When is it time to make a major career change?
When my wife told me she was pregnant with our now 14-year-old son, I knew I had to change careers. At the time I was working as a daily newspaper editor. My work day started around 9 a.m. -- earlier if news broke -- and ended when we went to press at midnight.
I wasn't in the office for all of those hours, but I was mentally engaged the entire time. It wasn't a situation that left room for parenting, so I gave notice and spent six years working non-media jobs. When my son got older I made the move back to media, eventually finding my niche as a work-from-home writer for The Motley Fool.
Essentially, I made two major career changes for two different reasons. It was scary and not always easy, but they were the right moves. There are times when changing careers is what you need to do. Everyone, of course, has a different situation -- but these are some of the times when you should at least consider it.
Life requires it
Some jobs are more demanding than others, and some positions may be wonderful, meaningful work with a low salary range. In my case, the hours and demands of editing a daily newspaper were not compatible with parenthood. You can't get up for a 2 a.m. feeding then work a 15-hour day consistently.
Your situation could be different. If you need to make more money, care for a sick relative, or support a spouse who is going back to school, those are valid reasons to switch careers.
You're not satisfied
Once my son got older my options increased. When he was six I was running a large toy store. It was generally a fun job, the money was good, and I worked for an owner who treated me like family. I was not, however, doing anything creative.
I had always assumed when I left news I would freelance write or get a book deal. That happened early on when I sold my first book, but when efforts to sell a second one stalled I lost my creative drive and settled into just working my job.
Eventually, I knew that wasn't going to work. I wanted to write, and I knew I needed to make a change. That led to a succession of jobs in and around journalism, a second book, and eventually the professionally rewarding life I have now.
You're burned out
Some fields -- teaching and nursing come to mind -- take a lot out of you. They're rewarding and demanding, but sometimes they can burn you out.
If you work in a field that requires a lot from you and vacations no longer recharge you, it may be time to change careers. Sometimes this may mean making an adjacent move -- maybe switching to administration or management -- and other times, it can mean a total change.
You have conquered your previous career
Some jobs have ceilings. For many workers, reaching that top point and staying there is the end game. Riding out a good job until retirement may not be for you, however. If that's the case, then it's reasonable to explore alternative paths.
This can happen in fields where a promotion puts you into work that's very different from what you like to do. For example, a successful delivery driver may work his or her way up to the best routes, but have no interest in moving to a desk job. When that happens, it's reasonable to consider doing something else entirely.
Have a plan
When I left newspapers, I had lined up my next profession. That was not true when I decided to get back into the creative world. Things worked out for me, but I took risks when I could have sat back and made a plan.
Don't change careers because you've had a bad week or been passed over for a promotion, or because your boss is a jerk. Only do so when it makes sense for you, and really consider your decision. But if you weigh everything and a change is the right thing, make a plan, then go after your dreams.