Ask the grumpies: When to change careers?

First Gen American asks:

When contemplating a career change or big move, what factors play a role in your decision, and more importantly what makes you pull the trigger? For most, we are complacent beings and don’t move unless we are very unhappy or have experienced job loss. Are there other reasons one should embark on such change like for money reasons?

If we had a good answer for this one, or at least could pretend to be confident that we had an answer, we could make a tonne of money selling advice.  But we really don’t.

Now, empirically, most people don’t leave careers or even jobs– they leave bosses.  If you have a terrible boss, you are far more likely to leave than when you have a great boss.

People do leave careers/jobs for other reasons, though the bosses thing is #1.  Men are more likely than women to leave for money reasons.  Women are more likely than men to leave for family reasons.  Of course, these “more likely to”s are within a culture in which women are discriminated against and their jobs are often not as compelling.

Some people leave because they’re scanners.  Some people leave because they no longer have room to grow, or their job description has changed to become less compelling.  Some people leave because they’re offered an interesting (or lucrative) opportunity outside their current work.  Some people leave because they don’t like the weather or develop new allergies.

As for us– we haven’t changed careers or made a big move yet, so we’re bad people to ask!

Grumpy readership, do you have a better answer for FGA?  If you’ve changed careers or know someone who has, why did you/they do it?

28 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: When to change careers?”

  1. plantingourpennies Says:

    Feels like it’s a bit hard to call them careers, but I left my first two jobs after about a year and they are in entirely different fields than I work now (and from one another), so perhaps they were career changes.
    The first I left because the job wasn’t asking enough of me. My physical presence mattered more than my brain being present most days and that wasn’t the way I wanted to spend that many hours of my life. (Also found out later I was allergic to the building I worked in that year, odd that you mention it.)
    And I left the second because it asked too much of me. Too many hours, too much flexibility on my part, and the straw that broke the camel’s back was when the company said my job would move to one of two cities and I could go with it, but neither of those two cities held any appeal for me whatsoever.
    My current job is a balance of wanting me to be “on” intellectually, but leaving me plenty of time to enjoy life outside of work.

  2. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I am now the longest I’ve been in any jobbe by far–just shy of a decade–and I’m starting to get antsy: like I need a new challenge.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      In my field when people want that they often do a stint for the government.

      Or I guess they start writing for the NYTimes.

      Or they move from a top uni to a less top uni with tons of money and admin support or to a new interdisciplinary department and build up the new department.

  3. Mrs. CH Says:

    I’m about to take on a career change for the following reasons:
    – The funding for my current job was cut and the new position taking it’s place does not appeal to me
    – There is no where to grow
    – Management style of my boss(es) is atrocious
    – I’m about to go on maternity leave for a year (with benefits), so I have time to ponder what I’d like to do next

    Exciting, but scary at the same time!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Good luck! And yay for benefits while you have the time to think about things.

      • Mrs. CH Says:

        Thanks! Partial benefits, but enough to pay the bills and still put some in savings, so that’s good enough while I ponder things! Will be blogging about this in the weeks/months to come, once I’m done work and have had time to think a bit.

        Also, sorry about the “it’s” – I hate when I do that!

  4. Jacq Says:

    Learning and money are pretty much the drivers for me.

    Also keeping a closer eye on health issues in recent years. Sometimes I don’t necessarily *feel* that stressed, but apparently it shows up in my BP. It dropped 40 sys points after leaving this last gig. Mind you, I’ve also lost like 20 pounds without much effort and that helps.

    Am looking at another very short-term (2-4 weeks) gig this next week – for the money and the learning/possible future connections. It’s a new roof on the house (thought I had a couple more years to go but we got hit by a major hail storm) and maybe a nice holiday this winter. And possibly not having to think about a budget for another year or two.

    Having the type of work that gets DONE – ie. an end in sight / project work – is huge for me. It took me a long time to recognize how unsuited I was to repetitive work and how stimulated by something new that I haven’t done before. But I think I’m somewhere around 99% N-intuitive with no proper S-sense. :) My type tends to work in spurts / with bursts of energy and then lay dormant for awhile. Kind of used to beat myself up over that, but learned to just find work that let me be that way and in fact needed someone that was that way. Doesn’t work for keeping the house constantly clean though. Oh well.

    • First Gen American Says:

      That last paragraph describes me to a T.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m completely the opposite, even with the housecleaning! I hate deadlines (have a post on this coming up) and prefer to work steadily… except the only thing that gets us to do a thorough housecleaning is the threat of company coming. (Heck, we keep a small enough number of dishes and diapers that we’re forced to do dishes and laundry regularly. Otherwise it might get impossible and stinky.)

      • Jacq Says:

        Deadlines are a fun game that can usually be beaten. :)
        Yeah, I figured you, Nicole, were more S-oriented. Bloggers that post very regularly or on a schedule usually are. And the language is different – can’t really explain it, but I know it when I see it.
        Sandy, I think where you and I differ is on the introversion / extroversion scale – you look for projects to work on in the outside world / improving the world somehow. I find the world rather overwhelming. On the enneagram, you’re probably (highly highly likely) an 8 –
        and I’m a 5 –

      • GMP Says:

        LOL! Me too. Glad to know I am not alone.

      • rented life Says:

        “Deadlines are a fun game that can usually be beaten. :)” Yes. 100% how I function.

    • agreeing Says:


  5. First Gen American Says:

    I’m very interested in your reader’s answers. I’ve been at the same company for a long time (17 years) and although it’s been mostly good and I’ve had lots of opportunities here, I wonder if changing to a different company would be good. Plus, I have someone who wants me to take over her non-profit when she retires. Although financially it’s not a move I want to make at this time, it makes me realize that I may not be utilizing my leadership skills where I am now as I’m in an individual contributor role. I moved over from the mgmt role when I had kids. I think that partly led to being passed over for certain jobs recently now that I’m ready to lead again (ie..she’s not ambitious because she left management. A temporary move like that can type cast you forever in certain places.).Curious minds want to know. Thanks for posting.

  6. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    I agree that people sometimes leave bosses and not careers.

    My husband left the mortuary business to try a career in sales…and failed. However, he decided not to try to get his old job back and got a job at a different mortuary instead. His (and my) old boss would literally sit in his office and look at fishing gear on craigslist all day. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was looking at condos in Florida or watching YouTube videos. It made both of us crazy to work all day while our boss was oblivious to everything that was going on….especially when he would gush about how good of a job we were doing. He was super nice but the whole thing just got old.

  7. Cloud Says:

    I can tell you why I am in the midst of a slow-motion career change: I realized that my current career can never support the sort of lifestyle I dream of having- not in terms of money, but in terms of freedom to travel. At some point, I got a clear idea of what I want my life to be like once my kids are a little older, and I realized that it was absolutely impossible to have that life in my current career track. So I’m change it- but slowly, because I like having money too much to just quit and change it all at once!

  8. oilandgarlic Says:

    I changed careers because I didn’t enjoy my field any longer and was simply going through the motions. Plus pay wasn’t great at nonprofits in general. I transition by getting certification in my desired field (2 year night classes).. I had a better title in my old job but I am happy I made that change. My new field is much more interesting, challenging and ever-changing.

    The boss wasn’t a factor in my decision as I had made up my mind while I had a terrific boss. However, while I was taking classes, a new (hated) boss took over and the company culture took a nosedive. That certainly made the career change much easier. It is scary to make a change of course. I am fortunate that I love my new field and now have a great boss and co-workers!

  9. chacha1 Says:

    I left a job in bookselling when it became clear that the situation was crumbling underneath me. That led directly to my first job in a law firm, where I stayed five years and probably would have stayed longer. But after finishing my MA I moved across the country with a boyfriend, got a job in the same legal field, and have stayed in the same field (though bouncing from office to office) ever since. May be worth noting that I doubled my salary just by moving from Atlanta to L.A., though money was not the object.

    The one time I seriously contemplated a career change, money had little to do with it. I was earning A Lot, but my then-job in law was horribly stressful, and I decided I had to put together an exit strategy. That is when I took 18 months of courses to be certified as a personal trainer and a ballroom instructor.

    I ended up getting a different job in another law firm (voluntary 30% pay cut and soon to be followed by a layoff, yet – oddly – much less stressful and I saved much more money). I am now holding training/teaching in reserve as a post-retirement gig.

    All this just boils down to Situation and Circumstance. A big geographic move should be considered if and when the prospects in the current place of residence are insufficiently exciting to contemplate a lifetime there, or the prospects in a new location are sufficiently more enticing. A move may also be undertaken in order to put one’s self in a position to embark on a new career path. I don’t personally think that “family ties” are a good enough reason to geographically anchor, given our age of easy & instantaneous communication.

    Changing jobs I think is usually a mechanism for securing upward mobility, either in title or pay grade. Many industries do not promote from within or do not offer raises commensurate to what a skilled employee can achieve by making a lateral move.

  10. librarianinprogress Says:

    I’m contemplating a career shift at some point, but I’m still fairly new and it seems too soon to make a change. I think its mostly the stress of my LDR and lack of available jobs in our current locations. I’m uncertain about academia long term too and my institution seems to keep making poor decisions lately which doesn’t help. Any decision I make to change careers will probably depend on where I end up and what the options are in that geographic area.

  11. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I am pretty sure there will be a career change for me in the next five years. Why?
    1) I am way too smart for the work I am doing and for the work generally expected in this career. It took me a while to finally just own up to that but it’s the truth and to keep deluding myself on this is ridiculous. I’m not trying to be cocky, it’s just the damn truth.
    2) I don’t feel like I really actually dedicated myself to the career track I am in now. I feel like I jumped in out of desperation and clung to it because it hires often and at just enough to not be poverty-stricken. For whatever reason that was good enough for me. Probably because I jumped in when I was married and with children and desperate.
    3) The money. The cap on this career track is way too low. I could probably make about $15k more if I went into some high-powered executive’s assistant position but that would mean a huge problem with demands on time I am sure and stress levels and I’m not sure how I feel about those consequences for only $15k more with very small, if any, potential for growth.
    4) There is very little chance of me having my own business/being my own boss one day in this track. It’s just not there. I am tired of working for everyone else and making everyone else’s job easier and making everyone else look awesome and make more money and I get by with 2% raises and no opportunity for advancement.
    5) I feel like I am in the right place mentally/emotionally/lifewise to take full control of my life and my career. I don’t think I was there before for a bazillion reasons almost all of which I am sure are tied in with low self-esteem and self-doubt and so on and so forth. Having worked through a lot of those issues, I feel like I am ready to just on challenges and try new things that I WANT to do and not that I feel I HAVE to do.

  12. rented life Says:

    Burn out, inconsistency in amount of income/work, unreliable. That’s the biggest reasons I started to work on changing careers. It’s not easy though, as I’m learning the corporate world will make just as many false promises as higher ed, just to get you signed on. (Where the hell are people’s ethics? It’s not that hard. Sorry…frustrating few days.) My husband has only ever done one thing and is afraid of career change because he has a hard time seeing how his skills apply to other situations. But they do! He wants to change because money, and time. If we could afford a pay cut, he’d take it, simply because the number of hours vs his current salary is just unreasonable, there’s no quality of life. We both have other interests outside of jobs. Also, we both like jobs where we are busy when we are there. I hate having a job with nothing to do. I had one like that a few years ago and I quit after 6 months because I couldn’t stand sitting there for 8 hours with 3-4 hours worth of work. (You weren’t allowed to do anything else either.) I know people who would love that but it drove me nuts.

  13. Chelsea Says:

    We are about to make a BIG CHANGE as DH finishes his PhD and we move… somewhere. Provided I’m able to find a new job, I think it will probably be good for me professionally. Right now I’m in a job where I’m moderately intellectually stimulated and way underpaid, but I love my boss and work environment. It’s probably time for me to move on and learn something new (and hopefully make some better $$), but I think it would be very hard for me to leave my current work environment without being forced to.

  14. SP Says:

    I’m changing jobs (at minimum) for family reasons. I don’t know what would have pushed me to do so otherwise, since I really like my job. Maybe nothing. I took this as an opportunity to really think about what I want to do next and what would be the best next step professionally.

    I’m attempting to change careers entirely. The new “career” will be because I can satisfy my “scanner” and generalist desires (engineers are often pushed to specialize if they want to be very valuable, although you can pursue mgmt to avoid), I can get a lot of new experiences that will open a lot of doors and really push me to new challenges. And the pay is actually much better, though the hours are worse. But salary is the smallest reason.

    I’m trying to make the move purely based on leveraging my current skills and my network. An MBA would make me almost a shoe-in for the types of jobs I’m considering, but the opportunity cost is high. If I can’t do it based on my background and network, then I’ll most likely just change jobs instead of careers.

  15. Tirzah Says:

    I’ve made previous career changes because of negative pressure – I didn’t want to work for that boss anymore, I didn’t like what I did at that job.
    Going back to school, and ultimately going for an accounting degree, is the first time I’ve accompanied the negative pressure (I’m tired of not being able to save money) with positive pressure (I want a degree. I want to be able to provide well for my family. I like this field and I think I can contribute to it. I want to make more money).

    Money is a means to an end here, for me. I spent my first two years back at school taking all my gen ed credits and figuring out the intersection of things I like doing, things I’m good at doing, things I can get paid reasonably well to do, and things that won’t eat my entire life. And that’s how I picked my major.

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