Changing careers is exciting and fulfilling, no matter what the economic times, and it’s a small price to pay to find a rewarding career, reinvent yourself or open that business you’ve always dreamed of.

Making a career change without a personal plan is like making a conscious decision to skydive without a parachute.  Every successful change can take weeks, even months to prepare for but if you don’t have a personal plan in place you could end up adrift or accepting a job that didn’t reflect your goals and intentions.

Here are five key elements that should be included in your personal plan,

1. Your committment to change.  One of the first things that you need to consider is your level of committment.  How committed are you to making a change?  If you are not 100 percent sure that you are ready to make a change, don’t make one.  The best time for a ‘gut check’ is right now.  Explore the Internet.  Take a personality test.  Enroll in a class or get a certificate.  You will find the more you invest in your committment to change, the more committed to the cause you will become.

Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. suggests that your first step in planning a career change is to assess your ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’.  ”A lot of people change careers because they dislike their job, their boss, their company. So, identifying the dislikes is often the easier part of this step; however, you will not know what direction to change your career unless you examine your likes. What do you really like doing when you’re at work, when you’re at home – in your spare time. What excites you and energizes you?

2. Asses your professional skills.  Are you a butcher, baker or a candlestick maker?  If these professions no longer appeal to you, find something that excites you even if it means that you have to go back to school and learn a new craft.  Identify what excites you the most and find a career that reflects your new-found passion.

Here are some free tests that you can take provided by CareerPath.com that can help you if you are just starting out, considering a career change, or curious about your career path.

3. Place yourself on a well-travelled path.  Find successful people who are currently associated with the career change you wish to pursue.  Call, write, email, and meet them in person and ask for guidance.  People are generally eager to assist and you will eventually find someone who is willing to help and can offer the type of guidance you are seeking.

Here are 10 tips to help you find a mentor.

4. The consequences of change.  How will this new career effect you, your family, and those you love?  Are you ready to travel and to do what it takes to make your new career a success?  Do you have kids in school who may be adversely affected by a change in jobs or potential relocation that goes along with it?  Do you have the support of your husband or wife and are they ready, willing, and able to support you through thick and thin?

Here are 10 career change mistakes to avoid.

5. Get support.  Change is not easy and you will need the support of family and friends who will help you remain positive, move forward, and overcome obstacles.  Keep them in the loop with your career change and thank them for being there when you needed them most.