How to jumpstart your transition to a meaningful career


If you’ve decided you want to change your career and pursue something more meaningful, it’s hard to know how to get started.

In our first video for our new series Taking the Reins of Your Career, career coach Cathy Wasserman answers a question from a reader who, after several years of doing the same kind of work, wants advice on how to transition to a more purposeful career, while being mindful of the limited time she has as a working parent. Here’s Cathy’s advice.


If you can’t access the video or want more information, here are the steps Cathy suggests and a few additional resources:

1. Define what meaningful looks like to you: While it’s helpful to have a clear sense of what you don’t want to do, spend some time exploring what you do want to do. What skills would you like to use? What responsibilities would you like to take on?

Resource: How to craft a purpose statement for your career

2. Expand your duties by assisting your colleagues: Leverage the job you have to start exploring different kinds of work. Also talk to your colleagues about their own career paths to get a sense of different approaches and journeys.

Resource: How to land and conduct an informational interview

3. Write out a plan of how you’ll make the transition: After you clarify what you want to do, identify a few concrete steps that will help you get there. What skills do you need to build? What conversations do you need to have? How can your current network help you?

Resource: How to figure out what kind of job you want and how to get there

4. Celebrate your successes: Sometimes career transitions can take a while. While it can be discouraging, being mindful of your progress can keep you motivated.

Resource: How to celebrate your “small wins”

Have you made a career transition recently? What worked for you? Share your thoughts below.

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Former Editor and Creator of Idealist Careers, a publication of Follow me on Twitter @ajlovesya.
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  1. It took me approximately 7 years to transition to stable (at least for today) ground as a part-time graphic designer/communications coordinator. I left abruptly a full-time job in fundraising support, THRILLED to be “reorganized” out of a position that was a terrible fit for my interests and “gifts.” I had already begun (at age 62) continuing education courses in graphic design. Led a FRUGAL existence with income from a variety of benefit programs (including early Social Security) while I studied part-time, developed (on my own initiative) two graphic design internships (one unpaid, the second $10/hour) at local nonprofits, an in between was fortunate enough to find part-time, but short-lived (less than a year each) work that included graphic design at two other nonprofits. Finally, after much searching and lots of participation in free support programs for the unemployed, I obtained my current position (it’s been a year and a half so far), which is as close to a perfect fit as possible. The content includes everything I love: graphic design, website management, public relations, photography, video and social media. Moral to story: don’t be discouraged, hang in there, and hopefully you can make your transition more quickly than I.

      • Dora
      • August 25, 2014

      Thanks, Alice, for sharing your story. I am 42 and I was afraid that I am too old to go after what I truly want to. I was also stuck not able to decide how to do it. Your story has inspired me.

      1. Great, Dora. Go for it!

          • Khan
          • September 6, 2014

          Thanks for the notes. I am looking to transition in about 3 years to a field of interest. I am 39 and also in fundraising which I don’t enjoy, though I like writing part. I am a creative not a sales guy. I just am starting continuing ed in cartooning and also in animation (the latter I feel may have better potential as getting me income – both are related to each other). I am giving myself about 4-6 months to decide on the two or decide I want to do both. I did music for several years but never had that real drive and ambition and didn’t realize that these were the crucial years, and didn’t have the guts to go after the visual arts which I think my natural gifts truly lie in. So I am very excited to begin anew and **not to play small in life. Have read many inspirational books lately and will continue to do so, and even took life coaching for 4 months but am not reducing my budget and getting ready for course load. I am in process of designing “Exploratory Projects” per the coach with timelines and goals in cartooning and for animation, reaching out to certain # of professionals, doing info interviews, etc etc and skills to attain, really networking with instructors and with students, really being actively engaged. That is the advantage over much younger normal students. thanks.

            • Khan
            • September 6, 2014

            I meant to say above I am *now reducing my budget to get ready for course load*

      • Art
      • August 28, 2014

      Thanks for sharing your story and encouragement. I so agree with your comment that when your ‘job’ doesn’t fit you, it is time to move on, or be moved on. I have also been recently ‘reorganized’ out of a large insurance company, but when I left the building I realized that my time had come to change and felt a huge relief. Of course, there is the anxiousness of being unemployed, but I am certain that a better fit is out there and I am looking forward to a new challenge. Even at 56, I still look forward to new challenges, learning and growing. And of course, “congrats” on your new position.

      • Katherine
      • September 4, 2014

      Alice – your story is an inspiration. I not exactly sure where I am headed, but I know that I will not be standing still. I wish you all the very best.

      • Michelle Charles
      • September 7, 2014

      Wow, you really are an inspiration. I love hearing stories like yours. Having a degree in graphic design and business marketing, I sometimes feel frustrated with my career because it’s not going where I would like. I’m happy you found your passion, and I hope I find mine too.

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