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You’ve just quit your job.  You don't have another one lined up and you have no real prospects.

You Depend On That Job!!  What were you thinking!!

There are plenty of good reasons to leave a job: Your upward mobility has stalled, the company philosophy doesn't jive with yours or maybe you're just dissatisfied and it's time to go. Leaving a job without a plan of action or a clear idea of what you’re going to do next can make the process terrifying and a little exciting at the same time.

If you've decided to leave, you are already braver than you realize and bolder than a lot of folks with the same mindset.

Now is the time to use the gift of free time you now have, and learn from the lessons of those who have already made the jump.  There are some well-trodden foot steps that can lead you along the way as you follow your own path.  It might help keeping you from worrying too much.  But believe me, you'll never get rid of all the worry.

I've made two career transitions without having a new job to go to. Based on my on experiences, here are some key things that helped me in my transition. Maybe they'll help you successfully make the leap, too.

1. Take Stock of What You Like and Reflect on Your Experience.
When you’re hustling for your next job, it’s easy to forget this most important step of the journey. Take a break and reflect on you have done, what you like to do and what you've accomplished so far. What have you accomplished so far and what do you want to accomplish next? What goals would you like to reach in a new job? Did you leave any unfinished in your last job?

Look at what you've done that was successful, both professionally and personally, and those goals you didn't reach.

Try to figure out why you were successful and what was missing on the missed goals. You might find some patterns that caused you to focus on certain areas and not others. Think about which of your accomplishments made you happiest, in and outside of work. Take advantage of the free time while it lasts. If your interests are taking you in new direction, honor that when you search for your next job.

The goal is not to overwhelm yourself but to recognize that you have had a successful career and think about what you would like to do next. My career path has been one of learning curves and building new skill sets. Leaving my job was part of a cycle of personal growth. I realized I’d been down this path before, and things had always worked out.

2. Reconnect With People You Know
It’s worth spending some of that free time and seeing or contacting the people who matter most in your life. They already know you, but share what you would like to do and what your career goals are.

Ask them for an introduction to people they know, either professionally or personally, who might be able to advise you in your career change.  Ask if you can use them as a reference and assure them you are not going to embarrass them by asking for a job.

All you want from these contacts is advice on the new career direction you want to take.  Most people are willing to help.  I once got an introduction to a plant manager from a brother-in-law, whose daughter was on the same softball team as the plant manager's daughter.  That led to several more introductions and started a great networking opportunity.

Getting introductions is also useful because outside perspectives can often provide valuable information that you may not have been aware of or considered. In my case, the plant manager gave me some great advice about what was needed in the area I was considering and introductions to other plant managers that I could talk to.  Another introduction led to an invitation to join several professional organizations.

Can you see the opportunities that may be available here?

I was looking for companies that offered challenges and accelerated growth where I would have an opportunity to make an impact. Everyone has different advice for how to find your next position, depending on his or her personal history, which is why getting specific advice on your future goals may be more important than actively looking for a job in a field you are trying to leave.

3. Freelance Your Experience and Knowledge
You may not be thinking about running a business but freelancing can help answer some of your questions and concerns and allow you to meet even more people that could help you find your new career. I started doing part time safety work with small and medium sized companies for an engineering firm.

Freelancing was a way of expanding my portfolio and taking on small projects allowed me to explore an area I’d always been interested in. I did some work with several small companies, volunteered with Salvation Army and pro bono work with a local college. In a sense, I was already acting as a consultant, I just hadn’t formalized it yet. It didn't pay much, but it looked good on a resume.

Think about freelancing as a chance to learn how to do things yourself. You'll learn how to manage a project from sourcing clients to producing final deliverables. It will become abundantly clear which part of that cycle you enjoy most and which you like the least. In my case, I felt like I was spending more time talking about potential projects than actually working on them. That was frustrating to me and was not a good use of my time.

As you take on freelance work, pay close attention to where you hit your stride and where you stumble. This can provide important insight into what you should be looking to do next.

4. Finish Up Side Projects
You have enough time to turn that part-time project into a full-time project. Finish it. Learn the skills you need to get it done and get it done.

If you’re worried that your side project is taking too much time from applying for jobs or networking, just remember that project may very well become a valuable part of your resume, and can sometimes be  leveraged into a full-time business by itself.  A project can be a great stress reliever and makes a great talking point when people ask about your hobbies.

My side projects included building a screened porch on the house that actually became an office where I spent a lot of time writing safety programs.

So there you have some first steps for navigating the great unknown of leaving a job without any firm prospects. Be patient, it probably won't happen overnight. In my case it took about ten months the first time. With a little luck, hard work, perseverance and a healthy dose of introspection, you’ll find your place. The important thing is to trust in yourself and in the process. Find what works for you. And when the time is right, you'll land exactly where you want to be.