Olivia Smartt finally landed the job title she wanted after achieving an MBA and climbing the corporate ladder for nine years. She was Director of Marketing for a Clean Tech startup in Silicon Valley with a six-figure salary and 50,000 stock options. The only problem was, she was unhappy in her job.  

So one day she told her boss she didn’t feel like the position was right for her. Two weeks later she was laid off, which turned out to be a blessing. “When I was laid off, I thought I won the lottery,” she said.

After allowing time for reflection, Smartt reconnected with her love of photography. She began working as an assistant to a wedding photographer. Once a friend invited her to photograph a wedding by herself, she was hooked and decided to become a wedding photographer.  

At 38 years old, Smartt decided to make a major career change, a daunting challenge for many who have an established career path and invested thousands of dollars in a degree or two. Yet for Smartt, after working hard for a couple years, her efforts paid off with her highly successful business that she loves, Olivia Smartt Photography.

There are numerous signs that may pop up suggesting you need to make a career change. You may simply not like your job. Or, more subtly, you are chronically worn out, exhausted and depleted; your skills, responsibilities, and tasks don’t seem to fit you anymore; your salary doesn’t compensate for a sense of boredom and emptiness in your job; or you feel that your talents would be better suited elsewhere.

The answer could be a 180 degree change in career. The following are some tips to consider when deciding that a major career change is in order.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

There will inevitably be some fear when switching gears to a new career. In order to manage this fear, see fear as an ally and embrace any fear-based resistance, says Kerry Hannon, author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job. Or, as Smartt puts it, realize this life is short and it’s important to do work you enjoy.

“This is your only life,” Smartt said. “Are you going to be miserable for the rest of your life or are you going to go for it? You have to go for it.”

Network and connect

Connect with friends and meet new people, especially at your local incubator/co-working space, especially if you’re thinking of starting your own business, suggests Fast Company. These places are often hotbeds for entrepreneurs, contractors and others who work for themselves. Meeting new people often opens up new opportunities, like Smartt’s neighbor who asked her to photograph a wedding. Or, if you’re trying to figure out your next move, interview friends, family or colleagues and ask what they think you are good at, suggests Hannon. You can pay for a career counselor, or check out some free career assessment tools.

Go back to school

If you want to become a lawyer, then you need to pass that bar exam. Some career shifts simply require that you go to school to gain the skills you need to succeed. Yet for other fields it may suffice to get advice from people in the field you’d like to enter. Take a class on operating a small business, accounting, time management, and anything else that will help you succeed.

Gradually transition

Sure, jumping in with two feet, with an “all or nothing attitude” is one way to dealing with your fears. Yet going slow has its advantages. While you’re in the job you wish to be 100 miles from, begin by laying the groundwork for your business, suggests Laura Rose, a “Corporate Exit Strategist for the Blooming Entrepreneur.”

Create a website, make brochures and business cards, start blogging and do social media outreach, work on the weekends, take night classes. This will help make the transition less intense and can give you a head start.

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Chandler Harris is a freelance business and technology writer located in Silicon Valley. He has written for numerous publications including Entrepreneur, InformationWeek, San Jose Magazine, Government Technology, Public CIO, AllBusiness.com, U.S. Banker, Digital Communities Magazine, Converge Magazine, Surfer's Journal, Adventure Sports Magazine, ClearanceJobs.com, and the San Jose Business Journal. Chandler is also engaged in helping companies further their content marketing needs through content strategy, optimization and creation, as well as blogging and social media platforms. When he's not writing, Chandler enjoys his beach haunt of Santa Cruz where he rides roller coasters with his son, surfs and bikes across mountain ranges.