Denise Diamond and I started working together in September of 2012, just 14 months ago, on what she wanted to be when she “grew up.” She uncovered so much then that was related to entrepreneurship and travel that I was over-the-moon to hear that she started a travel blog…but the happy dance really started when she announced that she got an offer to work for a non-profit in Africa starting this January for a year – and she took it! I forced her to share how she did it for all of us. The tips she shares below are the best!
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Trapped. That’s the word I would use to describe how I was feeling in my career. I received my degree in marketing and then went on to work in the industry for several years, climbing the ranks like I was supposed to. And the longer I worked the more imprisoned I felt. I knew I wanted out but to do what? All my experience was in the same field and I was finally making pretty good money. But upon receiving my last pay raise, instead of excitement, my first thought was “man, now it’s going to be that much harder to make a change”.
At a certain point is it just too late to start over?
My first attempt was in 2011. I quit my job and took a six-month trip around the world. Awesome right? And it was. But I went into it a little naive. I thought I could just leave, clear my head, and while traveling I’d have a magic epiphany of what I’d want to do when I returned.
Well…um…let’s just say that didn’t happen. Instead I got back, needed a job, and took another position doing the same thing I was doing before. I was right back where I started. Dang, how’d that happen?
I’m sure it happened because I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have any specific goals. And I didn’t do anything productive towards making a change when I was traveling. You know, just a few small details.
During the past two years I’ve gone through a lot of trial & error to determine how I would make a “great escape” from my current career into doing something new.
And it has finally paid off! (Insert dramatic trumpet sounds here!)
As I write this I am heading into my last week at my current job! And in January I’m moving to Tanzania. Yes, the one in Africa. I’ll be working for a non-profit called The Red Sweater Project managing their office. In Tanzania, most children aren’t able to get an education due to the expense, the limited schools, and the accepted culture that you are destined to stay in your village and work at home. But this organization’s mission is to overcome these hurdles by building affordable schools and by teaching children that they can be anything they want to be, even the girls.
It’s a big step to move from somewhere like California, USA to third world Tanzania, but I am really looking forward it. I think it will be amazing to be a part of such great work and to be right there in the field where it’s directly making an impact.
I also recently launched a travel blog, ADiamondAbroad.com, where I hope to share my travel stories, my journey in Tanzania, and inspire others to embark of their own adventures abroad. Travel is something that I’m passionate about and can talk about for days on end. A huge clue that was staring me in the face when I was trying to figure out what was next!
So how did I go from being trapped to embarking on this new journey?
(Side note: I hate when people say they are on their “journey”. It sounds so self-help meets hippy chick and I’ve used it twice so far. I must think of some new words. “Extravaganza?” Too much? Yeah, I’ll keep thinking.)
I’d like to share a few of my own lessons learned for anyone out there who may also be looking for their escape plan.
1. Pick your Theme
If you already know the next great career you want, this will be easy, but for me, I had absolutely no idea. I took career quizzes, only to feel defeated after hitting the submit button and not getting the magic answer. Maybe everyone isn’t meant to be one of 50 pre-determined answers such as nurse, teacher, or real estate broker.
Instead, determine a couple must-haves – or what I like to call your “Themes”.
I determined that I wanted my job to be somehow associated with Travel and Making a Difference. These were my themes. Travel was chosen because it’s my favorite thing, and I feel strongly that people, especially Americans, should do more of it. And Making a Difference? This stemmed from my number one complaint in my job -I was working super long hours and at the end of the day didn’t feel the work was positively helping or impacting anyone.
If you can’t think of your theme, do what I did. Pick your favorite activity and the biggest thing missing in your current job. Can they go together? Give it a try!
Although my themes were still pretty broad, having a framework really helped me set boundaries so that another shiny new job within the same arena wouldn’t suck me in. Recruiters often contact me for positions similar to the ones I’ve been in and each time it’s tempting to hear their pitch. But my new rule was if the job didn’t follow my themes I immediately passed. And if I saw something that did fit the criteria, I applied even if I didn’t think I was qualified. Sometimes an honest and authentic cover letter can work wonders.
2. Save your Pennies
While it tends to be a buzz kill, we still have to pay our bills. And realistically, making a career change can put a serious dent in our income – at least for a while. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. For the 18 months I was developing my escape plan, I saved. Although I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I knew that it would likely come at a cost. And it will. Working at a non-profit in Africa, and doing a start-up travel blog will feed my soul, but not my bank account. Luckily, I was prepared for this. I had been saving money so when the right opportunity came along it would be a little easier to do it. I cut back on shopping, fancy dinners, and having a car so that I could build my escape fund.
Instead of making the sacrifice when you start your next job or business, do it while you’re still planning. Depending on how much you make now, cut your cost of living by 10-50% and put it in the bank as an investment towards your next career. Who knows, maybe you’ll decide to do something that requires going back to school, and in that case you can use your savings to fund classes. Just don’t wait until you’re ready to get started, start saving while you’re still figuring it out.
3. Accept not having a long-term plan
This one was a little more challenging for me. I’m a planner and I like to know what I’ll be doing next. One reason it took me so long to make a change is because I worried what the result would be three, five years down the road. But once I accepted the idea that I didn’t have to know, it really opened up different paths.
My new job in Africa is only for one year. What will I do after? I don’t know.
Will my travel blog be successful? I have no idea.
And that’s okay. Because each will give me skills I didn’t have before. And each will allow me to meet people that I didn’t know before. And those can open new doors for what I’ll do next.
It’s never too late change directions and embark on a new career path. It may feel like a huge change, but according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average U.S. worker changes careers 3-5 times during their lifetime. So it’s not too late AND it’s also normal! You just have to take action and start creating your escape plan. It may not be easy, but with a little effort and focus you can find your next great adventure, I know I am looking forward to mine.
Denise Diamond is a travel blogger and future expat living & working in Tanzania. She is a true believer that it’s never too late to change directions and embark on a new…anywhere in the world. Follow Denise’s story at ADiamondAbroad.com and you can connect via Facebook and Twitter.