone else.

More important than the fact that it can be done is the fact that it can be done at any stage of one’s professional journey. Your career isn’t over when you turn 30, 40, 50 or even 60, for that matter, so why should you resign yourself to being stuck in the same professional rut for years or decades?

You have the tools. The time to make the switch is now.

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