Hate Your Job? How to Quit and Find Your Dream Career

dream career sign

Dream jobs are attainable | iStock.com

Having a stable job is something to be grateful for, but that doesn’t always stop us from daydreaming about the work we would do if we could choose our dream career. Maybe you would quit your office job to start your own business, or you would turn a hobby into a full-time gig. If you spend most of your time wishing you could be working at another job, it might be time to give it some serious thought. Ignoring those dream career paths can be dangerous for your health, even if they involve a little risk along the way.

Still, most of us live in the real world where there are bills to pay and responsibilities to meet. But if you plan carefully, there are ways to realistically try out a dream career. Lifehack strongly advises building up an emergency savings fund that would cover your costs for three to six months, in case your lofty ambitions come tumbling down. Those emergency funds can make the difference between a small bump in the road and a spiraling, out of control financial disaster. Having one could be a first step toward allowing yourself to take some calculated risks in your career.

Just like no one cares about your financial well-being as much as you do, you are your own biggest advocate when it comes to pursuing your dream career. You might earn some fantastic job offers along the way, but in most cases you’ve already put in the grunt work to get them in the first place. “Don’t hesitate to pursue a new career, because it is there for the taking,” writes Forbes contributor Cathy Scott, who left a secretary job at Pacific Bell to start her dream career as a writer.

So what are some realistic steps you can take toward starting your dream career, and not just biding your time until you’re allowed to retire? Take a look, and get to brainstorming.

1. Invest time in your interests

Pursuing a dream career will take a lot more time and effort than simply following the career path you’ve already started on. This is especially true if your dream career involves stepping out on your own or changing industries completely. You’ll thrive most, and likely have the most success, when you can invest in areas that truly interest you, Monique Valcour, an executive coach, writes in a post for the Harvard Business Review.

“Paying attention to what engages and excites you, what lights you up, and what stimulates your intellect points you toward the tasks and situations that enable you to be your best self,” she explains. Realistically, changing jobs or career paths in any dramatic way will likely take a lot of effort in your free time before you can make the leap. Plus, it’s not a dream career if you’re not actually daydreaming about it, right?

2. Learn while you still have a day job

Coloradans wait to meet potential employers at a sales and management career fair on July 20, 2011 in Westminster, Colorado. The job fair, organized by United Career Fairs, featured a dozen potential employers looking to hire sales representatives and managers. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Your day job can still be valuable | Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The 9 to 5 role you already have might seem mind-numbingly dull, but look for ways to use it as preparation for your future career goals while you still have those resources at your disposal. If you have colleagues in a role you admire or would want down the road, ask them questions and learn what that job entails.

Networking and research are vital for your success in this, Valcour writes. Build out your network well in advance of making any significant career moves. Networking can be extremely important, and will be invaluable once you strike out in a new direction.

In addition, determine the skill sets that will help in your future dream career, writes Alexandra Levit, author of How’d You Score That Gig? “In developing a resume and other promotional materials for the field you want to pursue, think about how your current skills and talents apply to the responsibilities you’ll hold in the new job,” Levit advises in a guest post for Monster. Typically, skills with project management, client relations, and information technology can be applied in a number of settings, no matter your specific dream career.

3. Take on side projects

young student sitting at desk and doing her homework

Side job after hours | iStock.com/demaerre

You might feel like your current job is just to earn you a paycheck, but if you’re working toward another more attractive career, that’s all it needs to be. While you have that steady income, think about taking on a part-time internship in your dream job’s industry, Levit suggests. If the career change will mean another degree or certification, work on it over time.

In the meantime, don’t get lulled into a purgatory where you don’t make any new progress. Always be looking for ways to advance your long-term goals, she writes. “Make an effort to do one thing — like emailing a networking contact or attending an event — that moves you a bit closer to your big-picture goal,” she said.

In some cases, you’ll need to prove you have what it takes to start that new job. Taking on smaller side projects while you’re still in your regular career can be a way to lessen the risks, while also convincing other people to buy into your long-term plans. If you can build a network — or even a client list — before you cut ties with your original job, you’ll have greater freedom to branch out on your own, Valcour writes.

4. Take the leap

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new iPhone

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new iPhone | David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Eventually, you’ll believe that you have the experience necessary, and the contacts, to start down your newfound career path. When that time comes, don’t hesitate to go for it, Valcour encourages. This could mean starting your own business, or taking your new skills to another role in a company that allows you to do what you love. Whatever the situation, keeping your original job while you build a new career foundation can allow you to make the best decision for yourself.

There’s no doubt this step will have more than its fair share of challenges, especially if you’re going it alone and leaving the support network you had behind. Lean on the personal network you’ve built — which hopefully includes people skilled at helping you in your new ventures.

5. Keep learning

young student reading book between the shelves

Never stop learning and improve yourself | iStock.com/anyaberkut

To keep from stalling out at a career plateau, you’ll need to consistently keep learning new information. If you’re running your own business, this will help to keep you relevant and come up with solutions your clients need. If you’re in your dream role, learning new skills can be vital for continuing to excel and even progress on the career path you’ve worked so hard to earn.

However, it’s important to remember that finding or making your dream career isn’t a formula. The steps will be slightly different for everyone, even if it’s in the same industry. “It’s an ever-evolving process: Follow your interests, research and network, try the work in a low-risk way, find a job that excites you, and repeat,” Valcour encourages. You don’t need a blueprint or a master plan, but you do need to keep working at it. With some hard work and focused effort along the way, you have the ability to work toward a career you actually enjoy.

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