Published On: Wed, Apr 3rd, 2024

Ask Elaine: Does changing careers mean choosing purpose or profit?

Ask Elaine: Does changing careers mean choosing purpose or profit?
Ask Elaine: Does changing careers mean choosing purpose or profit?


Dear Elaine: What safety nets are necessary to pivot a career change that involves going to school to learn a new skill set? Do we have to choose between purpose and profit? Especially in the creative field, do I have to start my 10,000 hours over and rebuild? For context, I am a senior account manager at a tech staffing company and have been looking to go to film school.

Big Leap: I don’t believe in safety nets. I believe in the power of clear goals, good planning, relentless budgeting, effective networking, side hustling, and securing bags in advance of a leap whenever possible. But more than anything, I believe in trusting the nudge inside of you that’s telling you there’s more to life than this. Ultimately, I believe in the confidence that’s cultivated from not just dreaming of a different path but actually mapping out the path toward your uncharted future.

When making a midcareer pivot, especially one that requires going back to school, you have to accept that there will be some trade-offs that might make you feel uncomfortable and uneasy. Change is hard. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good for you. The question is, are you really willing to make the sacrifices required to build the career you say you want? As best you can, take stock of what you think these sacrifices will be; write them down so you can visualize what you’ll have to give up.

There are different ways to approach your pivot. If you choose to go to school full-time, you may have to take out loans and consolidate your life by downsizing your living space and maybe picking up work on the side. There’s always the option of keeping your day job and enrolling in a film program that offers courses on nights and weekends. You could also forgo traditional film school and just start learning by doing: Watch YouTube videos, write a script, buy a camera, start networking by joining local film community organizations and offer up your time by volunteering, interning, shadowing and doing whatever it takes to learn by being in the field. This can also help you better define your path within the film world, if you’re still unclear on that.

Do you have to choose between purpose and profit? It depends on how you choose to set up your life. Plenty of people work passionless jobs and find fulfillment outside of their professions. But given your aspirations, it sounds like you want a career that integrates passion with your paycheck. So, I say go for it! You may have only one life to live, but you get to have as many careers as you want.

Do you have to start over to build up your 10,000 hours? It depends on how you’ve been spending your time to date. What transferrable skills, networks and resources have you acquired that you can get creative about parlaying into building blocks on the path toward where you want to go next?

Plenty of people have taken big bets on themselves by making midcareer pivots to varying degrees of success. I recommend studying the career paths of people whom you admire or relate to. Take Ava DuVernay as an example. She was 32 when she picked up a camera for the first time. She had no formal training or schooling as a film director, but she was able to leverage her years of experience and contacts as a film publicist to plot out a directing career to great success. But she talks openly about the sacrifices that came with it.

It may seem scary to take a big leap into the unknown — especially if you’re going from profitable work with guaranteed paychecks to passion-fueled projects with unknown returns — but the consequences of staying on a path where you’re no longer growing, fulfilled or inspired are far scarier than doing what it takes to set yourself up for success in a new adventure. Will there be some sacrifice? Yes. Will it always feel worth it? Maybe not. But betting on yourself is still worth it if you know that another path is calling you.


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