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Brent Price inside the fitness studio, Hustle, that he co-owns with Lucy Ulmer in Vancouver. Mr. Price worked in human resources before making the pivot to become a full-time fitness instructor and business owner.Rafal Gerszak

For years, Brent Price balanced his full-time job at Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd. – where he was involved in staff training and education – with mornings and evenings at the gym working as a personal trainer.

The fitness work was more of a passion than a career goal; he loved his day job and had been with the travel company for 13 years. But when Flight Centre declared Mr. Price’s role redundant, as part of a larger round of layoffs, he decided not to take the alternate position he was offered. Instead, Mr. Price took the leap to make fitness his primary career.

“I went to every gym I knew of and was [working] full-time in fitness within three weeks of being laid off,” Mr. Price, 36, says. He is now the co-owner of Ulmer Price Fitness Inc., doing business as Hustle, a group-workout gym in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood that opened earlier this year.

Mr. Price’s story of turning a side gig into a main job is common among people who reinvent their working lives – and a route many career coaches recommend. Testing a potential new career path before going full-time can help change-seekers see how their dream matches expectations, says Natalie Dumond, a leadership coach and facilitator in Breslau, Ont., about 100 km west of Toronto.

“You can find a way to do it on the side, and before you know it, if you’re really passionate about it, it will become your full-time business,” Ms. Dumond says. “If you want to be an event planner, call up your friends and plan every party for them. Throw it on social media and start to get a following. … All of a sudden, you’re planning a party a month.”

Wading in can be particularly helpful for people who have been avoiding career change due to fears of failure, Ms. Dumond says. However, getting comfortable with the idea of failure can be just as helpful.

“If you fail, you fail,” Ms. Dumond says, noting that trying on a new gig sometimes has the unexpected result of reassuring people that their existing career is a good fit.

Since his career change, Mr. Price feels like he’s “living an unapologetic life” that’s “completely genuine.”

Still, his new career path came with a few hiccups. It took time for Mr. Price to master the erratic schedule of running a gym and the idea that some parts of opening a business – such as construction or permit timelines – were out of his control.

“I used to have a large amount of control over what happened in my organization and department,” he says. “I had to get used to the idea that some decisions take time and others can be made quickly and changed as you go.”

With only two months under his belt as a realtor in London, Ont., Mark Vieira, 38, is also in an intense period of learning after working for more than a decade in video production.

After buying a couple of investment properties while working as a video editor at the CP24 news channel in Toronto, Mr. Vieira started taking real estate courses hoping to become his own realtor on future house purchases. He then moved to London to start his family, but was laid off from his job there at a video-production startup.

After getting over the shock, Mr. Vieira used his new-found free time to finish his real estate certification and make connections in his new industry.

“It’s really challenging going from something you know like the back of your hand, to something where you’re not quite sure how everything is going to be,” says Mr. Vieira, who still works in video as well. “You try to surround yourself with people who are successful in the business. … I’ve met good mentors who have taken me under their wing.”

Meena Kaila-Gambhir, a senior coach with international management consultancy Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge in Toronto, says it’s essential for people looking to change roles to speak with people who are already in their desired career.

She advises them to ask probing questions about the potential new career path, including the challenges and advice on how to break-in. It’s what she did when switching from a technical job in telecommunications to becoming a career coach.

“I joined the professional association – and that’s what I recommend to clients looking to make a change. It helps you build a network and meet people to see if their work aligns with what you want to be doing,” Ms. Kaila-Gambhir says.

She also recommends doing other research before changing professions, including reading books like What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles, Careergasm by Sarah Vermunt and Creating You & Co. by William Bridges, which can help people assess their values and interests when considering a career transformation.

“Intuitively, we have an inner, gut feeling. We all know if we’re in the place we’re meant to be,” Ms. Kaila-Gambhir says.

Mark Upsdell, 58, was an executive at Cisco Systems Inc. before he started Rapid Dose Therapeutics Corp., a Burlington, Ont.-based company that makes dissolvable oral strips that deliver ingredients including cannabis, vitamins and pharmaceuticals. The idea came when an ill family member was unable to swallow medicine.

When Cisco offered a buyout, Mr. Upsdell says he saw it as an opportunity to follow through on his idea.

Mr. Upsdell says the biggest adjustment for him was getting used to not having a built-in team of experts to rely on to help run the business. Today, if he needs legal advice, more staff, form letters or company policy, he needs to do it himself or hire someone to make it happen.

The career move has also impacted people around him, in particular, time spent with family members.

“My advice to someone else [thinking of making a career change]: make sure you have the full buy-in and support from your loved ones,” Mr. Upsdell says. “When it’s 7 p.m. and you’re still at the office, they have to understand that’s the commitment.”

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