Fall is a time to make positive changes. You may decide to take a new class, finally get around to redecorating your bedroom or, on a more serious note, make a huge career leap. Jumping ship is never an easy decision. Are you just in a rut? Or is it really time to think about making a transition? Here are some tips to know whether that tension in your gut is the post-summer blues or something bigger — and if so, what to do if a career move is on the horizon.

1. Do a Self-Assessment

If you’re struggling to get focused, take time to look at the big picture. What are the key projects on your plate, and what skills will you learn from them? How do they contribute to the overall vision for the company or client? How will they make you more capable to take on bigger projects in the future? It’s one thing to be dreading the tasks on your never-ending to-do list, and it’s another to be utterly unenthused by your work or where your job might take you in a month or a year.

Another important part of this assessment is to look above and around you. Do you want your boss’s job? Do you want your boss’s boss’s job? If you cringe at the thought of shouldering those responsibilities, chances are you’re on the wrong path — or at least with the wrong company to take you where you want to go.

2. Get Focused

So, you’ve taken your time to reflect, and that tension is telling you it’s time to make a change. That’s great. But it doesn’t mean you should resign without a strategy. The first question you need to answer is why you want to make a change. Is it because of the company? Your career path in general?

If you’re in the first camp, you’re not alone. In fact, most companies don’t have a clue how to hire people who will fit their culture — which means you’ll need to do the work to figure out if a company is right for you. At The Muse, we believe in showcasing employers’ culture even more than their jobs, so you can explore what it’s like to work there before you apply. You can also look for brands you love and check LinkedIn for mutual friends who can share the inside scoop. One friend of mine started her search for an agency job a full year before landing a new gig, by setting up informational interviews and building relationships. Sounds like a lot, but it’s easier than working really hard to get a job offer only to realize you’re right back where you started on day one.

And what happens if you’re in the second camp and you wake up to realize you don’t want to do this anymore? First, know that career pivots are totally okay — in fact, they’re becoming far more common in today’s world. The first thing you need to do is figure out what skills you like using in your current work life. Maybe you’re a great writer and you’re good with managing clients, but you are done with advertising. Look into industries and fields that leverage those same skills. Create a list of transferrable skills you want to use in your next position and use that as your blueprint for your research.

No matter what, if you’re moving into something totally different, you want to make sure to test drive that new career before you take it on a cross-country trip. Consider doing volunteer work for a local nonprofit or community club that you enjoy being a part of. This will help you strengthen your network with groups that share similar passions and give you some hands-on experience. At the very least, you’ll have new experience to share on your resume, possible case studies or referrals for the work you’ve done.

3. Give Yourself a Break

There’s a natural tension between finding the most inspirational, sexy version of your career and what might be considered thoughtful or practical for where you are. While it’s healthy to be excited and involved in your career path, you want to make sure you don’t let those feelings hold you back from focusing on what’s right in front of you.

During my journey to build The Muse, I took a role with management consulting firm McKinsey and worked for the Clinton Global Health initiative working with vaccines in Rwanda. I discovered pretty quickly that those paths were not the right ones for me, but there was still a lot to learn from each experience. If I had been too focused on the next step, I would have been blinded to the opportunities in front of me — including meeting my co-founder, Alex, at McKinsey.

Outside of the ones you have with your family or significant other, the relationship you have with your career is one of the most important. From it we find a sense of purpose, deep friendships with colleagues and a feeling of being part of something bigger. But just like a romantic relationship, our career path isn’t going to be a Disney movie. There are troughs and valleys; times of utter joy and times when you feel like you just can’t take it anymore. Your job is to learn how to listen to your gut and decipher between the raw emotion that comes with being challenged and the alarm bells that something bigger is wrong. Once you have that level of self-awareness, you’re positioned to win the long game.

If you could switch careers, what would you do? Tell us in the comment section below!