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Should you change careers to keep doing what you love?

We’ve all heard about changing careers to follow your passion. It’s a topic that insinuates you’ve been stuck in a dead-end job, adhering to a routine of monotony for years before having a breakaway moment to risk it all and chase an unlived dream.

But that’s not always the case.

A career change doesn’t always mean a change in interests – in fact, sometimes a career change is necessary to sustain your passion.

If you’re someone who’s been lucky enough to pursue your dream job right from the beginning of your career journey, you’re probably aware that things don’t always go the way you expect them to. It might be because the job isn’t everything you imagined it would be, or perhaps you don’t feel like you ‘fit’ in the industry.

Whatever the reason, you shouldn’t feel like you need to stay in that job just because it’s what you first wanted to do. This is a conclusion shared by Felicity Ho, who graduated Deakin’s Doctor of Psychology (Clinical); Karen Dewis, who’s preparing to complete her Master of Human Nutrition at Deakin; and Veronica Johnson, who is a Postgraduate Psychology student at Deakin.

These three women share their stories and insights on why it’s sometimes necessary to make a career change rather than sacrifice your passion.

You don’t feel like you ‘fit’ in your current job anymore

When Felicity Ho began her career as a software engineer, she was driven by her passion for ‘understanding how things worked and wanting to make people’s lives easier, or “better”,’ she says.

But, what she’d originally set out to do in the IT industry wasn’t on the cards. ‘I was becoming disillusioned with the IT industry.

‘I felt I wasn’t having a personal impact on people and that several projects I was working on were helping companies make more money rather than making people’s lives easier or socially more productive.

‘I was also receiving career advice that went against my core values,’ Felicity explains.

If you’re in the same boat, this might be a pretty clear sign that you need to follow a new career path – especially one that will align better with your values and morals.

Aligning yourself with an industry or job that shares the same values as you will increase your job satisfaction and boost your happiness. If you’re not feeling those things in your current job, you might have pinpointed that this is the time to change careers.

Felicity had been a software engineer for 11 years, and she says the last four of those were spent deliberating the best option for her happiness.

‘It took me that long to accept that the industry wasn’t going to change to suit my values, no matter how much I wanted it to.

‘It also took me that long to accept that starting a new career would hurt financially, which would impact on previous plans I had for my financial future, but that it was otherwise the better option.’

Knowing that it was necessary for her to get out of the IT industry, Felicity pursued an interest in Psychology.

Despite doubting her ability to study again and being anxious about starting a new career from scratch, she says, ‘I had to focus on the present rather than think about the ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ of the future.

‘Seven years later, I’ve finished my Doctor of Psychology and I’m now working!’

Felicity has no regrets around her career change, and says she’s now in a job that aligns significantly with her core values.

‘Every day has been interactions with several clients that I am able to on a personal level in a meaningful way. I am able to be honest and open to clients, and hearing their diversity of life experiences affects my growth as a person as well as a clinician.

‘Seeing clients change over a course of therapy is rewarding as is the knowledge that I am having a positive impact on at least one person,’ she says.

'It took me that long to accept that the industry wasn't going to change to suit my values, no matter how much I wanted it to.'

Felicity Ho,
Deakin graduate

You feel like you could be doing more

Karen is someone well-versed in changing careers to sustain a passion. Her core interest has always revolved around food, lifestyle and health.

She worked in education for 33 years, teaching students of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds life skills in cooking. But in between this, she was chasing a passion to bring awareness to child obesity and type 2 diabetes.

‘I knew what I did in the classroom, teaching kids life skills in cooking was not enough,’ Karen says. ‘I was only scraping the surface; engrained family habits did not change.

‘I won a position for policy writing with a health and education initiative, to address the escalating obesity and type 2 diabetes with children aged four to 18 in South Australia. That was my dream job,’ she says.

Karen worked in this job developing sustainable changes in schools for health and wellbeing for three years, before returning to education.

This is indicative of how passion can lie on a spectrum. When you feel strongly enough about something, you’ll probably be thinking of bigger ways to achieve the things you feel are important. If that involves a career change, then why should you stop yourself?

Karen retired at 57, but later decided to embark on another new career path.

‘Long lunches, travel, family and grandchildren are all great, but not substantial enough for me,’ she says. ‘I was in my early 60s and writing a food blog with my passion of cooking, making food interesting, exciting, delicious and healthy,’ she says. ‘I felt that to give my blog credibility, I needed to have qualifications specific to the nutrition field.’

You shouldn’t feel discouraged if you’re considering coming out of retirement to keep following your passion.

‘Retirement is such a defining thing in life and has many connotations attached,’ Karen says. ‘Ageism is engrained in our culture, however, more people are going against the grain as they age.’

In fact, older university students tend to do better in their studies than their younger counterparts. Your passion and clear idea of where you want to go will give you a distinct advantage over others.

Your passion becomes deeper for a specific part of your job

Veronica had been a teacher for 11 years before realising that her passion went far deeper than teaching alone.

‘I found myself in leadership positions that were focused on student wellbeing. Working one-to-one with students and families to help them through challenging times became a passion of mine over-and-above teaching,’ she says.

‘I really enjoyed working with the psychologists in the multidisciplinary team we had, and decided that a career in psychology would be a good fit for me.’

It’s not unusual for a broad interest to morph into a more niche passion. If you find yourself enjoying a particular aspect of your job more than the whole, you should consider how you can turn that passion into a career of its own.

You might be worried about making that change later in life, and Veronica admits it’s not a walk in the park.

‘It’s hard going back to being “new” at something again when you’re used to feeling competent,’ she explains. ‘I was juggling a lot more responsibilities than some of the younger students. I had more work commitments, a mortgage and a lifestyle I’d become accustomed to that I didn’t want to give up.

‘But I studied smarter. I used my time more efficiently and focused on what I needed to do to get to the end goal.’

Veronica says, despite the challenges, her experience has been ‘so valuable and life-changing.’

‘My passion is in early intervention for children and families to try to change their life trajectory before they get lost in a big wide world of services and systems,’ she says. ‘I am making a difference in a way that I never thought possible, and my heart is wholly in what I am doing.

‘Nobody can put a price on that.’

If you’re ready for a career change, you’ll want to be prepared return to studying. Here’s how to foster a passion for life-long learning.

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