Q. At 50, I’m facing a somewhat scary juncture where I don’t know if I should continue my freelance graphic design career, or chuck it and try something new. I love much of the work I do but have never made a go of it financially. Problem is, I’m not sure what I’d like to do if it’s not design. Any suggestions?
A. Please know that you’re not alone in wondering whether to chuck your career for something new. Thousands of professionals are asking the same question. Here’s how to evaluate whether it’s time to forge a new career path, or continue with your current one.
First, determine exactly what is not working in your current job. Professionals who are fed up and exhausted trying to become more successful often despair at the obstacles in front of them and impetuously decide to discard their career. But often, this “pendulum” approach – swinging in a completely new direction because you want to run from what isn’t working — is a serious mistake (learn more about avoiding the Pendulum Effect). For example, I was so burned out from my corporate layoff after 9/11 that I wanted the furthest thing from the corporate arena I could find. I became a marriage and family therapist, which in the end didn’t suit me as well as my third career, career coaching, which draws on the exciting parts of my corporate experience, along with my therapeutic training.
Before you ditch your career, you must identify clearly and concretely what you like about what you do now, what you hate, what you never want to do again, and what you want to bring forward. If you leap before doing this discovery work, you’ll toss the baby out with the bath water. In addition, the core challenges you face will most likely repeat themselves in the next situation if you don’t identify and resolve them now.
If you’re unclear about staying or going, take my free Career Path Self-Assessment, which will help you gain clarity on where you’ve been, what you want to create in your life, and how to connect the dots. It’s important to understand how you want to be of service in the world, and how you can use your talents and skills in ways that will contribute to others while supporting you.
Second, if you love your work but can’t make a financial go of it, evaluate how you’re making money and all the factors involved – the business model you’re using, how you’re finding and securing new clients, the referral network you’ve created, the new services, products and programs you offer, your marketing communications, and your personal branding. Often, there’s tremendous room for improvement in how you are booking business. Address this and you may be able to remain in the work you love, making the money you need. If money is your issue, find a financial consultant and a business coach who specializes in your field.
Decide that you’ll give yourself a certain amount of time (4-6 months is a standard period) pursing your current career, improving your financial situation and getting the outside help you need to do things differently. If you haven’t generated significant change by then, you may be ready for a new career.
Here’s an example. A client of mine – a fabulous web design and marketing consultant – hadn’t figured out exactly what type of small business she was attracted to helping, and as a result was all over the place in her client list and her marketing and business development efforts. Once she dug deep and admitted that she wanted to help other graphic and web design businesses become more profitable and cutting-edge, she found new ways to target, reach and sign on ideal clients. The work makes her happy (and generates a lot more money).
The key questions to ask yourself are: 1) Do I really love this work? 2) If so, what can I do differently to make the money I need? Don’t continue to do the same thing over and over and except a different outcome. It simply won’t come.
Kathy Caprino, founder/president of Ellia Communications, is the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough