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Is changing careers worth the risk?

April 10, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What’s your best piece of advice for someone looking to change careers?” is by Beezer Clarkson, managing director at Sapphire Ventures.

Changing career paths can be both amazing and awful. At first glance, it can seem to mean taking years of accumulated experience, skills and networking and throwing them out the window–along with all the money and time invested in gaining experience. So what’s the attraction? The thrill of a new start. Embarking on something more closely aligned with who you are and the impact you want to have on the world. Sometimes we have to go down the wrong path, or the not-quite-right path, to figure out what it is we really want. Here are a few lessons to keep in mind when considering a new career:

Be a pragmatic optimist
Dream big. Encourage yourself to visualize your ideal day in detail. What do you want to be doing every day? What types of people do you want to work with? What challenges do you want to solve? Be clear on what you want. Also, recognize what you already have in terms of skills and connections. Will they help you in your new career? If not, then figure out what you need to learn.

Ask for advice
Conduct informational interviews with professionals in the industry you wish to join. Find out their thoughts on the core skills you need be successful in that specific role or industry. These conversations can lead to much-needed insight.

Be persistent
Perhaps there are opportunities to volunteer as an intern or work part-time–take advantage of them. Can you do these things on the weekend to start testing your new career path while maintaining your old? Figure out what it will take to make the transition successful.

As Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What’s your best piece of advice for someone looking to change careers?

Thinking of changing careers? Here’s what you need to know by Shafqat Islam, CEO of NewsCred.

When you should (and shouldn’t) change careers by Ryan Harwood, CEO of Purewow.

3 things you need to know before joining a startup by Sunil Rajaraman, co-founder of

How to successfully change careers (at any age) by Matthew Salzberg, CEO and founder of Blue Apron.