How To Get Out Of A Funk And Make A Career Change

08/06/2008 05:12am ET | Updated November 17, 2011
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Dear Christine,
A few years ago I landed my dream job that required me to move out of state. After 2 1/2 years it was all work and no play. Even though I had many pay increases and added responsibilities, I did not have a social life outside of the job, therefore decided to move back in with my parents to reassess my career goals. I have decided to change careers and because all of my work experience and education are in the animal field, I have not been able to get hired for any other job. I am 28 and have been unemployed for a year (not by choice). I have become very depressed and once again do not have a social life. How do I change career paths and start living like a 28 year old?
~Frustrated with Career Change, St. Paul, 28

Dear Frustrated with Career Change,

Let's take the last part of your question first. What exactly do you think the life of a 28 year old should look like? The worst thing you can do for your mental health right now is to play the comparison game. Don't become depressed by comparing your life to other friends and colleagues, or by holding yourself up to an image of what you "should" be doing. The most important thing right now is to be clear on your direction and take steps to move forward.

You say you want to switch career fields, but only have experience in the animal field. Do you have a clear vision of what you want to do? Have you taken the time to break down what you'll need to do to get there? Changing career fields can feel totally overwhelming, so it's important to focus on the small steps you can take to improve your chances. Does this new field require you to be certified? Start taking classes. Have a certain number of service hours logged? Start volunteering. Have you researched how other people have gotten to the top of your new field? Start researching people and scheduling informational interviews. Informational interviews are one of the most important things you can do to gain insight when looking into different career fields. The hiring managers in your new field are going to want to know you are taking this change seriously and taking steps to prepare yourself. It will be an advantage to be able to tell them how you came to the decision to change careers and how you know this is the right field for you.

Also, take a look at your resume. Make sure you have a professional summary that doesn't pigeonhole you. You may be presenting yourself in a way that limits you to the animal field, but there is most likely a large list of transferable skills that can be added to your resume that pertain to your new field. Market yourself as a person with great skills, qualities, and experiences who just happened to be in the animal field, rather than as someone who worked in one field and now wants to change directions.

The depression you are feeling is coming from regret. You are spending too much time thinking about what has happened and not enough time being proactive. Force yourself to be social and get out of your own head. The best way to get out of your own head is to help someone else, so find a place to be of service stat! And get a hobby. There are tons of activities that don't require a lot of money, and you'll be interacting with people who enjoy the same things you do. Who knows? One of your new acquaintances may have a job contact for you.

It's also key for you to establish a life that you enjoy outside of work, and to do it now. It sounds like you got burned out by making work your whole life. Create your life first, and then find the career that works into your idea of life. Otherwise, you will repeat your pattern of getting lost in your work. A lot of time can be wasted by focusing all your energy on finding some dream career that fulfills you rather than just getting a job that affords you a quality of life and then creating a life outside of work that is fulfilling. Don't wait for a paycheck to give you a sense of purpose.

As for an immediate step to take, it is time to move out from mom and dad's - it's an enabling crutch. Each year you spend under your parents' roof, you regress in age. Where is that confident woman who went after her dream job even though that meant moving out of state? Start by getting a job, any job, to get you feeling independent and resourceful. Stop the pity party on your parents' couch.

You can't expect your ideal job to land in your lap. All you can do is take the steps to once again become a strong, independent woman. Get your confidence back; and do this as much for yourself as for your job hunting. If you aren't confident, hiring managers will pick up on that too. Just start trying to move forward, step by step, and you'll be on your path towards your goals before you know it.


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