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How to Switch Careers When You’re in Debt

I’ve heard every excuse in the book for why someone can’t leave a job they don’t love. No matter the excuse, it always comes down to fear and doubt—fear of failing, fear that time has passed them by, fear of what others will say, doubt that they have what it takes, or doubt that there’s even a path forward.

But it’s time to talk about one fear that comes up again and again: I’m afraid to switch careers while I’m working on Baby Step 2. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll only be deeper in debt.

When you’re on Baby Step 2 (paying off all debt except the house using the debt snowball), you live on rice and beans, get a second and third job, and do whatever else you can to dump debt with gazelle intensity. So, I get it—you don’t want to rock the boat by changing careers! It feels too risky, and that’s the last thing you need when you’re on Baby Step 2.

But what if I told you switching careers while you’re in debt isn’t risky at all? It’s time we quiet those voices in your head telling you to quit dreaming.

Switching Careers Could Help You Pay Off Debt 

The truth is, you’re not going to rock the boat by switching careers. You would only rock the boat if you jumped while the boat was still miles away from the dock—and that’s one thing I would never tell you to do. Instead, you’re going to move the boat (which is your dream job) as close to the dock as possible before you even reach your foot out to step onto it.

Get Everything You Need to Land the Job You Love!

When you take careful steps, not only does switching careers while in debt become possible, but it also starts to work out in your favor.

For three years, I had the opportunity to host The Ramsey Show video channel. That meant I was just steps away from the daily Debt-Free Screams. Every day we’d hear from people who gave it all they had to pay off their debt. They’d share their story, count down from three, and yell, “We’re debt-free!” live on the air. It’s hard not to get goose bumps when you hear those screams of freedom.

One thing Dave always asks these folks is what their range of income was during their debt-free journey. And you know what I’ve noticed in all these years of proximity to the show? Their income has almost always increased from the time they got serious about paying off their debt to the time they do their Debt-Free Scream.  

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you increase your take-home pay, you could shave months off your debt-free journey!

That’s why I wholeheartedly believe that being in debt is no reason to stop dreaming about stepping into your sweet spot. There are plenty of great reasons to leave your current job, and being underpaid is definitely one of them.

How to Switch Careers the Right Way 

Being on Baby Step 2 means you’ve stopped planning vacations, eating out at restaurants, and buying new cashmere cardigans. But one thing Baby Step 2 shouldn’t hold you back from is living out what you’re called to do.

As long as you do it the right way, there’s no reason you can’t start pursuing your dream job today. There’s no need to lose any of your Baby Step 2 momentum here.

How do you do that? You create a strategic plan and take baby steps. Yup, we take baby steps here too. Follow these three steps, and you’ll be moving at the right pace and in the right direction:

Step 1: Clarify and Verify

Before you do anything else, I want you to make sure what you think you’d rather be doing for a living is actually your sweet spot. Remember, your sweet spot is the point where your talent, passion and mission intersect.

That means not only are you really good at it but you also love doing it, and the results of the work matter to you.

The last thing you want is to put all the time and effort (and possibly money!) into switching careers, only to end up miserable again in a few months. That’s why it’s so important to take some time to clarify and verify not only your sweet spot but also that it’s definitely time for you to move on from your current job.

Start by making a list of your natural gifts, passions and values. How does that list line up with what you’re currently doing and what you could be doing in a different job?

If you need help nailing down a list of your passions, talents and mission, try my free Career Clarity Guide. It’s a worksheet that will help you get clear on who you are so that you can step into the work you were made to do.

Don’t be afraid to bring in a few people who know you well and will speak truth to you. Ask them if they believe what you’re thinking about doing lines up with any talents and passions they’ve noticed in you.

The best part about these exercises is that they lead to clarity. Clarity then leads to confidence, and confidence leads to courage.

Step 2: Research What It Takes

Research is a big part of moving the boat up to the dock before you step onto it. In this phase, I want you to ask questions like:

  • What positions can I find in my city that meet my sweet spot?
  • What qualifications or certifications do I need to make the career move?
  • If the new job requires certifications I don’t have, how much is it going to cost me to get those?
  • How long will it take to do everything I need to do in order to get into that dream position?

You probably noticed that some of those questions involve dollar signs. Stay with me! Even if you have to spend money for certifications or courses you need in order to get your dream job, it’s possible to do it without slowing down your debt snowball momentum.

In fact, I spoke with a woman on my show who was in this exact situation. She needed $1,500 to launch a website and platform that would help her move into her dream job. On her family’s tight budget, she had no idea where she would find an extra $1,500. Then I asked her, “Can you sell something?”

And do you know what happened two weeks later? Her awesome husband sold some of his shotguns—and boom! She had her $1,500 without ever stopping their Baby Step 2 momentum.

If moving to your sweet spot involves money:

  • Have a yard sale and sell everything!
  • Ask your friends or loved ones if they’ve got anything you can help them sell, then split the profits.
  • Pick up a side gig (or three).
  • Adjust your budget and make sacrifices where you can.

Folks, where there’s a will, there’s a way—and I know you can find it.

Step 3: Practice the Proximity Principle

So, you’ve clarified and verified your sweet spot and done all the research necessary to make a plan for how you’ll make the move. Now it’s time to practice the tried and true Proximity Principle.

The Proximity Principle says this: In order to do what you want to do, you need to be around people who are doing it and in places where it’s happening.

In this stage, I want you to spend all of your free time making connections and building relationships. Start looking for ways to volunteer in the industry you want to be in, shadow someone who’s doing what you want to do, check out local meetups, and be prepared to meet lots of people for coffee. When you’re faithful in this step, the right timing to move into your sweet spot will happen on its own.

Check out my book The Proximity Principle for a deeper dive into this strategy and practical ways you can put it into action.

Shift Your Mindset

Let me be clear for a moment: Your current role is a stepping stone. And because you’re not taking any leaps, you’re still going to be working at your old job while you’re practicing the Proximity Principle and finding the money to fund your transition to another career. And that’s okay. You may not love that job today, but the sacrifice will be worth it.

Shift your mindset here. When you’re on this plan, you’ll no longer think about your current job as a negative, because now it’s a tool that’s funding your future. So be grateful for the current position you have—it’s the reason you can take baby steps and switch careers the right way.

Don’t believe the lie that you have to wait until you’ve paid off all your debt to switch careers. If you’ve got the discipline to work hard, you’re willing to put in the hours when you’re off the clock, and you’ll commit to being patient and doing things the right way, you can celebrate living the dream even before your Debt-Free Scream.

You can still stay on top of your career goals while attacking your money goals (like getting out of debt). Check out Ramsey+ to make it happen. This all-access membership will help you budget, save money, and dump debt for good. And you can pursue all of that while you take on your debt. Press on—you’ve got this!

Ken Coleman

About the author

Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman is America's Career Coach, the nationally syndicated radio host of The Ken Coleman Show and #1 national bestselling author. He has been featured in Forbes and appeared on Fox News, Fox Business Network, and the Rachael Ray Show. Since 2014, he has served at Ramsey Solutions, where he offers expert advice every day to help thousands of people discover what they were meant to do and how to land their dream job. Learn More.

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