How I changed my career in six monthsFeatured

Picture this: The year is 2020 and I’m stuck at home with the rest of the world. Except for making banana bread and starting a TikTok account, I’m pouring over every career blog I can find.

Deciding to make the switch

At 22 years old, just a year after graduating college, I perceived myself to have the wherewithal to make a career decision that would significantly impact the future of my working life. That decision was to spend the next two years studying translation and interpreting in a master’s program. The program itself was fantastic and I genuinely enjoyed all of the subject matter and material. The language industry is full of interesting folks from all different backgrounds and nationalities, which makes for a very stimulating environment. It was this environment that I looked forward to entering in the workforce.

From what I could gather from mentors and counselors during my program, there were two major career options for me as a translator. I could freelance and build up a steady clientele or I could work as a project manager at a translation service agency. Since I saw myself being independent and creating a stable life after graduation, I decided to go the route of project manager. It seemed like a rational and logical approach to apply my education and also achieve my personal goals.

Upon graduation, I received an offer for a position as a project manager with a large translation service company. At the time, I believed it to be my dream job. It would not be long, however, for me to start feeling unsettled. This was my dream job in theory, but in practice the complexity of the role left me feeling overwhelmed. I began to feel inadequate as an efficient project manager and took my difficulty adjusting to the role as a sign of failure. In reality, it was simply a signal that maybe I should be moving in a different direction.

When you have invested a significant amount of time, resources and energy into a certain field, it can feel daunting to even begin to think about starting over. So, for three more years, I tried to make myself into the perfect project manager. I chalked it up to not being a quitter but it was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Assessing personal goals

I knew that there was a creative and analytical part of my brain that I was not utilizing as a project manager in the language field. In fact, part of my job required me to perform desktop publishing on the files that we received. I would spend hours perfecting the same document in two different languages to make sure that they looked as identical as possible. This was tedious work, but I loved it and for me, it was the most satisfying part of the job. I started to wonder if there was a role or career that entailed this level of attention to detail that I so enjoyed.

I spent day after day analyzing different career paths and myself – gifts, talents, and skills. Eventually, I decided that whatever I did next would have to be creative but also technical. It would also have to be a job that I could picture myself doing for the next 10 years.

It was then that I discovered Product Design via Google search.

Until then, I had honestly never heard of digital product design as a career. This is one disadvantage for certain populations of people who have little exposure to people working in tech. I started to see if I could draw parallels between the skills that I had already acquired and the skills that would be required of me in product design. It turns out that the two fields have a lot in common, and I decided that I could augment my existing skills to lead me into the direction of a designer.

Once my mind was set on product design I began looking for bootcamps. I was accepted into a bootcamp that would cost me $10,000 with a job guarantee. This seemed like a reasonable bargain given that I had no experience. But, there was a part of me that felt uneasy taking on more debt to my expensive graduate education. I did further research about the program and discovered that the content was not original, but pieced together from online resources. With that knowledge, I was desperate enough to think that I could create my own curriculum in the same manner.

Applying knowledge and gaining experience

I researched every free online learning platform to read reviews on the most top-rated courses and put together a 400-hour curriculum. I worked vigorously through this curriculum for the next three months and spent the fourth month creating a portfolio.

After that, I joined Slack channels and online communities with other product designers in order to learn how to break into the field and to also find volunteer opportunities. I was able to volunteer for the California Coalition of Clean Air and another well-known agency. These two volunteer experiences gave me the confidence that I could apply what I had been learning.

During the six months, I started to apply for full-time positions and was hired by H&R Block. I could not believe how happy and fulfilled I could be with my job. It was truly remarkable. Not only did switching my career to Product Design change my life financially, it restored the sense of joy that I previously found as a student. No longer would my work have to be daunting or lead me to strive for an idealized concept of perfection. Instead, I could explore, learn, test my knowledge and create real life experiences for users.

If I could manage to achieve that level of change within six months, so can you. If the career for you is not product design, I encourage you to take inventory of your skills, talents, and personal goals to develop a strategy to help you move forward and in your working life.

janicedru's profile thumbnail
This is a great story @rheareid! Last year I also pivoted industries and career direction to focus on strategic partnership in the health tech spaceβ€”right after building a course for career shifters… would love for people to check it out at https://www.scribd.com/audiobook/543842477/The-Career-Shift-Lift-System-Creating-Your-Career-Roadmap (audio lesson free with Scribd trial or membership) and https://janicedrubennett.podia.com/career-shift-lift-system (use code SCRIBD22 for 80% off)
ChristineTaylor's profile thumbnail
Congratulations! You deserve joy and fulfillment. I am 51 and have worked in a similar industry throughout my career - brand advertising. I am taking the plunge and pivoting starting with getting my Master of Science in Sustainability. I have wanted to do this for many years, have been active in that industry already, and have nearly been hired into several Director of Sustainability Comms roles - BUT - not nailed them and I am tired of waiting. Besides that my ambitions have changed and I am ready to be more of a leader in innovation and policy reform and change for sustainability change that matters rather than continue to work for brands helping their greenwashing.I'm particularly interested in Human-Centered Operations and reforming business practices to make working better for EVERYONE, while also actively supporting sustainability in all its forms from farming, to natural resources, consumption, marketing, and equity. Bring it!It is BRAVE to say I want something different at any age. I want to show you can also choose to grow and do something new being older. It's okay and the debt isn't the worst thing. I've never thought my life is meant to be relaxing at 62. I just don't believe in that kind of thing. As long as you have energy, healthy, a mind, and ability - I believe we should be considering how we can contribute to making the world a better place in whatever way that makes sense of each of us.
L11's profile thumbnail
I can feel your passion!! Awesome!!
LauraCiocia's profile thumbnail
Just wanted to say, congratulations to you! I am near your age (and from the ad/marketing business) and it's inspiring to read stories like yours. xo
ChristineTaylor's profile thumbnail
Hey thank you!
leahwade's profile thumbnail
This is awesome and so encouraging! I really appreciate you taking the time also to share your experience and be so thoughtful and detailed. I'm definitely going to use this advice in my own journey.
rheareid's profile thumbnail
My pleasure, Leah! Thank you for reading!
lexiSMM's profile thumbnail
This is a fantastic story and gives me a lot of hope for my upcoming career change as well! I am looking at transitioning from social media management to project management as the creative side of social is just not where my skills lie. I am the analytical brain but with a creative bent, so I can suggest options and then make sure the project comes to fruition thanks to my ADHD-brain learning lots of coping mechanisms.Thank you for this!
rheareid's profile thumbnail
I love that, Lexi! That sounds like a great angle to highlight your current skillset. After all, you aren't starting from scratch but from experience!
Nekayia's profile thumbnail
This was a great read! I'm glad you were able to find what best suited you. I can agree that joining slack channels and connecting with others in the field is gold.
rheareid's profile thumbnail
Thank you! It truly is a game changer.
L11's profile thumbnail
How amazing you are! I enjoyed reading all about your journey. Impressive πŸ‘πŸ˜Š
rheareid's profile thumbnail
Thank you, Lori! 😊
ImanOmari20's profile thumbnail
Hi @rheareid, I have been thinking about a few routes I can take to change my career and one of them is product design although I don't know much about it . Would you be open for a short call to share some of your experience about the role ?
aldina's profile thumbnail
Thank you for sharing your story. Whenever someone asks me how to break into product design I mention a path similar to yours. You dont need expensive bootcamps to get those skills. All you need is a drive to learn and time set aside to actually put in the work. There are so many free resources online to learn product design and people to connect with for mentorship that are willing to lend their time to help you learn.
rheareid's profile thumbnail
Thank you for reading! I totally agree.