By Matthew Tarpey
"Follow your dreams." "Do what you love and the money will follow." Job hunters and the unemployed constantly hear this advice, but is it always good advice? Many, fed up with toiling for bad bosses or seeing diminished opportunities in the 9 to 5 world, are starting their own businesses or switching careers. But is pursuing your dream worth the risk? Here's some advice before taking the big step:
Jeff Reid, director of the entrepreneurial studies initiative at Georgetown University, urges would-be entrepreneurs to exercise honest self-reflection before following their passion. "A lot of the preparation should be introspective. Make sure that you know your own strengths, weaknesses, what gets you excited, how you deal with difficulty and how much of your motivation is internal," he says. It's an important, yet often skipped-over, step. Without a good understanding of what you hope to accomplish and what your passion is, you could find yourself diving headfirst into murky waters.
Make sure you have enough savings to float you. For young professionals or recent graduates, living on modest means is much easier than it is for the primary breadwinner of a family. "[Save] as much as possible, but don't wait forever to take the leap," Reid says. "I see so many people fall into a career trap in which they tell themselves that they will work on a startup after a few years at a big company so they can 'pay down some student debt,' or 'learn from a big company,' or 'get a brand name on my resume first.' " However, the more used to a regular paycheck you get, the harder it becomes to make the switch and live more frugally, even if only temporarily.
Build a bridge to your new life.
Making the leap across industries can be just as daunting a task as creating your own business. "It helps if you can do what I call building a bridge," says Dawniel Patterson Winningham, president of Women Entrepreneurs of America's Texas chapter. "Work [at] both temporarily, maybe even asking for reduced hours at your permanent job while you work to build your passion. That way, at least you still have your bird in the hand while you work on the one in the bush."
"Become an expert in your desired field," Reid adds. "Read everything you can. Attend industry conferences. Start a blog and share your own insights. Talk to as many people in that field as you can. Be prepared to take a cut in salary or title, but realize that if your new career is truly your dream job, you are going to be successful and enjoy the many rewards of doing what you love to do."
Ask yourself tough questions before taking action.
If you're unhappy with your current position, but you're unsure how to build a bridge to your dream job, ask yourself these questions:
- What is it that you love about your dream job? Is it a particular industry or product, or is it the activities or lifestyle? Can you find those qualities in another position?
- What are your ultimate goals? Will working a job you love help you reach your career goals or just make you happy in the short term?
- How can you use your current experience and skills to make you a desirable candidate in your dream field? What can you bring to the table?
- Are there other projects within your current company that relate more to what you'd like to do?
- Can you take up your dream job as a hobby on the side to build experience and contacts?
- Do any local schools offer courses that can help you gain expertise in your dream field?
- What's the worst that could happen if you fail? How difficult would it be to go from that scenario back to where you are now?
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