Career Leap Year

“Figuring out what you want to do is the hard part. The rest is just hard work.”


We all have those pesky little voices in our heads that want us to live smaller, the “devil-you-know” sort of lives. I’ve thought of writing a post on career transition for a while, but doubts creeped into my mind every time I sat at the computer. “Who are you to write this posssssst?” my doubts hissed at me.

Me: “I’m someone who has made a successful career transition, that’s who.”

Doubts: “Oh yeah, but how did you do it? Perhaps it was jusssssst luck?”

Me: “I don’t think so, doubts. We were all there. Myself and all of you. And dare I mention I was highly outnumbered? And while I’ll admit that luck played a certain role in the sealing of my transition, I took some distinct actions along the way before that luck kicked in.”

The Background

Two years ago, it occurred to me my job was not fulfilling me. I was one of a three person team that had contributed to the birth of a brand new department in a mid-size organization, which after one year became profitable and at the time of my leaving had tripled in size. We did it all. We sold the idea within the organization, and pitched it to the sales team so they could pitch it to the customers. We created the actual content, vetting it with Subject Matter Experts, defining our process for requirement gathering and delivery, and refining, refining, refining. I worked long hours. I read books on the subject and employed best practices. I made mistakes and learned from them, immediately applying my newfound knowledge to the next batch of work. Those were exhilarating times, but after two years, I knew I was ready for something else. How did I know? I had a clear sense that regardless of the level of effort I put into my work, my work had limited impact.

The Start of the Transition

I decided to take an introductory class in Human Computer Interaction at a local university. The class fired me up for the topic, and exposed me to a crucial reading list. I immediately plunged into the literature and, before I knew it, I was hooked. User Experience Design work was the work I wanted to do. I understood the impact my work could have: I would design technology interfaces in a way that made them simple, usable, and maybe even delightful.

I joined some local MeetUps, where folks in the community presented papers, ideas, and challenges, and even ran workshops. After attending a few, I took more classes online, where I continued to hone my knowledge of the various aspects of Human Computer Interaction, understanding further the areas of specialty that were available to me and the processes and skills used in the field. I did all this while working full-time. I cut out the TV and some weekend activities for a time, because I was motivated to make this change.

Finally, I met with five people for informational interviews. They were a range of folks: from self-starters entering the field to others who had been at it for 10 years. I met with a CEO of a design agency (Yep! I cold-“called” him via LinkedIn and we’re buds now), a Product Manager for a start-up hardware organization, a Content Strategist, and a recent Start-Up Institute grad. Each person gave me a new perspective on the field, gave me valuable advice, added to my reading list, assisted with my skill assessment, and provided ideas for building my portfolio.

By the time I met with a Director of a UX department for a casual lunch, he told me to apply for the job in his organization, and all I did was come to learn from him.

Finding the time

You might tell me that you have no time to do what I did.  But I believe it is primarily a question of energy.

Where has your energy gone?

If your current job is weighing you down (making you feel bad about yourself, your prospects, or capabilities), it is likely sapping your resources. Ask yourself, “Can I afford (read: financially) to leave my current job and focus on my new career search?” This is not for everyone, but for some of us – this may be just the ticket.

I left my job long before I had something “lined up.” I was very clear about why I left. I did not view my pending unemployed status as a weakness. I viewed it as a strength and I communicated that to everyone I met. If what you are doing is intentionally purging the aspects of your life that don’t serve you anymore and creating the space in your life for new and more exciting challenges, then that is what you say to yourself and to others. Quitting is not a weakness. Quitting an unsatisfying job is the bravest thing you can do. Just watch your energy and motivation spring back up and you’ll know how awesome it can feel to be a quitter.

The Result

I’ve just celebrated my 1 year anniversary of doing User Experience design in a major Boston-based company.

So What About You?

I know you’re looking for a checklist, so here’s the list of career transitioning steps that are sure to propel you forward.

Note: This list does not come from the countless blog posts you’ll read or a self-help book collecting dust on your shelf right now. I took every step on this list to get to where I am, so every step here is tried and true.

1. Sign up for meet-ups and go to the ones that grab your fancy.
2. Get your hands on a good quality reading list (a university intro class may publish their syllabus online or perhaps you have an inside person).
3. Read those books and the key industry blogs regularly.
4. Check Coursera, Udemy, Skillshare, Codecademy, for good online classes related to the field of your interest.
5. Tell everyone who’ll listen that you are looking to transition and are open to meeting people in the field. (Don’t try to get a job with these people. These are casual conversations where you are learning about the person, their path to the industry, their experience, and any advice they can provide to propel you forward.)
6. Be open to opportunities, but keep on honing what it is you want (from your conversations, readings, and MeetUps).
7. Check your energy level and do everything in your power to make the time and space to dedicate yourself to this process.

Take these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to your new career.  I wish I could be there with you, my friend. I am so proud of you and your bigger life.


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