Safeguarding your career switch
The night before I moved to California, I got a flat tire. The day before I moved to California, someone backed into my car. The first night that I moved to California, I got a parking ticket and my car was towed.
So, you know. I was really beginning to question my move to California.
I switched careers in 2010. It'd always been a dream of mine to move to New York or Los Angeles to pursue a career in creative writing, and while you don't have to live in either of those places to be a writer, I felt there would be more opportunity. I went with it.
It's been a hurricane. A blur. I've gotten boring gigs, awesome gigs, and I've been stressed about all of those gigs. I've wondered whether I was making mistakes and then confirmed the fact that I was making mistakes.
But two years later, the storm has calmed. Both emotionally and financially, I'm in a better place now than I was before I made the switch.
So far, it's been a success. Who knows what could happen from here, and I've been wary of writing about this for some time. I'm not typically superstitious, but I have to admit, I don't want to jinx it.
But part of that silly fear of jinxing is that I'm careful. I was very careful about ensuring that my career switch would be as painless as possible. I did everything I could to take shelter from the crap storm that inevitably ensues when you leave a decent-paying, stable job to pursue a crazy dream.
Here's what I did.
I was financially prepared
Before I made the decision to move, I talked to people who had once tried it — leaving Texas to pursue a creative career in Los Angeles or New York. They all said the reason they moved back was that they couldn't find a job, and they ran out of money. So I vowed to live below my means, and I began to save. A year before I moved, I wasn't certain it would happen. It seemed so far off, so unattainable. I thought about forgetting my goals entirely to instead travel for the rest of my life, working at my not thrilling, but still decent, job. And really, that's not a bad Plan B.
But eventually, conviction set in. As I began to save more money, I started to realize that this could actually happen. By 2009, I was getting close to having saved $10,000, and the dream started to look like a possibility. I researched what my lifestyle would cost, and I took into consideration the likely chance that I wouldn't be able to find work.
I had a backup plan (and still do)
I tried to pick up as many side jobs as I could; most were writing gigs. While I couldn't find full-time creative writing jobs in my hometown, I did find a couple of creative gigs in other parts of the country (including LA), and there were a few copywriting gigs in my city as well. I was typically working upwards of 60 hours a week. None of those gigs paid particularly well, but it was more about having some sort of income when I finally left my job and moved. Even a few hundred dollars a month would help.
I cut ties with naysayers
My decision really seemed to rub a couple of people the wrong way — they were almost offended that I had the audacity to leave my job to move to California. There was scoffing; there was condescension. One person (whom I didn't even know very well) called me stupid. I drew the line. I can take criticism about my choices, but when I saw the unfounded resentment my decision brought out in some people, they had to go. It was nothing personal, but I was already trying to accomplish something that has a low rate of success. I couldn't afford to incessantly hear about how my failure was inevitable.
I was open-minded
Before and after I moved, I took on jobs that paid considerably, almost amusingly, less than other jobs. I worked for next to nothing, and I worked for free. Sometimes I still take on those gigs. Here's why:
What you're worth vs. what the work is worth
If one gig is paying you $100 per article, illustration — whatever your freelancing fancy — that's great. But if no one else is willing to pay you that rate, and there's still 30 hours left in the week, then that's not what you're “worth.” And anyway, I find it more financially advantageous to not think in terms of what I'm worth, but what the work is worth. Is this hour-long project worth the $20 it pays, especially when I'm getting paid $100 for a similar project elsewhere? Eighty bucks is a big difference. But if I'm not doing much else during that hour aside from watching Frasier reruns, then yeah, it's worth it, regardless of what I think I'm “worth.”
Experience is worthwhile, too
I've written about topics I'm not 100% crazy about. But I've taken them on with fervor, happy just to have a writing gig. Those jobs have often, if not always, led to bigger jobs. And as time goes on, I've noticed that my days are more and more filled with the type of writing that I want to be doing.
Avoid burnout; maybe get paid to not work
I don't need to warn you about spreading yourself thin, nor do I need to tell you how to relax. But I've found a way both 1) avoid burnout; and 2) get paid for it. Because much of my workweek consists of writing, I find that I often need to do an activity that requires relatively no “right-brain” thinking. Thus, I've taken on a mundane gig that consists of cropping photos. After a long week of writing, I actually find it therapeutic. And better yet — I'm getting paid to switch brain sides for a couple of hours.
Insure your career, even your old one
Telling my boss I had put in four years at her company only to move to California to pursue a dream was one of the most difficult things, career-wise, that I've had to do. But during that meeting, something interesting happened. Instead of telling me to get lost, she actually asked me if I could continue working for her at my convenience after I moved.
I was stunned. This meant I wouldn't have to immediately dip into my emergency fund.
I got lucky; I had a really cool boss. But if I hadn't worked hard at that job, as great as she is, I doubt she would have asked me to keep working for her. I was thankful that I'd insured my career.
What's worked for me
Everyone's different. What works for me isn't necessarily what would work for you. Some might find their career switch to be most effective by “just doing it.” In fact, I know a couple of people who left their jobs, moved to Los Angeles with nothing and are now getting by perfectly fine. Not many, but a couple.
But for me, it took many years of contemplating, deciding on and planning my career switch. I took a decision that some would deem irresponsible, and I tried to make it happen as responsibly as possible.
This isn't to say that I'm in the exact place where I want to be. As my goals continue to develop and expand, I may never even get there. But so far, I'm content, and this is what's worked for me.