Changing career midlife: yes, you can
We’ve all known for a while that we don’t need to be tied to one career or one company from the point that we enter employment, to the point that we retire. But let’s face it, making a wholesale career change at any point is scary. Making it in midlife, especially when you hit your 50s is quite daunting.
For me, changing career midlife is a lived experience, and it’s also one of the main things that my clients come to me with. Usually it’s along the lines of ‘I need a change’, or ‘I want a better quality of life’. But sometimes the change can be brought about by a change in personal circumstances such as burnout or a change in health. And, with the economic, physical, and emotional impacts of the pandemic, many people are considering, or having to consider a career change.
Changing your career is more than just about changing jobs though. You’re making a change that could have a significant impact on your life and lifestyle, so it’s important that you understand what’s driving your desire for change and what that means for you.
Whatever the reason, whether it’s a conscious desire for change, or one that’s enforced by redundancy, health, or personal challenges, making a midlife career change needn’t be scary. What it does require is a mindset that supports adjustment and embraces flexibility, enabling you to make the change that you want from a position of self-power and purpose.
So, let me share with you the essentials of how to plan for a successful career transition.
Where are you at right now?
This is the basic premise of any transition. You need to know where you are so that you can get to where you want to be! Where are you flourishing and in flow? There are lots of tools that you can use to do this, but I have found that one of the most effective ways of visualising things initially is to put everything down on paper in a way that resonates with you. I find two simple columns, what’s working in my life and career, and what can help me to instantly visualise where I am at that moment. Old school but effective.
How do you really feel about making a career change?
Getting a sense of what you feel both physically and emotionally about a career change can be uncomfortable, but it is important.
- How do you feel physically when you think about your possible career change? Is your pulse racing, or your mouth dry? Does it feel like a thousand butterflies are fluttering inside you?
- How do you feel emotionally? Is there a sense of excitement or fear? Or a mix of both? Perhaps though there is a thought of ‘I can’t do this, it’s too late’ or ‘I’m at the top of my game, I don’t want to have to start again’.
Believe me when I say these are natural thoughts and feelings. Name them. Acknowledge them for what they are and use them to help you move forward.
Who are you?
Whilst it doesn’t pay to overthink, it’s essential that you take some time out to get to know yourself. What’s your story? How can your story influence the future you?
Too often during our 30s and 40s many of us don’t find the time to step away from our daily obligations, and the continual chase up the proverbial career ladder, to really think about who we are and what we want. Figuring out who you are and what you need is fundamental to ensuring that you take the right steps for you when changing your career. It’s time to channel your inner power that’s unique to you and makes you who you are.
About five years ago I went through my own major career change, largely brought about by an unanticipated change in my health. Initially all I could see looming ahead were years of unemployment and disability. But what that initial period of ill health gave me was time to think about what next.
There were 5 key things I asked myself during that time that enabled me to put in place a tentative plan for change:
1. What skills and experience do I have that I can share with others, and what am I best at?
Be realistic, but equally don’t underestimate the skills that you have and that you can put to great use. So, for example if leadership excellence is you, where else can you take that beyond where you are now? Flexibility can pay off when you’re thinking about skills and experience.
Changing career needn’t be focused on changing one career for another, rather it may be time to think about how you can have a portfolio career. Many successful midlife career changers have a mix of part time employed and self-employed consultancy work, combined with voluntary work.
2. What’s my ‘raison d'être’, my reason for being, and the motivation to get me out of bed each morning?
Everyone needs it and most of us have it, however deep down it may be buried. For me it was as simple as feeling useful, to myself, to my family, and to my work family. Based on the skills I had I knew that coaching and mentoring in some capacity would be a natural fit for me.
3. What (or who) in my life gives me my strength and self-power and how can they help?
One of the best things you can do is look at your support network, or what’s often referred to as your tribe. Who are they? Think about friends, family, colleagues, and social connections from places like network groups. Being able to gather strength and support from your network is vital, and can also help you manage the fear of making a career change in midlife positively.
4. Who else might I need to make this happen?
Sometimes you need extra professional help. If, like me, a change in health is driving your career change you may need your medical team to help you with practical elements to enable you to be physically and emotionally fit enough to make the change. And whatever your reason for changing career, think about who else may be able to help such as working with a coach, mentor, or career consultant.
5. What do my finances look like, and how much do I need to earn as a minimum?
This is always tricky in the sense that a midlife career change can often bring with it a fear of losing financial stability. If the change is health driven that financial instability may have already arrived. But don’t let that fear paralyse your plans. Work out what you’ll need to do to manage financially, with expert help if necessary.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, changing career midlife is about embracing flexibility and being adaptable. Ultimately this isn’t one big leap that you’ll take – although it may feel like it!
Rather it’s a series of small steps forward to an enjoyable and rewarding later life whether at work or at leisure.
If you’ve found this article useful please do take some time to yourself to work through, and to ponder the answers to the questions posed throughout. You can change your career midlife successfully and I wish you all the very best in doing so.
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