Four years ago, I started my own fitness company after spending three years as a classroom teacher. While working in fitness became a passion of mine after college and I even held a full-time position as a wellness center director before attempting to leave the wellness industry, I never thought I’d leave my career as a secondary school educator.

For one, I’d had to go back to school to obtain my master’s degree, a grueling process that required significant financial and time commitments. Thinking about both investments made it hard to rationalize walking away from my new career path. It wasn’t like I’d decided to become a biologist, a field I technically could have pursued without any extra schooling as biology was my college major.

Another hurdle I had to overcome when considering my reentry into the wellness industry was my family. Thankfully, my husband supported and even encouraged me to start my own fitness company, however, the majority of my family members and friends weren’t as optimistic. They had the best intentions when they told me that a career as a science educator would provide a lot more stability than a career in the wellness industry. Once a warning a few noted given the downturn in the economy that coincided with my 2007 college graduation, I’d since come to experience this fact firsthand. While I had found and secured a full time position as a wellness center director a year out of college, that position was indeed terminated when funds were tight.

While I’ve enjoyed returning to the fitness industry and working on and building my own company, I even struggled to come to terms with my decision. Entrepreneurship wasn’t quite as trendy then as it seems to be today. I felt very insecure telling people I worked in fitness when I had a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from The College of William and Mary as well as a master’s degree in education. During my first two years as a business owner, I almost always found some way to bring up the fact that I was also a former educator when someone asked what I did for a living.

However, that’s changed. Even though I still have days where I feel sad that I left behind my career in education, I’m glad I made the decision to leave my old life behind and strike out on a new path. If you’re reading this and finding yourself in the same challenging position, you aren’t alone! Changing careers isn’t easy but it can be done. If you’ve weighed the pros and cons of switching gears and are ready to take the leap, here are a few tips to try to make the transition easier:

1. Find a support system

My husband’s been a huge support to me in my journey from fitness industry employee to educator to first time business owner. He met me when I worked in fitness and knew my passion for helping others embark on their own wellness journeys. Without his help, I don’t know if I would have made it this far.

Starting a new career path is difficult. You might experience trusted family members and longtime friends doubting your decision, especially if you’ve invested time and money into a previous path. Whether you have a spouse or not, you should find people on your side. Working with a mentor in your new field and making friends with other business owners, if you’re starting an entrepreneurial venture, can help a lot. While you could move forward on your own, it’s well worth it to cut your learning curve down by creating a support system. It will also a lot more fun!

2. It’s OK to look back

While I loved working with my students as a classroom teacher, I found the politics of education to be challenging. I often found I wasn’t doing what I went back to school to do — make a genuine difference in students’ lives. I had a hard time leaving the profession that I thought was my calling. You might feel the same way. But if you get creative, you’ll find that you can enjoy some of the aspects of your old life as you create a new one.

I coped with my struggle to shift gears and careers in two ways. First, I continued to tutor private students while building my personal training and fitness business. This resulted in my need to get creative with my wardrobe selection as I’d often go from working with a tutoring client directly to working with a fitness client in the early stages of my business. However, it also helped me realize how much more I loved tutoring than teaching a full class.

As my business has grown, I’ve stopped taking in paid tutoring positions. However, I’ve continued to enjoy the parts of my old career that I loved by working as a volunteer. When I lived in Houston, Texas I had the honor of working with the organizations MAM, Making it Better, Young Catholic Professionals, and Read Houston Read. More recently, I worked as a head coach for one of my favorite nonprofits, Girls on the Run.

As the owner of my company, I’ve had the freedom to easily find ways to incorporate my former career with my current one. I’ve run several fitness programs just for teachers and have shared lesson plans and other items for educators on my blog. While I chose to create these resources and programs to give back to the men and women I so admire who still work as educators, these items have been some of my most popular. Changing careers can help you serve a niche in your new career and build trust with a special segment that might be underserved.

3. Give yourself permission

At the end of the day all the support and cross over between careers means nothing if you don’t give yourself permission to move forward. While it would be irresponsible to do so without weighing the pros and cons, at some point you have to make the decision of whether or not to move forward for yourself. If you decide to make a change, celebrate this decision. Not many people are brave enough or able to take a risk like this. But the biggest risks often lead to the biggest rewards as I’ve learned on my journey.

Have you ever left your old life behind to strike out on something new? I’d love to hear your story and I’m sure other readers will appreciate the inspiration and your advice — feel free to share in the comments. Thinking about making a big life change, but haven’t taken the first step yet? That’s OK, too! Share what’s holding you back or your questions in the comments:

Catherine Basu, MEd is an ACE-Certified personal trainer, the owner of Fit Armadillo®, and author of Superwomen Secrets Revealed: Successful Women Talk About Fitting in Fitness and Dare You to Join Them. She has zero tolerance for diets, supplements, and detoxes and not just because she’s a huge fan of gluten-FULL bread, but lots of love for those new to fitness. An avid runner, she has competed in races from the 1500m to the full marathon, and loves helping others start a running routine.

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