Your Midlife Career Change

“1 in 10 people are in their dream career. Are YOU the 1?

“To every man there comes a time in his lifetime, that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered that special chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified to do the work which could have been his finest hour.” – Winston Churchill

How to know if you are in the right career

Your New Career SignImagine you have spent ten years learning your trade. You studied for years, did all the exams, got the qualifications, gained the experience. You worked for several years at low pay, barely making ends meet, working your way up in your chosen profession, having to prove yourself every step of the way.

Now, finally, you are able to say, with complete confidence, “I am a …(doctor/pharmacy technician/engineer/pilot/flight attendant/police officer/midwife/artist/magician/hypnotist/NLP practitioner/gardener/lawyer/teacher/scientist/photographer/forester/massage therapist/model/electrician/actor/film maker/coffee barista/copy writer/fire fighter/paramedic/nurse/welder/dog trainer/horse whisperer/web designer/SAP professional/stand up comedian/personal trainer/fitness instructor/martial arts instructor)”. You say it with genuine confidence, that you honestly feel inside yourself. You don’t have to fake it, and you don’t feel like a fake saying it.

Now, imagine that some disaster strikes – say a major earthquake – and you have to leave, become a refugee. Your home is destroyed, your country is in tatters. You have no proof of your identity, never mind your career history. You have to start again, with nothing, and prove yourself in a different country. Perhaps you have to even learn a new language.

You will have to go through the system in your adopted country, starting at zero, and take another ten years before anyone there will believe and accept you saying “I am a … (doctor/pharmacy technician/engineer/pilot/flight attendant/police officer/midwife/artist/magician/hypnotist/NLP practitioner/gardener/lawyer/teacher/scientist/photographer/forester/massage therapist/model/electrician/actor/film maker/coffee barista/copy writer/fire fighter/paramedic/nurse/welder/dog trainer/horse whisperer/web designer/SAP professional/stand up comedian/personal trainer/fitness instructor/martial arts instructor)”

Would you do it all again? Or would it seem like too much hard work?

If you have any second thoughts, then you are not in the right career.

Make the decision

This may seem obvious, but the first step is to make the decision to change career. It is almost natural to get stuck in a rut, and it is human nature to keep repeating the same pattern of behavior, as long as it is not fatal! If you want a midlife career change, and not to wake up one morning and discover you’ve retired from the job you hated for years, then you have to take action. Now. This is not about daydreaming about leaving the old ways behind and changing career. It is about you making a conscious,informed, determined career change decision. A life and career change decision that you will act upon decisively and confidently.

If you are deciding to change career, then you will need to know that this site is not about a quick fix. Changing career is not easy. Particularly in your midlife, when you have built up years of experience, a particular lifestyle, loans, expenses, tastes, habits and hooks to keep you in your current career. But then again, it is easier than getting up every day and doing something that you weren’t meant to be doing.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr, as paraphrased by Alcoholics Anonymous.

This will not be an easy decision, and should certainly not be taken lightly. Having said that, if you have done the thinking, daydreaming and soul searching, then now is always the best time to make a decision. You will act on it later, but the first thing to do is to write it down, say it out loud to somebody who will support you, and start to feel the freedom that comes with taking control of your life.

If you are determined and persevere, you will succeed in your choice of new career, no matter what obstacles may be in your path.

Find your true calling

Remember when you were 10 years old? what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you have a hero that you wanted to emulate? Did you imagine yourself grown up being just like your hero? What happened to that dream? Believe and accept that you are responsible for shrinking the Superman you should be into the Clark Kent that you are now. Did you choose to accept the criticism that has stopped you in your tracks?

Know Yourself!

Sit down with a pencil and a big piece of paper and divide it into three. In one section write down all the words you would use to describe yourself. In the next, write down all the words your friends and family would use to describe you. Now, in the third section write down how you would like to be described. Need a few words to help you get started? Confident, open, approachable, easy going, hard working, organised, sympathetic, helpful, reliable, sincere, funny, loving, always there when needed, strong, soft, gentle… you get the picture – try to focus on the positive words. If you do write down any negative words, have a good think about how you will change them into positive ones, cross them out and write down the positive alternative. This is you.

Be true to yourself

What is it about your current career that you need to change? Decide what you LOVE doing, and what you HATE. Be honest with yourself about what you are GOOD at doing, and what you are BAD at doing. Ideally (obviously) you want to find a job with all the stuff you enjoy and are good at, with as little as possible of the stuff you are bad at and hate. If you are not already in that job, it’s time to change.

How old are you now? How old do you hope to be when you slip this mortal coil? Just in case you have to work until your final day, why not spend as much of it as possible doing fun stuff you love to do and are really good at. Anybody can learn any job, but very few people can learn to care about a job they hate doing.

Garbage in – garbage out.

Plan your career transition

Investigate or Invent your career options

Now that you have awakened your desire for a full life, you will want to investigate all the options available to you. Just like a round the world trip, where you need to book flights, accommodation, pack the right gear, get visas and vaccinations, so it is with a life change. You need to plan: Educational requirements? Where can you get them? How long will it take? How much will it cost? Who will help you with money, encouragement, tutoring, mentoring?

Doctor thinkingThink LONG TERM – this may be for the next 20 years or more – so plan it properly! Why? You need a map to get to your destination. You are entering new territory, which may be partially charted, as many have gone before you, but you are starting at a different place to anyone else. You are unique, your skills, experience, resources and schedule are yours alone.

Do some google searches, aptitude tests, browse monster.com and read a few magazines and newspapers job listings. Leave yourself open to the possibilities around your dream job. Possibly you may need to go back to school, college or grad school to get further qualifications. Look at schools and universities near you, but also in other cities and even countries. I moved from Holland to Ireland partly because the course I was interested in (Biotechnology) was taught here at the National University of Ireland, Galway. There was also a mature students access program offered by the university for 2 evenings a week for a few months to (re)introduce people gently to lectures, studying and exams. Up to 10% of places are offered to mature students (a mature student is anyone over 23), the normal entry requirements are waived (that’s right – no school leaving exam results required!) and as an Irish and EU citizen I was eligible for “Free fees” (the local council pays his fees). I had also considered the University of Dundee, and the University of Utrecht, but for various reasons Galway won.

Design a career change journey that will allow you to change destination

You have an idea in your head about the career you want. It may not be perfectly focused though. Possibly it is a bit blurry right now, unless you have had an opportunity to sample it first hand. Hindsight is 20/20 vision, but foresight is not! So plan your transition is such a way that you have bit of flexibility.

When choosing a degree course, one of the reasons I selected Biotechnology was that it was a very general biological science degree, covering aspects of biology I knew little about, but wanted to dip my toes into, to find out if they were my real destination. I had an idea that I wanted to study biochemistry or microbiology, and the course allowed me to do both without having to choose one or the other in my final year. As it turned out, I could have done either as my major, and still ended up where I am now, but I didn’t know that at the time, and this way I learned some things that otherwise I would not have.

The point is that you need to do some research – don’t make the same mistake I made several times (and perhaps you have too) in the past, getting fed up with a particular job, resigning and moving to the next thing that comes along without enough thought as to what you really want.

Poor planning = poor results.

Take the first step towards your next career

You have to start, or you will never get there. When? Right now is probably the best time!

Google the number, or pick up the phone book or golden pages and call the college, professional association, or a friend in the career you want. Make an appointment to meet face to face to discuss it further if possible.

Write notes on the conversation once you put down the phone.

How do you feel?

A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.

Measure your progress and adjust the plan accordingly. Be Flexible!

The plan is a living document – it will change as you learn more about the new career, your circumstances change, and you make new decisions along the way. Make sure you are aware of how any decision will affect the whole plan – the budget, the time line and the final objective.

Golden rule: Look back with pride, look forward with enthusiasm.

Succeed and enjoy the journey

You will have many obstacles on the way, not least of these being your own self doubt, especially if you have family depending on your financial support. You will only fail if you believe you have failed. I could have failed a hundred times, but I refused to accept defeat, so I am succeeding. If I can, so can you. If you are floundering, get help. Your family, friends, mentors will keep you focused on the end goal and encourage you to see your success and progress.

What if you run into financial difficulties? If you run out of money – borrow some, but no short term borrowings – re-mortgage your house, get a student loan, sell stuff you don’t need. Get a part time job if you have to, but do not use your credit card as a finance option. It is the most expensive and most likely to lead into deeper debt and a jeopardized credit score. Never borrow if you cannot see how you will pay it back.

Personally I’d rather not borrow from family or friends, but have had to once or twice. If you do, make sure you pay them back as promptly as possible. Whatever you do, don’t avoid them if you can’t pay as soon as you had hoped or promised. This applies to banks and other lending institutions too. Explain the situation, work with them and pay what you can when you can. Pay yourself last. Remember, changing career is not instant gratification. It is a long term goal, with a long term reward. Your big payday will come once you working in your new career, every day, for the rest of your life.

There is more than one route to your destination

Write a list of things you know how to do:

Some examples: drive a car, use a computer, sing, manage a project, write a report, balance the books, troubleshoot an electronic circuit, design a scientific experiment, etc.

Write a list of the personality attributes that make you the wonderful and unique person you are:

Some examples: persevering, determined, self motivated, organized, artistic, imaginative, able to think outside the box, enthusiastic, can see the both sides of the argument, persistent, able to see the big picture, attentive to details, reliable, etc.

Now write a list of all the things you have achieved. Start with your childhood:

The perfect jobSome examples: you learned to walk and talk a new language before the age of three, in spite of falling over and hurting yourself hundreds of times, making mistakes in grammar and pronunciation, being laughed at by the people you loved most and whose opinions counted highest to you. You learned to read, write and do arithmetic, play several sports and ride a bicycle as a small child, in spite of being scared of school, the bigger children and being teased and having your hair pulled, and perhaps even discouraged by your teachers. You succeeded and won the heart of your significant other, even though you were terrified of rejection, dancing, meeting their parents; you got a job, probably several, in spite of the nervousness in the interview, mistakes in your resume, getting sick, coming in late because your car broke down…; you got projects in on time and within budget, well almost, in spite of mismanagement, changing requirements, budget cuts, key staff layoffs, no overtime pay and no thanks. You worked hard and long, you played for the team, you made personal sacrifices to enable yourself and others who relied on your work to achieve worthwhile goals.

Many of these achievements may have had very little, or nothing at all to do with your career or job. However, they all demonstrate your remarkable abilities. Take pride in all you have done, and take a moment to give yourself a well deserved pat on the back. Now tear up your old resume. Use your renewed confidence to write a maximum of two pages for your new resume. It will radiate your irrepressible enthusiasm, and be luminous with your brilliance. You will target the organizations or customers that you want to work with in your new career. Share it only with these selected quality organizations or individuals. You are the person they have been looking for, but have not had the good fortune to find – until now.

Honesty is the best policy

Get on the job training/work experience

Get on the internet and post your new resume up on monster.com making sure that you are specific about the type of work you are seeking. Print out several copies and drop them in to your local employment agencies, but be sure to advise them that you do not want it sent out without your prior permission – you want to be selective in your new career job search. Open the Yellow pages and phone ALL the companies listed that may have the type of job you are looking for – talk to their human resources department and get the name of the person who makes the hiring decision in the department that interests you – this is not the HR manager, unless you want to work in HR. Get their phone number, email address and details. Phone them and ask if you can send them your resume. Don’t forget to cc the HR department. Ask when it might be convenient for you to drop in for a chat, perhaps in a week or so, once they have had a chance to read your resume. Then follow up at the agreed time. Don’t be embarrassed to ask if they know who else may be hiring, if they are not. Tell them to keep your resume on file and to call you if anything comes up in the future if there is nothing available at the moment.

Ask your friends if they know anyone in the industry that interests you. Make contact, keep in touch, be eager but never desperate. Be patient. You will find the right job. If you need to take up a temporary position to tide you over, make sure that you allow enough spare time to continue your job search. Do not allow yourself to get stuck in a rut. Keep moving, keep trying and keep creating new ways of looking. Persistence always pays off. You will succeed. If you feel your confidence waning, go back to your lists and remind yourself how good you are, and if necessary, revise your resume again. It is a living document, a work in progress, a continually updated draft, to be refined and honed as often as necessary. Make the calls again, renew the contacts, keep positive and persevere.

Once you have your foot in the door…

Be eager, be punctual, be reliable, be visible, be honest, communicate, share the credit, accept responsibility, ask questions, be self sufficient when possible, fit into the existing team but don’t be invisible, offer to help, keep learning, measure your own performance, ask for feedback early and often, seek and accept criticism graciously, be yourself – make your mark.

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