In college, we expected we’d find the right career and see it through to the end. But in reality, all of us have many interests, and sometimes our tastes change when we enter a new period of life. Like me, you might have graduated college, found yourself working in what you thought was your dream job, and then realized it wasn’t the right fit. Realizing this is hard, and sometimes the idea of starting over — or adding on something new — can be terrifying.
Last week I stumbled on an article online in The Atlantic: “Why a Memoirist Can Be a Songwriter but Snooki Can’t Be a Novelist.” Writer Kassi Underwood discusses how often celebrities cross between different careers — successfully and unsuccessfully. Memoir writer Mary Karr began writing Americana music and her album has received a lot of praise. Snooki wrote a book, but most of us rolled our eyes. Underwood says one bothers us much more than the other because one worked at the craft, while the other didn’t. But Underwood reminds us that we can’t be too quick to judge:
To be fair, celebrities don’t have the fledgling artists’ benefit of getting rejected until they’re good enough. Instead, they have managers and agents prodding them to produce more work instead of better work. They have publishers and producers and directors ready to sign them, without regard to quality. Yet honing a craft requires years of work—decades, even.”
Celebrity or not, we can’t expect instant success the second we decide to try something new. Often, changing careers isn’t as easy as just applying for a new job — we need the experience. But many ask, how do you get that experience, when no one will hire you?
I always found this question frustrating. I spent a year and a half as a broadcast journalist before I realized what I really loved was the craft of storytelling, including visual storytelling and the written word. When I tried to leave the news business, I applied for jobs at production companies and I applied for jobs as a writer. Potential employers said I didn’t have exactly the right skill set for them. I handed them my reporting tape and that, unfortunately, was not enough proof of my writing or production skills. My skills showed only what I could do in a newsroom.
I was frustrated after these interviews, wondering why it seemed so impossible to change careers. After all, a reporter to a writer/video producer didn’t seem too far of a stretch. Eventually I realized I had to simply get out and do what I wanted to do, and I had to work for it. I went back to school, I applied for more internships, and I started doing video editing and writing for anyone I could, for little to no pay. I had honed my craft in news, but now I had to hone my craft in writing and visual storytelling.
If you’re like me and working through a career change, don’t be afraid to take a few steps back. If you’re busy working the day job, use your free time to attend some extra classes and do some projects on your own time to build a portfolio. Talk to friends who are in the industry you want to be in, and ask how they got where they are today. With any career change, you have to put in the time and the effort, and you have to be disciplined. This might mean pushing yourself a little harder for a year or two, but remind yourself of the payoff. Don’t let years slip by before you get what you really want.