I’ve been asked by the team over at the awesome Women 2.0 to write a blog post on my career change and lessons I learned to help others transition.  I’ll start the process by sharing some basic, hopefully widely applicable, thoughts here.  I’ll turn this into more of a personal story after I get my thoughts in order.

To start off, a career change is a massive commitment, and not something to enter into spur of the moment.  Before I decided to switch careers, I spent months studying my work and thoughts around it.  I noticed whenever I liked and didn’t like something, and wrote out lists of both. I thought about what was lacking, and how that could be better incorporated.  I researched the different careers I might be able to realistically move into: which would best cover the list of likes and remove the most dislikes.  If you leap into a career path without truly understand why (outside of “Well, I hated the old job!”) then your new job will be no better. No job is just honey and ice cream, even an ice cream maker’s.

Once you have decided to take that scary step of “New Career,” there are a few things I find made the transition easier:

0) Prepare your exit.  It’s easy, when things get tough – and the WILL get tough – go just fall back into what you know.  Make sure you’ve worked with your clients or employer to find a strong replacement who you are both happy with.  This leaves your past contacts as great recommendations for new things, and makes it a lot tougher for you to go back.

1) Don’t listen to doubters.  Just about everyone I told who knew my past work that I wanted to get in game design had the same answer: “But you don’t have any experience; why would you do that?”  While no one flat out said “you CAN’T do that,” it was pretty much implied over and over.  These people are generally just trying to protect you; they only know one skill of yours and don’t want you to have to deal with a serious failure.  But they aren’t helping you move on.  Thank them for their advice, and then throw it away.

2) Listen to anyone in the new industry.  They may give you great advice; they may give you terrible advice; but either way, they are telling you something about the way people think and share ideas in this new space you are exploring.  For example, I wanted to get into Game Design, but during my internship I sat in on product management talks, listened in on sales calls, watched the analytics tools, eavesdrop on artist debates, etc.  I don’t know what I’ll need to know, so I’ll absorb everything I can for later use.  Do NOT assume all of this will be important or “right” – you have to make that decision on your own – but do NOT assume that just because someone is junior level or not a designer means they have nothing to share.

3) Find the fun in entry level.  Because you will be doing entry level work.  You’ll be doing data entry, cold calls, proofreading, note taking.  But if this is the industry you’re excited about, you should be excited about that, too.  Make sure you find a place where you have room to grow, and make it clear that it’s your plan to grow.  Im incredibly lucky in that I found a place that talks regularly with me about my long term plans and goals and wants to help me get there.  But along the way, I recognize and generally even enjoy the small things I need to do.