A woman with sunglasses and a jumper standing with her arms together as she holds flowers

A year and a half ago, I had the biggest debate of my life. Do I quit academia to pursue my dream of fashion design? One side is a perfectly good career path that gives me respect, stability and flexibility. The other is one I’ve been dreaming about my whole life but had zero real experience in. 

If you are also considering a big career shift, then you know how overwhelming the sheer number of things you need to consider is. Will you be able to financially sustain yourself? Would it mean wasting your whole life’s work? Is it too late to start over again? Does it mean that you need to put your life plans on hold?

First off, either way you choose, the fact that you are contemplating this decision is already a great thing. Your world is going to be bigger as a result of pursuing a career path you love. Congratulations to you!

Your world is going to be bigger as a result of pursuing a career path you love.

For me, I did decide to make that switch. I started my own womenswear brand. Neither coming to that decision nor going through the transition has been easy. I’ve learned some key lessons along my journey of switching careers, and I hope these nuggets of wisdom will make yours easier to navigate.

Take off your rose-colored glasses.

This one is super important if you, like me, have been dreaming about it for a long time. Chances are, you are idealizing the reality to some extent. I thought being a fashion designer meant drawing up sketches and handing them off to a factory. The reality is much more complicated.

With limited funding, I had to take care of my own operations, finance, public relations and marketing. Luckily, I also found these things interesting. If I didn’t, then I would have been miserable.

Talk to people in the industry you are interested in entering into before making the transition. Ask about what their days look like. This will give you a realistic picture of the profession. Or simply Google, “What is it really like to be a (fill in the profession here)?” What you find out may or may not stop you, but it’s a decision much better made ahead of time.

Talk to people in the industry you are interested in entering into before making the transition.

Discover your advantage, and understand that you are not starting from scratch. 

It’s easy to get trapped in the overwhelming feeling of starting from nothing, especially for women. The truth is, even between two seemingly unrelated professions, many skills can carry over. I, for one, have been blown away by how much my analytical and research skills have come in handy for my fashion business. 

Your different background can also give you a unique perspective. My engineering background gives me a unique approach to design that I wouldn’t have attained from attending fashion school. Think hard about creative ways you can use your existing skills in the new venture. They can very well end up being your competitive edge. 

Think hard about creative ways you can use your existing skills in the new venture.

Find your supporters and ask for support.

Now that you are considering the switch, it’s time to start looking for support because you will need it. This includes your loved ones, who may be directly affected by this change. First, you must understand that they won’t automatically understand what you are going through. Be willing to explain it to them, and be as specific as you can. Better yet, set expectations ahead of time and tell them exactly how they can support you. Remember you don’t get what you don’t ask for, no matter how wonderful your family and friends are.

Another great place to look for support is online and/or in-person communities. These would be communities of people who are in a similar situation. For me, I joined a community of startup fashion designers and a sustainable fashion accelerator program. They’ve both been very helpful.

No matter what you want to do, I guarantee you there’s a community out there for you. You will get valuable resources and encouragement to help you along the way. More importantly, you will no longer feel alone on your journey.

Remember that there’s no single right way of doing it.

Finally, as hard as it is, try not to overthink it. Just because someone else did it in a certain way doesn’t mean you have to do it the same way. You don’t have to quit your job (yet) if that’s going to give you too much financial burden. You don’t have to go back to school if that doesn’t feel right to you. There’s so much information online nowadays that you can practically learn anything.

You don’t have to put your life on hold to pursue your dream. This dream is part of your life. Ask for advice, but listen to your gut. This is your unique journey. Good luck! I will be cheering you on.

Do you have a desire to switch career paths? What keeps you from making the move?

Image via Ted Emmons, Darling Issue 14

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