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The Baby Steps That Lead to a Successful Career Change

Marcelle Yeager

"I don't want to be in this job forever, but my skills, and therefore my possibilities, are limited and I'm stuck here for good."

"I hate my job but it's secure, so I'm afraid to leave it."

"I'm getting old, and the longer I stay in this job, the harder it is to leave."

As we age, it becomes harder to change. Habits that we developed when we we're young tend to stick as we grow older. Think about the New Year's resolution you made this year. Was it the same one you've made for the past few years? Did you think once again that 2014 is the year you'd make it happen'?

Think of something you'd like to change in your career. Maybe you've always wanted to learn website design. Maybe you want to leave work at 5 p.m. everyday. Maybe you want to find a new job. It could be anything you want to change or enhance. Here's how to make it happen: Take baby steps.

Lower your expectations. Don't expect too much from yourself or take on the whole resolution at once. This may be what's holding you back from making the change you've been eyeing for years. Some goals are small and others are larger, and we all have different tolerance levels for change. Some people adapt easily and others have a difficult time adjusting. No matter what type of person you are, developing a plan will help.

Take out your calendar. No one has a lot of free time between work, friends and family, if any at all. Most of us would rather eat a piece of cake than exercise or search for a new job. Remember that if you want to make a change it requires an investment of your free (or lack-of-free) time. Fit it in where you can, even if it's for 15 minutes at a time. Use the system you already use for tracking doctor's appointments, kids' schedules and/or work meetings. There are a lot of website-based and smartphone apps that you can try too that can act as reminders, such as the iPhone Reminders app. Mark dates when you reasonably think you can accomplish something toward your goal and pay attention to busy work times or travel schedules (business or personal). You'll want to steer clear of planning to do work toward your goal around those times.

Quality over quantity. You don't have to and shouldn't spend hours at a time working toward your objective. The amount of time you spend on it daily depends on the amount of sleep and energy you have. Don't force yourself to search for classes online if you're burned out from the workweek or didn't sleep well. Choose a new time and mark it on your calendar. Or go with your gut -- if you're feeling really good when you wake up one Saturday and don't have plans till brunch, do an hour of searching. You'll do your best work when you're well rested and focused.

Celebrate. Applaud your efforts. When you've finished updating your résumé or enrolling in a course, pat yourself on the back and go celebrate. You deserve it. When you acknowledge small successes along the way, it will make the larger goal seem less daunting. It also gives you a positive perspective on the process and takes away some of the dread of going through it all. It also helps to share in these successes with a good friend or family member who is happy to join you in the festivities when you've completed another stage. You may even decide you want them to help you keep on track as you work toward your objective. How about sharing dates you've mapped out and asking them to send encouraging text messages to you on those days?

If you have to reset the clock and start over, that's OK. The important part is to take it in small doses and acknowledge a job well done at each step. Changes are not easy to make, but with a little planning, accountability and celebration, you can make it happen.

Don't let statements like those at the top hold you back. When you take a long break from exercising, it's hard to get back into it, right? The same is true for your professional muscles when you're out of practice. It won't get easier as the years go by because what we establish as a routine when we're young tends to stick. Empower yourself to make a change. The time is now.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet (@careervalet), which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had in order to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.

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