“The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.” Do you remember this poster phrase? It was supposed to be funny! And yet, for more and more working people, it’s no longer a joke. Over the past 20 years, we’ve been working faster and longer hours than ever before. The new technology, far from relieving us of work, has created a new standard for perfection and a new expectation for production that many people find exhausting. Meanwhile, more and more people report that their work is increasingly meaningless and that it intrudes far too much on their personal lives.

The economy may be booming. People may have more things than they ever did before. But they are also gasping under the weight of credit card debt and bills. Money ends before the month does for many families these days, even those in the middle class.

It is this culture of overwork and indebtedness that has many people wondering if there is a better way. Many people want desperately to get out of the rat race and to do work that is closer to their interests and hearts. They may even have some idea of what they would do to change their work. Then, when they look at the very real obstacles of mortgage, car, and credit card payments, they don’t see any way to afford a change. Trapped by unending financial responsibilities, they relegate their dreams to the bottom of the list, where they remain just that — dreams.

There is a better way. With some imagination and commitment, people can create the space and the financial backing they need to try something new. If you want to change your career, here are some ideas to give yourself that chance.

To begin with, ask yourself: “If I want to try a career shift a year from now, what do I need to do in the meantime to make that financially possible?” This question shifts the focus of your thinking from whether you can afford a change to how you are going to make it possible. That, in and of itself, is an important first step.

Over the course of the next year, reduce your need for money or save enough so that you can afford to take a risk and invest in yourself. Here are some of the choices that people can make to buy themselves the freedom to try a new career direction:

  • Simplify! Simplify! Take a careful look at your current expenses and see what you can slash. Two cars in the family? Think about getting along with one. A big dry-cleaning bill? Perhaps you can hand wash those items of clothing. Turn the heat down. Buy food in bulk. Get along with the clothes you’ve got.
  • Learn to distinguish between a “need” and a “want.” You need housing, food, utilities. You only want dinners out, cable TV, two phone lines, or a fitness club membership. Most “wants” can either be eliminated or accomplished at a lower cost.
  • Is a large chunk of your paycheck going to credit card debt? Contact a consumer credit counseling services to get into a program that reduces your overall debt, then helps you pay down the remainder. (See your Yellow Pages for a service near you.)
  • Invest in yourself first. Arrange to have part of your paycheck automatically deposited in a special savings account earmarked to finance your job change. Pretend that account doesn’t exist. Make yourself manage on the remainder.
  • Take on extra work now to finance your career change “nest egg.” Consider a Saturday job or something you can do at home. Put these “extra” earnings in your special account. Enlist your spouse or partner in the project. Your change in career should benefit the whole family. Perhaps you can both build that savings account through extra hours or second jobs.
  • Do you have teens? Enlist them in the family project of making it possible for their parents to find better work. If it won’t jeopardize their schoolwork, see if they can assume some of the responsibility for buying clothes and paying for entertainment and lessons.
  • Position yourself for your new work. Is there a way you can do volunteer work in your chosen field? If so, you can get some valuable experience that may help you land your new job much more quickly.

Do you need more ideas? Fortunately, there are a number of good books that can help you figure out the job you want and steps toward getting it. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will get you started:

  • A classic is What Color is Your Parachute? 2007 ( by Richard Nelson Bolles). Complete with a workbook, this manual has been very helpful to millions of people over the past 30 years.
  • Kate Wendleton founded an organization called “The Five O’Clock Club” to help people come together for mutual support in finding new work. Her book, Targeting the Job You Want (3rd edition published in January 2000 by Career Press), is full of exercises, anecdotes, and assignments to help you set goals and take steps to meet them.
  • I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It (1995, Bantam Doubleday Dell), by Barbara Sher, is a no-nonsense, no-excuses guide to figuring out what you want and taking steps to get there.