The phenomenon of downshifting is due in part to generational differences between baby boomers and older generations, says Catherine Mallozzi, director of career services for Everest University in Melbourne, Fla. While older generations saw work as something mandatory - yet not necessarily enjoyable - baby boomers have always believed they deserve fulfilling lives and careers.
"When you are stuck in the rat-race trying to climb the ladder to career success, you often have to put so much of your life on hold. You may end up sacrificing time with your family, not giving yourself time outdoors, or putting your hobbies and passions on pause," Mallozzi says. "Downshifting is one way that professionals are redefining their priorities. They recognize that perhaps their new careers won't be as lucrative, but they will be more fulfilling."
Traditional working environments have dramatically changed over the past few decades. These work environments now include part-time, flex-time and work-from-home options, giving employees much more flexibility in balancing their interests in life. For example, workers can decline new projects, take on fewer projects or try to change work arrangements.
"If you aren't ready for a complete career change, you still have a number of options. For example, bargain for more vacation time instead of that annual raise. Or see if you can work from home or move to part-time work," says Mallozzi.
But for some, small changes in the working environment aren't enough. Many wake-up calls can encourage a complete career change. Whether it is the death of a close friend, a divorce, or getting that dreaded pink slip because your company is downsizing, many professionals realize that life is too short to stay in a career that isn't allowing them to enjoy a personal life on the side.
For those who might be considering downshifting, it's important to weigh how a career change will alter their lives.
"You have to take your finances into consideration," says Patrick Wehner, business department chairman at Everest University in Tampa. "A lot of planning needs to happen before you make any big changes. Specifically, you need to be thinking about how to meet costs of your insurance, children's education, mortgage payments and retirement savings. That being said, with careful planning, changing careers can be done well and can be incredibly satisfying."
In addition to financial planning, downshifting may also require going back to school.
"Many downshifters want to open a new business - perhaps a bed and breakfast, or local used book store or massage therapy business," says Wehner. "Starting a new business in something you are passionate about is a great way to find a fulfilling career, but at the same time, you want to make sure you have the knowledge you need to be successful. For example, if you want to become a massage therapist or bed and breakfast owner, you may need to take massage therapy classes, or basic accounting and entrepreneurial courses before making that leap."