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Walking Down A New Career Path

In my last column, I talked about a mid-life career switch. Today, we're going to chat about the tools needed to make this happen. Surveys show that finding a new job is one of the five leading forms of stress in our lives. So imagine how nerve-racking it is to actually find a new career.

No wonder so many of us avoid this, even if our current career leaves us miserable or bored.

The fact is that being happy in your career is one of the most important things you can do for your health and your financial future. Not every career will make you rich, but if you love your vocation, you're more apt to take care of yourself and to plan your future with confidence. As motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar once told me, the people who remain employed are the "constant learners in life" - that is, those with an energy and drive for what they do and a desire to keep raising their level.

Now let's get down to the nitty gritty - how do you set off on a new career path? It's not easy and if you thought it would be, you are not ready for a new career.

1. No matter what you do, do not quit your current job

I've heard from too many people who speak of quitting their job to do everything from founding a new clothing business to pursuing their dream of writing a novel.

In rare cases, this does pan out. But for the majority of us, throwing away a steady pay cheque to chase a dream is absolutely the most ridiculous thing you can do. Most career switches are not overnight phenomena - you must work at it for years, gathering the research, the contacts, the experience. One friend of mine spent six years dabbling in entrepreneurial ventures while working at his day job before finally launching his own company - a men's health center in Bangkok. Even then, he said he would only quit his day job once the venture was profitable.

2. Get personal

This is the best time to get to know who you are and what you're made of. If all you know is that you dislike your current career but are unsure what you want to do next, there are several personal assessment tools you can use to help you. One attorney I know took the Myers-Briggs Type test and found that his personality was more suited for non-profit work, which is what he is doing now. These tools can be pricey but some cheaper and well-respected tests can be found at www.cpp.com, which offers the classic Strong Interest Inventory test, developed in 1927 by Stanford University researcher E.K. Strong.

The other thing to ask yourself is, what will you sacrifice to make your new career happen? Will you take a lesser paying job? Can you and your family afford that? Would you give up fancy dinners out, work the long hours, even sell your home to make it happen?

How will you feel in five years if you didn't make the leap? If you can't bear that thought, then you're ready for the jump.

3. Make the government work for you

The Labor Department offers more than just help for low-income wage earners, the unemployed and recent college graduates. In fact, I find that in many developed countries, the government is an underrated treasure trove of information, particularly for those of us who don't know quite yet what we want to do. Most labor departments give you updates on the latest jobs and the resources available to tap into them.

Hong Kong is a good example of a government knowledge database. Log on to www.careers.labour.gov.hk and check out Job Kaleidoscope, which offers dozens of career tracks, including market conditions, the training needed and what places can offer you the experience to get started.

4. Seek your employer's help

Many of us think seeking a new career means keeping our employers in the dark about it until we make the jump. In some cases, sure, that is the wise thing to do. But in others, the company you work for may offer the new pathway. And it might be delighted that you showed the initiative to ask.

This is particularly true if you work for a huge company with interests across various industries.

Remember that if you're a good, motivated employee, most firms will attempt to retain you by accommodating your goals, even if it means moving you from one department to another.

5. Get back to basics

Think back to university. Because, frankly, seeking a new career is just like seeking your old one. Except that now you've got a bit more to worry about - children, a mortgage, debt. Let's not forget that you're no spring chicken any more. Nevertheless, nothing feels more youthful than beginning a new challenge.

Seek out professional organizations for mentors to help guide you in a new career. Set up informational interviews with companies you'd like a job with. Polish that résumé. Offer your own wealth of experience in return for a new one.

That lawyer who joined a non-profit group? He got his start by volunteering his legal services to a local charity, where he learned the ropes.

That provided him with precisely the experience he needed to start his own non-profit organization. A lot of it is simple, roll-up-your-sleeves work that can be both humbling and exactly the right push to start you on a new life.

Questions? Comments? Drop us a line atbizoflife@cnbc.com.