How I Switched Career Paths Without Going Back To School

In the third grade, I hit that age where I decided I was ready to be an adult. I stared into my little-girl bedroom of frilly pink and white, and felt desperate. In a very matter-of-fact way, I approached my mom and said, “I think it’s time for me to redecorate my room.”

“What did you have in mind?” my mom responded.

Excited, I went back to my room, drew up plans, and, about an hour later, emerged with sketches. “I was thinking we could take down this wall here…”

“Whoa, whoa…” my mom cautioned. “We can’t start a construction project here. I was thinking we could change the wallpaper and get a new bedspread!”

I dissolved into a puddle of tears. “But I need BIG changes!”

This phrase has become a theme for how I live my life. Big changes.

Last year, I left New York City and moved to Nashville.  When people asked me why, they just assumed I was motivated by a job or a guy.

No, that wasn’t it.

I wanted a lifestyle change – a city change – and my stability came from knowing where I was going in the direction of my career.

As a graphic designer, I love all of the elements of design, and the intricate thought and strategy that goes into marketing and branding great products and great businesses. Having never considered doing anything else, I happily continued with my freelance design after my big move, but then, something happened.

I suddenly developed a mental and creative roadblock. I became discouraged with my talent. I completely lost confidence in my ability.

When jobs came my way, I disqualified myself. I had no direction for going back to school, but I still loved the creative process.

After a little soul-searching, I arrived at an answer that turned out to be very freeing for me:  I am never going to be a top graphic designer. It was as an opportunity to incorporate a change. What could I potentially be the best at, and how could I take my experience and my passion for branding and design, and refocus it? A year after this epiphany, of sorts, I am the Project Manager at Proof Branding. My career path switched, dramatically, without acquiring another certification or degree.

So, how did I get here?

1. I talked to a lot of people.

When asked the question of “what do you do?” I always offered a longer explanation than requested. It turns out, my tendency to over-share led me to great conversations and an opportunity to network with others in related fields. I sought the advice from many and followed up on every lead and contact offered to me.

2. I found a job description that excited me.

One day, I got an email from a job recruiter. It was the type of email that I would often open, skim, and delete. This time, a job description popped out and I sighed, “dream job.” I was unquestionably unqualified, but instead of deleting that post, I made a phone call instead. I called the recruiter for the job and picked his brain for about ten minutes to learn what I needed to do in order to become qualified for this position. He was confused at first, but when I explained, “I’m talking qualified in 5-10 years,” he gave me a ton of great leads on the right experiences/jobs to get me there. Project Manager was among those positions.

3. I completed an audit of my resume.

Through the lens of “project manager”, I reviewed my qualifications, and found that I had a ton of experience in project management, even though that had never been my job title. I began reworking my resume to highlight those details.

4. I asked for honest feedback.

I approached friends who I respect in the field, and who have the right knowledge and experience to offer me real, honest feedback on what they felt were areas I needed to focus on or change. I heeded their advice.

5. I went for it.

Then, I went for it. I researched the companies I wanted to work for, wrote and re-wrote my cover letters, and, most importantly, kept an open mind. I figured all I could do was try, and if I was going to try, I might as well try really hard.

I love this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

I can’t claim that my process will work for everyone, or that it translates to every situation, but I believe that even if you don’t walk away with a new job, you will walk away with a greater understanding of where your opportunities lie. It’s easy to feel stuck on one career path, but by identifying what you want and what you already have going for you, you’ll access a clear path to plan next steps.

And you don’t necessarily need to go back to school.

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