How To Change Careers Without “Wasting” Your Previous Education

 

 

Looking to change careers but afraid because you don’t want to “waste” your education? Changing careers is scary enough, but it’s even harder when you are pulled towards the career path you have all your education in.

It can be hard to break away, not only from the financial ties that you have to a certain career path, but also the emotional ties because you don’t want to disappoint anyone or feel like you “wasted” your time.

You may have spent a lot of money on your education.

You may have had financial help from your parents and don’t want to disappoint them.

You may have put in a lot of years and effort into this career path and…

Now you’ve decided this is not for you.

So what do you do?

Do you stay on the career path even though you are not happy and try to “make” it work or do you “throw away everything” and start over again?

I’ve changed careers many times. Literally too many to count at this point, and to be honest, it gets easier every time you do it because changing careers isn’t just about the tangible aspects like learning new skills. Pretty much anyone can learn a new skill to change careers but breaking away from routine and something that already works is really difficult and intimidating.

1) Understand that you don’t have to make money the same way you “lost” it.

When you start to think about changing careers, it can feel like the years and money you put into a degree need to be “worth” it. But there’s a misconception with this idea that you have to make money in the same way that you “lost” it.

There are a million different ways to make money, especially nowadays, and there are also a lot of career options that you probably didn’t know about when you first started your degree. There are also many careers that have been created since.

However, the goal of a career is to in part make you money for you to sustain your lifestyle. So you don’t have to make money in the same way if your career didn’t live up to your expectations, doesn’t fit your personality, or allow you to sustain your lifestyle, you don’t have to make money in a certain way to force it to work.

It’s okay that you didn’t have all the answers at 18 when you started your degree, or even at 22 when you finished. Something I tell my coaching clients that struggle with this is that you made the best decision with the information you had, and once you have more information, you can change your mind without beating yourself up for your past.

 

2)  You probably already made your money back.

In psychology, there is something called the sunk cost fallacy. This is the idea that if you have already spent money on something, people tend to continue with the decision even if there’s no way of recovering the money.

If you have a degree and invested a certain amount in an education path, there is probably no way to “get that money back” if you change your mind.

Now instead of thinking that you need to continue down that path, try reframing it in terms of return on investment. The truth is, you’ve probably already made your money back with that education. For example, I spent around $25,000 on my degree. To be fair, I was heavily supported by scholarships and bursaries that covered two-thirds of my degree, but it was still a hefty investment. I got my degree in political science and psychology. To a certain extent, I am “using” my degree because I work with legislation but I am no longer in the law/international development/NGO path that I thought I would be with that degree. But the thing is, having a degree has enabled me to have jobs, even if it wasn’t directly related to it. And throughout the last few years since I’ve graduated, I’ve made my money back.

The return of investment has already been made, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s a high return. That’s okay, you can change paths to have a higher return on another career path. You don’t have to “stick with it” just because you invested at one point in your life when you had less information.

Another concept to think about when it comes to the monetary ties to an education path is the opportunity cost of not changing careers. Opportunity cost is the cost of not making a decision like changing careers. You could be making more on a completely different career path and so when you think about not wanting to “waste your degree,” it can be helpful to also think about the cost of not making a career change.

 

3) Appreciate the value your degree gave you, thank it and let it go (Marie Kondo style).

There’s a big misconception that you have to monetize absolutely every interest you have, but the thing is, you can utilize other skills to make money to fuel your interests. It’s okay to also spend money on your interests, passions, and hobbies.

You are allowed to be multi-passionate and you don’t have to monetize every aspect of your life. It’s okay to pursue education in things you are interested in. For example, I knew minoring in psychology wasn’t going to get me a job. Psychology, in particular, is a field that really requires higher education like graduate school or a PhD to really make a career out of, but I love psychology. And the reason I minored with it in combination with political science is that psychology is the science and breakdown of how we think, feel, and act and political science is how we enact those thoughts, feelings, and actions on a social scale. I studied psychology partly because it’s just fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

When I was a kid, I took piano lessons rigorously and was a part of the senior band and choir in my high school for years. All of these were additional expenses and I had NO intention of being a professional musician, but I pursued them out of interest.

If you got a degree in a subject you were interested in, and it didn’t pan out into a career, instead of resenting it, thank it for the knowledge it brought into your life. I don’t regret a minute of the extra classes, hours of practice, and financial resources I put into music, I loved it. It taught me self-discipline I didn’t know I was capable of and a true appreciation for how I intake and value the arts. When I listen to music, I can see it and feel it in a way a musician can. The same for psychology, even though I don’t use it in my “career” it has taught me so much about how to interact with people and be a coach!

So when I think about “wasting” education, I actually reframe it Marie-Kondo style and thank it. I thank my education for the knowledge and joy it brought me and move on. If you’ve ever read “The Life Changing-Magic of Tidying Up,” there’s a part in the book that Marie Kondo talks about how to let go of items you want to keep, and that’s by touching it, thanking it, and knowing that it served its purpose in your life that you don’t have to hold on it forever. And that’s how I think about my career changes. I don’t regret anything, I thank each and every experience and move on to the next chapter when I’m ready.

P.S. If you are multi-passionate, and don’t know how to choose a career,  be sure to listen to Episode 38 of the Money In Integrity Podcast!

 

4) Focus on Promoting Your Transferable Skills Instead Of An All-Or-Nothing Mindset

As a high-achieving perfectionist, it can be easy to want to have all your ducks in a row. So, if you start something, it can be extremely difficult to leave it unfinished. But instead of allowing your all-or-nothing mindset take over, focus on the transferable skills you have gained in the process.

Every career, including the one you currently in, has transferable skills like communication, marketing, and customer service skills. If you need help thinking about transferable skills, make sure to read this article on the 4 transferable skills you need to highlight when you’re changing careers.

3 years ago, I started on a certificate program at a local university because I thought I wanted to be on a certain career path. Last year I changed my mind and only stopped after only completing 2 out of the 5 courses required for the certificate program. Now, a part of me wanted to continue with the certificate even though I wasn’t on that career path anymore, but instead, I started a new one that I’m set to finish very shortly.

As a high-achieving perfectionist, it’s so easy to want all of our ducks in a row, everything to be perfectly square, and leaving something like this incomplete would have killed me a few years ago. I would have probably continued on that career path for another 2 years just to finish the courses and then change my mind because I didn’t want to “waste” it.

But it wasn’t a waste. I learned so much from those courses that I’m still able to tie into my work today and taking that program really taught me how to extract the education from school and apply, rather than worry about grades and certificates. That’s the transferable knowledge that you need to focus on when changing careers.

It’s also really important to focus on your transferable skills when changing careers, and while they can vary depending on what your current career path is and what you want to be doing, it’s important to know they exist and to focus on communicating them. You do not have to start from ground zero every time you start a new career. This is something I’ve done over and over again and it’s important to focus on your transferable skills. If you need help on how to develop them, make sure to read this article!

 

5) Understanding That the Self-Doubt/Impostor Syndrome Will Come

Every time you change your career, there will be a voice questioning if this was the right decision. After the initial high has worn off, it will immediately tell you that this was probably the wrong decision and make you doubt yourself. Do not feel discouraged by this, this is normal and it’s called the Dunning Kruger effect where the less knowledge you have initially, the more confident you will feel. However, as you learn more about a career, you will suddenly feel like an impostor because you are overwhelmed by what you don’t know and then your confidence will drastically decline.

Since this is psychological, it’s really hard for you to avoid this effect, but it makes it so much easier when you understand it.

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When we think about changing careers, most people only think about skill development. That part is relatively easier in comparison because if you need a new skill, you can take a course for it, you can learn it, you can extract your transferable skills. Sites like Udemy, edX, and LinkedIn Learning.

However, learning to overcome the fear of failure in changing careers is what stops so many people from achieving their true career potential. If you need help, developing the career confidence to change careers, again and again, make sure to apply to my 1:1 coaching program for more help

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