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What to do when you realize you chose the wrong career

Brazen Careerist

You loved every second of your four undergraduate years. From day one, you knew your major was exactly what you were meant to do for the rest of your life. There's just one problem. There are only about 10 jobs in the whole country in your field and about 100,000,000 people are competing for them.

To make matters worse, those jobs happen to be located in the middle of small-town Alaska, far away from friends and family with pay way below the cost of living.

In other words, though you're still motivated to pursue the career you always dreamed of, it's not a viable option anymore. The jobs simply aren't there.

Think this is hypothetical?

I found myself in this situation when I graduated with a journalism degree just as the economy tanked. During my internship with a major newspaper, I watched the publication go through two rounds of layoffs in 12 weeks. I also saw former superstar classmates lose their jobs left and right.

My passion for journalism was still strong, but the instability of the field made me realize I needed a new plan.

Five years later, I've found my niche as a Web copywriter. As a journalism student, I had never considered any other job. But due to the doom and gloom surrounding the "death of the industry," my journalism-focused self had to find new focus.

You can transition to a new career, too. Here's how to translate your skills and passion into a different job you may not have even known existed:

-- Focus on what you love so much about your career of choice.

There’s a reason you decided to pursue that particular degree and career. Figure out what drove you in this direction. Then, start to brainstorm what other careers might require those same skills and passions.

In my case, I loved the way sentences could be put together to tell stories. I loved that words could make readers feel something or teach them something new. And I loved to geek out over proper comma placement and sentence structure.

I didn't have to be a journalist to maintain my passion for all those things. As a copywriter, I still get to tell different kinds of stories. And I still get the satisfaction of agonizing over every single word and piece of punctuation to craft the perfect sentence.

-- Identify what you don't love so much about your career of choice.

It also helps to identify what's unattractive about your field. You may find it hard to accept its faults, but being realistic about the not-so-great qualities of your career path will help you understand and accept why it's time to move on.

Maybe you love the good that nonprofits do, but you don't love the stress and overwork that come along with the lack of funding. Or you're a teacher who loves helping children grow and learn, but as you struggle to stay on top of core standards, administrative meetings and paperwork, your motivation is draining.

I realized I wasn't a die-hard journalist. If I had loved the thrill of breaking a story before anyone else did, I might have stuck with journalism and fought tooth-and-nail to find and maintain a job.

But I didn't. I lived, breathed and died part of it: the writing and storytelling. Accepting that there were aspects of the field that weren't "me" made it easier to leave it behind.

-- Creep on what your former classmates are doing.

Remember you're not the only one in this situation. Your classmates are likely going through the same path of exploration. Now is the perfect time to reconnect and see what they're up to.

Some will still be trying (and hopefully succeeding) at the original career. Some will have gone back to grad school to start a completely new one. Some might seem like they're doing nothing much at all.

But there will always be a handful of people doing something creative. Use them as inspiration as you decide how to move forward. They may even offer you some connections to get your foot in the door to follow their path.

I saw classmates freelancing for all sorts of interesting publications. Few of them were able to make a full-time salary out of it, but it was a natural direction to put our journalism skills to use and make a little bit of money while we figured things out.

So I started writing for online publications for low pay and even for free. I began to build a small portfolio of work any hiring manager could find by Googling my name. My Web writing experience eventually led me to my first junior copywriting position for a digital public relations firm.

-- Do what you've always wanted to do as you figure it out.

Not having a stable job is stressful, and it's even more stressful if you don't know what job you should even look for.

Try to use this limbo as an opportunity to focus on something you've always wanted to explore but never had time for.

Look for an internship or volunteer in a field you've always been interested in. When a friend was laid off from his job, he wasn't quite sure what direction he wanted to head in. He volunteered at a small local brewery because he loved craft beer and wanted to learn more about the industry, and that's how he discovered his passion. He now works for a growing microbrewery as a brewer and helps with their marketing. He loves his job -- much more than the one he was laid off from.

It can be disheartening when you feel like the world is against you and telling you that you picked the wrong career. But just because everything hasn't gone according to plan doesn't mean you have to turn your back what you love and go in a completely different direction. By following the above tips, you can reroute your career GPS to arrive at a new, equally fulfilling destination.

(Betsy Mikel contributes to Brazen Careerist. Visit her website and connect with her on Twitter. Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Be Brazen.)

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