Finding the right career takes effort


Susan Kim, 33, has an enviable job. Based in San Francisco, she writes about food, travel and homes for Coastal Living magazine.

But her current career is a far departure from what she started doing after college.

After graduating from the University of Michigan's law school in 1998, she joined a firm in downtown Chicago, practicing real estate law. Finding the hours to be grueling -- the dot-com era was just heating up -- Kim relocated to San Francisco in hopes that a new firm would pack less pressure.

Instead, she quit after eight months.

"The practice of law is the practice of law," Kim said. "It just finally showed through that I did not enjoy being a lawyer."

There will always be days when you resent your job, but what do you do when, as with Kim, the feeling persists? Do you look for a new position within your career? Or do you switch professions altogether?

Over the next few weeks, we will explore how to decide if a career change is right for you and, if so, how to make the leap successfully.

Not all of us need to abandon our career path. But it's not uncommon to make a switch, especially when you're young and just learning what it means to be, say, a lawyer, doctor or teacher day-to-day.

"A lot of young people just want to get to an end goal really quickly," Kim said. "And it's hard to recognize whether you like what you're doing when you're trying to climb the ladder."

Kim originally wanted to study architecture in college, but she didn't have a knack for the subject. So she decided "to take the easy way out" and pursue law school.

Once she realized her mistake, Kim initially took a job in a furniture boutique. It was a retail position, and it paid significantly less than practicing law. But it offered the chance to explore home design, this time without academic pressure. She wrote one news release for the store, which sparked an interest in writing.

It took a few years of hounding editors at local magazines, researching freelance stories on lunch breaks and living in a friend's dining room to save on rent before Kim landed the job with Coastal Living.

The experience was rewarding but tough. As a result, Kim has come up with myths about career changes. I've listed some of them here as a good starting point:

Myth 1

You will be happier in your dream job.

Not so, Kim said. Even the most glamorous jobs have downsides. Writing on deadline, for instance, can be brutal. And you may have to make sacrifices for a dream job, such as a cut in salary or relocating.

Myth 2

Everyone has one true passion.

In researching your career move, counselors recommend starting with a list of 40 or so jobs and then narrowing the list. In other words, your interests can be varied -- and they can change.

Myth 3

Your passion should be obvious.

Career counselors make their living by helping people find the right job. So it's OK if you haven't landed on "the" career yet. Even doctors and lawyers, who spend years training for their profession, change their minds, experts say.

Myth 4

Changing careers is fun and exciting.

There are obvious financial challenges to quitting your job. But there are emotional hurdles, too.

"When you quit, it can feel like a free fall. Your identity as a waitress or a student no longer exists," Kim said.

She added: "It takes a lot of soul-searching and being brutally honest with yourself. You have to ask, 'What do I really, really, want?'"

Carolyn Bigda writes for Tribune Media Services.

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