When I look back at my work history, there is one very clear point in my past where changing careers had a huge impact on my future earnings. Here is my story – maybe it can be your story too.
Changing careers – why not?
There seems to be an unfortunate number of people who don’t enjoy their job. Or perhaps they like the work but it just doesn’t pay enough for them to achieve their financial goals.
What usually happens?
Far too often the response is: Nothing.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You are the one in control. There are changes you can make that can have a huge impact on your job satisfaction and your earning potential!
Below is my personal journey and several tips to help you with your career journey. Feel free to scroll past my background if you want. It’s okay to jump straight into the good stuff in the second half. I won’t be offended.
My early career days
I graduated from college with a business degree. Let me say right here that nothing I’ll talk about required college. The changes I made and success I saw really had nothing to do with college and would have likely worked out just the same had I not attended college.
Anyway, back to my story: I graduated from college and started working immediately as an assistant manager in a Blockbuster Video store. Remember those? Maybe not since video stores have gone the way of the dinosaur.
After a while, as an assistant manager, I was promoted to manager and given my own store. Yeah! Big time then!
It was a great experience to learn how to hire, manage and train people. I also had to learn the fine art of customer service, put together staff schedules, deal with inventory orders, and a bunch of other tasks. There were a number of very useful skills I learned at Blockbuster.
On the downside, the pay was about $30k. I had to work weekends, I had to work several nights each week until almost 1 am (we closed at midnight), and the worst: It was a dead-end. I’d advanced as far as I would and pay increases would be minimal into the foreseeable future.
I knew I wanted a change
After five years with Blockbuster Video, I knew I had to get out. They were great people and, as mentioned, I did learn a lot, but I didn’t want to be doing that same thing twenty years later.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew that I had interests in technology – as a kid, I used to tinker with computers and electronics. Maybe there was an opportunity there?
But I didn’t have much in the way of marketable skills to change my career.
I could have gotten another retail management job, but I felt I’d be right back in the same situation. How could I make a major shift to propel my career path forward?
Support from a wonderful spouse
I met my love in college and we married shortly after, so I was already married by the time I was experiencing my work burnout. She wasn’t in a high-paying job either, but she was working, so we had a baseline income from her regardless of what I did. Not enough to live on, but it created some flexibility.
If you have a spouse with a steady income, this process can be a lot easier.
If that spouse is also understanding and supportive – you can accomplish almost anything!
Thankfully, that was my situation. After discussing with my wife she was okay with the idea of us taking a bit of a gamble short term for a big potential long term payoff.
So what did I do?
When I went through my list of dream jobs, something related to technology always came to mind. I didn’t know what, but I was pretty sure I wanted to work in tech.
How could I accomplish that with nothing more than retail management experience?
Pause for a second: This was in the early 1990s. While the Internet technically existed, it really wasn’t a thing yet. I couldn’t just go online for some resources at the time. (But you can today!)
Okay, so I knew I needed some sort of skills. I found a company that did remote training. Someone buys a few books, studies on their own, takes a few tests, and gets a fancy little certificate. Nothing top-notch like a Microsoft, RedHat, or VMWare certificate – just a certificate saying I passed some basic knowledge tests.
While still working at Blockbuster I started studying at night and trying out some of the new skills I was developing. Two important things to note here: I did this while still working my full-time job, and I made time to practice the new skills. Following these two steps will greatly increase your chances of success.
Then I found a job, but…
I can’t remember how long it took, but after I completed some classes – and put the skills to work myself – I decided to change jobs. I lived in a small town, and honestly, I had zero real-life experience, so I was limited in options.
Luckily I found a small mom-and-pop computer repair shop that agreed to give me a chance. Actually, there wasn’t a “mom” there – it was two brothers. Still, super-small. Just the two of them and I’d be the third person.
The challenge was the pay. I wasn’t very happy already with the pay that I was getting and this new position paid more than a third less! Ugh. That was going to be a big step back before I made any progress forward.
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We had some personal debt – a mortgage, car payment, and a credit card balance. These definitely increased the risk level but after discussing it with my wife, we knew we could push through with the lower income.
So I took it.
It was a stepping stone
I knew this wasn’t going to be “the job” for me. But I knew that I needed some experience in addition to my self-learning. Now with the Internet people can gain experience much easier while still working their primary jobs. There are a lot of opportunities for nights and weekends that were much more challenging to find and accomplish 25 years ago.
While working this job I continued to do self-study. I wanted to make sure that I had knowledge and skills that could actually be used and that would be marketable.
My continued learning benefited the brothers in the shop by allowing them to take on some work they weren’t able to do in the past. It also allowed me to practice and really get good in a number of technical proficiencies.
Next up: Big time
After working at the small repair shop for a while I decided to start looking around for other opportunities. It was done on good terms with the owners – I think they knew just as much as I did that this wasn’t going to be a “forever” job for me.
After some searching, I found another job in technology. After extensive interviews and a background check, I got the job! And it paid about double what I was making at Blockbuster!
The only downside was that it was over an hour commute for me, but I did it for over a year. When it finally got too exhausting for me we decided we needed to move closer. If we were going to move anyway though, that made me consider a wider range of options – and opportunities farther away.
I wound up getting through another interview process, for a similar position in a different state. This time the pay was about an additional 20% more.
Now just a few years after taking a HUGE pay cut, I was making almost four times as much as I was in that little shop. That literally equates to millions of dollars in additional income over my earning years. This short-term effort, which WAS a good deal of effort, paid off big time over the long-term.
It’s not just about the money though. I was experiencing much more job satisfaction than I ever had before. I enjoyed the work and the people. It was challenging but the kind of challenge that recharges me rather than drained me.
Next up… well, another time
I had a couple more job changes within the same career field. Ultimately what I learned – in skills from self-training, and experience from the positions I held, and also from taking calculated risks – put me in a position to start my own business. But that’s a story for another day…
The actionable takeaways…
The intent of this isn’t just to tell my story. I told the story to provide some context and background – and to show that making a drastic career change is possible.
Next week I’ll provide seven actionable takeaways you can use if you decide that changing careers is an appropriate part of YOUR future.
Are you ready for a career change?
I hope this post has been helpful. If nothing else I hope you found my story interesting and encouraging.
If you feel like you are in a dead-end job; if you aren’t making the money you feel you deserve; if you’re doing work that you really don’t enjoy – don’t settle. Changing careers is an option. It’s a very viable option too.
Consider taking some steps now to position yourself in a role where you can thrive and enjoy the work for the next forty years. Life is too short to do work you hate.
You can do it.