Starting from scratch in a new field? You’re not alone. Every day, millions of professionals make the decision to pursue a different career path.

Whether you’ve been in your designated field for a few years or a few decades, it can be daunting to wipe the slate clean and abandon your familiar network, routine, and even your current salary level. The first step to making the change is to accept that it’s not going to be easy, and work up from there. Switching career fields isn’t for the faint of heart, and you’ll have to commit to doing everything in your power to make it happen.

It goes without saying that a plan is essential to a successful career transition, as well as a backup plan in case Plan A doesn’t work out. Make a list of reasons why you want to leave your current field, and consult that list whenever you need a friendly reminder.

Explore Your Options

It’s probably best to think about what you want to do before you leave your current job. This will provide you with the necessary time and flexibility to explore your options. Have an idea of a career you might be better suited for? If you know of anyone in the field, reach out and ask their advice. What are the best things about the job? The worst things? What qualities and skills will you need in order to be successful?

Next, test the waters. If there’s a field you want to transition into, do your research. You might need to take some classes, put yourself out there to start networking, or seek out an internship before you can find out if it’s a good fit. If it’s not, don’t panic. Sometimes figuring out what you want to do begins with deciding what you don’t want to do.

Develop a Strategy

Once you have an idea of the career that is right for you, it’s time to get serious about developing a plan. How will you explain your career change to potential interviewers? How will you demonstrate that your skills from your previous job apply to this new position? Are there any skills that you’re still lacking that you will need in order to be a qualified candidate?

Take the time to make a list of realistic short-term and long-term goals for yourself. Figure out what you need to do to achieve those goals. If you need to leave your current job in order to dedicate enough time and energy to pursue this path, make sure you have a financial strategy for that as well. Calculate how much money you will need to save, how to keep your current costs down, and how much time this will actually buy you to find a job in your desired field.

Make it Happen

Sounds easy enough, right? Here comes the important part: you’ve put a strategy in place, and now you have to execute it. Take on the extra work. Sign up for classes to build on those skills you’re lacking. You will be competing with candidates that have more relevant experience, and most likely, a background that is more directly related to the field. Don’t give potential employers any reason to look you over. That means putting in extra hours after work, developing your portfolio on the weekends, and networking with other professionals whenever you can.

While a plan is necessary, you will also need to be flexible. Be ready to re-evaluate your strategy and make the necessary changes to be successful in your pursuit.

Prepare for the Long Haul

Part of “accepting the unknown” also applies to your ideal timeline. Typically, a career transition can take around 18 months. It takes commitment to see it through, so balance your realistic expectations with some healthy optimism now and then. When you feel discouraged, remember the reasons that made you so excited to make this change in the first place.

Have additional tips for starting over in a new career? Let us know in the comment section.