After high school, I studied to be a paralegal. I toiled in that field for 11 years, extremely unfulfilled. I wanted to change careers—to go to school to study education and become a teacher—but I was terrified. If only I had the book When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn't the Life You Want by Mike Lewis, I would have made the move much earlier. This book gives a great step-by-step guide for how to change careers.
Mike Lewis was a 24-year-old Princeton grad with a prestigious, high-paying job at Bain Capital Ventures. He wasn't happy, though. He wanted to jump careers and become a professional squash player. He knew how absurd his idea sounded to others, and he was terrified to leave the safety and security of his job. But gradually, step-by-step, he planned his jump—and he was able to live the life he dreamed of.
Lewis shares his strategies with the reader, as well as stories of other career jumpers who reinvented themselves and achieved their goals. Lewis identifies four critical concepts that seem to apply to all jumps, and he plots these concepts on a "jump curve," a guiding framework that provides the key insights necessary for the journey.
Phase 1: Listen to the Little Voice
To jump successfully, Lewis says, the jumper must tune in and listen to the little voice inside. No one else can make the decision for you, and no one else understands your abilities and talents. Lewis explains there will be a moment when you'll know, and you'll be able to understand the difference between "crazy and stupid."
Further reading: 10 Signs That Becoming a Teacher Is the Right Move for You
A person thinking about making a jump should ask for support, not permission. Anyone can jump, and following a passion will almost always be rewarding.
Phase 2: Make a Plan
Of course, no jump can be successful without a plan. Every jump, Lewis explains, includes three components: financial planning, pre-jump practice, and safety net sewing.
A person who makes a jump must be financially prepared to do so. Saving up money helps make the jump a little less stressful. Jumpers should also practice a bit before making a jump. After I enrolled in college and began taking courses for my master's degree in education, I spent some time student teaching. Then I did some substitute teaching. Both were practice for a real teaching job and helped me immensely in terms of understanding what I needed to do to be a successful teacher.
I also had a safety net: I knew I could return to a law firm or teach in adult learning centers if my jump didn't pan out. Having a safety net in case the jump doesn't go as well as expected will help alleviate anxiety. Can you return to your previous field or utilize your new skills in other ways? Keeping your options open is critical. A well-planned transition is always better than an impetuous leap.
Phase 3: Let Yourself Be Lucky
In this phase, the jumper needs to set a date for the jump. It's not so easy to do when others think you're crazy to leave a stable job for something unknown, but in the end, it's your passion and vigor that will guide you. Then, prepare to be lucky—it's amazing how things turn out when you just let go. Mentors arrive and opportunities appear. When I made my jump from paralegal to teacher, a teaching job miraculously opened up at an alternative school in the next town from mine. It was too good to be true—so I jumped.
Phase 4: Don't Look Back
Lewis says that you'll come out stronger after making a jump. I certainly did. The jumper gains skills, meets interesting people, and learns a great deal that can be added to their resume. Prioritizing learning is a critical piece of making a jump, and whether that education is formal or not, it's important to learn as much as you can. You may fail along the way, but you'll grow from the experience. The jump may be terrifying, but the alternative is much worse. Remembering that will help you avoid regret.
Further reading: Why There's Never Been a Better Time to Consider Becoming a Teacher
Lewis's book contains fascinating stories of real people who successfully figured out how to change careers, and I couldn't get enough of them. He writes about Nancy Marie Williams, who jumped from nurse to doctor, entering medical school at the age of 50. He also writes about Michael Lewis (no relation), who went from being a financial professional to the bestselling author of Moneyball and The Big Short.
These stories will inspire you to take the leap you've always dreamed of, whether that means enrolling in college to get an undergraduate degree, going back to school to get your master's degree, honing a skill or a sport, or applying for a job you thought was out of your reach. When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn't the Life You Want can guide you along the way.