The potential rewards are great, but so are the risks.

From peanut farmer to politician; from radio announcer to actor to politician. Besides the presidency, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan share something else in common: both are career changers, representatives of a national trend toward multiple and diverse careers in a lifetime. The best-selling What Color Is Your Parachute? estimates that the average American changes careers (not just jobs) three to five times.

What happened to the days of one vocation, in one location, with one corporation? Studies show that Americans are changing careers for a variety of reasons. A sagging economy produces both unemployment in the private sector and tax revolt initiatives affecting jobs in the public sector. When unemployed, many individuals are vulnerable to, or actually seek, career changes. Rapid and radical changes in technology demand specialization and a continual updating of skills; some people choose to switch rather than fight.

The “Me Decade” produced a rising expectation of fulfillment in one’s job: “Why not spend your working hours doing something you do well and enjoy doing?” Colleges and universities flood the marketplace with thousands of liberal arts graduates who are in a fog regarding career direction. Their pathway to vocational discovery is the trial and error of career change. Corporate structures are encouraging early retirement, releasing talented, creative, productive people with the time and energy to try a second career.

The potential rewards in a career change are great, but so are the risks. The following guidelines should help maximize the rewards and minimize the risks.

1. Understand yourself. Identifying a suitable career involves first and foremost understanding oneself, not identifying what is available in the want ads. Before beginning a job search, the career changer must begin a self search to identify his personal assets. Several criteria should be used in this self-evaluation: What are my natural, God-given talents? What are my interests? (And, of course, do I have skills in my area of interest?) What are my personality traits, education, work experiences? Christians seeking to harmonize their careers with an understanding of the lordship of Christ and stewardship of their talents should carefully analyze their values (money, prestige, security, time with family, service to mankind).

2. Match your skills, interest, and values to vocational fields. What vocations typically call for your particular cluster of talents, interests, and values? To identify a wide range of job titles, check at your local public library for either The Dictionary of Occupational Titles or The Guide for Occupational Exploration, both published by the U.S. Department of Labor.

To confirm that you have identified a viable career, consult with someone currently involved in that line of work. Do some “field testing” by verbally or, better yet, actually experiencing a typical day with someone who is already in that job. Ask yourself: Is this what I expected? Is this a job I am capable of performing effectively? Will it challenge me and hold my interest? Does it match my values?

3. Seek specific opportunities. Once you have identified what you want to do, you need to determine with whom and where geographically you want to do it.

There are excellent handbooks published to help you creatively identify specific job openings. John Bradley’s Christian Career Planning may be obtained through Intercristo; Richard Bolles’s What Color Is Your Parachute? can be found in most bookstores; Life Planning, by Kirk Farnsworth and Wendall Lawhead, is available through InterVarsity Press. These books will help you identify alternatives to the want ad, employment agency, or “head hunter” approaches to job seeking.

4. Remain positive and flexible. A positive attitude is essential to making a career change successfully. Unfortunately, career changes are often accompanied by huge doses of discouragement. Often some upheaval (firing, layoff, divorce) begins the process of career change, and usually a high level of rejection follows from the interviewing process. Today’s “career changer” is frequently a capable person who “never had to look for a job in his life.” It is a time of high emotional stress and, as such, one when the individual needs support. Church, pastor, friends, family all need to assure the career changer that they believe in him or her.

In the final analysis, however, no one is responsible for identifying anyone else’s career niche or securing a job for that person. The career changer ultimately must take the initiative, do the work, and believe in himself.


“They trust him not at all

that do it not alone.”from Trapp (a seventeenth-century commentator) on Proverbs 3:5, 6

Thus his searing iron

engraved my soul.

My eyes accused and

flesh smouldered

as I turned to run.

“Come back,” he called

“It is hard for you

to kick against the pricks.”


in pain

I stumbled and fell

trembling at his approach.

His finger

stroked the wound

with salve.


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