"If you've been thinking about making a change, but never seem able to act on it because of the demands of daily life, now is your chance to lay down the building blocks from which you can propel yourself towards your goal next year," says Dr Gillian Mooney, Dean: Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education institution.
"Few of us can afford to make a clean break at work and then start on a new path from scratch. So what you need to do is to use your downtime effectively to start working towards your goal," she says.
Mooney says the first step for those wanting to go in a new direction, is to determine what that direction is.
"And that is easier said than done. Many people know that they are not in the right field or in the right position, but feel stuck because they really don't know what to do instead. If that is the position in which you find yourself, the holidays provide a great chance to start researching potential new fields of interest, without the pressure of having to commit.
"Use this time to dream freely. Look at advertised positions online, and find those that excite you. Then look at the job requirements. Would you need to qualify in a new field? Would you be able to match your transferable skills to those required in the position, and then perhaps just supplement your existing qualifications with a short or part-time course? Determine how you can leverage your existing experience and qualifications while working towards your new goal."
Mooney adds that the research part of the strategy is crucial, because many people who have been in the workplace for a year or five may not be aware of the numerous new and exciting fields of study that are constantly emerging.
"In addition to checking what is currently in demand in the job market, you should also investigate courses and qualifications on offer at good higher education institutions. Particularly in the private sector, where there is more agility and responsiveness to what is in demand in the workplace, you will find fresh new fields and qualifications that may not even have existed when you achieved your first qualification," she says.
Young people in their mid-to-late twenties, who have been working for a few years after graduation, are often disappointed and disillusioned – even despondent – about their futures, notes Mooney.
"If you look around you and think 'is this really it?' then you need to know that the answer is an emphatic no. You are not married forever to your initial choice of qualification which you pursued after Matric. Things change. You have changed. And there are always means and ways to find a career that really excites you."
There is also evidence that it is becoming more common to change careers. The idea that we educate ourselves into one career for life is no longer the norm today. This is typically ascribed to the impact of technology on jobs and the workforce, and millennial thinking, Mooney says.
"You don't have to live the rest of your life wondering how things would have turned out if you pursued a different field. Building a career that you love takes time, perseverance, and constant strategising until you find the right fit."
It might also be helpful to find outside assistance to determine the way forward.
"Any higher education institution worth its salt should have graduate assistance available to guide you in terms of suitable qualifications to supplement your existing ones, to close the gap between where you are now and where you want to be a year or two down the line.
"So don't just lounge around this December, but rather start taking small, low-stake actions which will get you going in the direction of your dream. Commit to ending the year with a clear understanding of which new skill or competency interests you, so that you already have a headstart on your new path when you see in the new year."