It’s not uncommon for people to grow restless with and even resentful of their jobs when they hit their 40’s. ‘I’m not doing what I love!’ they say, or ‘I want to try something different.’ After years of climbing up the ladder, or building their skills and connections within a particular industry, they’re now ready to walk away and ‘find themselves.’
But…wait. While there are many inspiring accounts of people who successfully reinvented their careers, there are also many more depressing cautionary tales where a reckless decision led to bankruptcy or…nothing at all. They thought that the ‘big job change’ would make them happy, but it was just an escape from a deeper problem. Here are some things to weigh before making any mid-life career change.
1. Mid-life Career Truth # 1: You’ve Always Been in Control.
Mid-life naturally brings about questions about what you want from life, yourself and other people. You realize you’ve got 20 to 25 more years, if you’re lucky, and you think, ‘I can’t believe I’ve given all this work and effort into this stupid job and this stupid company.’
So, in a fit of frustration, you want to submit your resignation letter and finally do something for yourself.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a little selfish with your time and effort. You are standing up for your happiness—that’s great! But actually, you always have.
You may feel angry at having to be nice to your idiot boss, or frustrated at the salary that is so much less than you think you deserve. But you still chose the job, you do benefit from having a good relationship with management, and you get rewards that you don’t see on your paycheck: dignity of labor, training, self-discovery.
You’ve always been free. You’ve always had the opportunity to walk away. But something made you stay. Why didn’t you leave years ago, when it would’ve been easier to shift careers? What is so different now?
2. Mid-life Career Truth # 2: Don’t Change Jobs to Avoid Changing Yourself
Maybe it’s not the job. Maybe it’s you. You’re looking for self-discovery, self-development—but you don’t need to leave your job to get that. In fact, the most empowering thing to do is to stop seeing work as a ‘job’ and work as ‘Me, Inc.’ Every position develops your skills, your network, your personality. Every task is a form of self-expression and a way of giving back to the world. Whether you work for this company, or start your own, or go to India to meditate on a mountain top, you are 1) doing something and 2) doing it for yourself.
If you feel stuck, and your job’s a dead-end, ask yourself: is it the company’s fault, or mine? Maybe you’ve stuck to a routine just because it worked. Maybe you’ve been pigeonholed into a particular role because you never accepted projects beyond your comfort zone. Maybe you’ve spent too much time at your job, at the expense of developing your personality and work-life balance.
These habits are often caused by fears—fear of change, fear of making mistakes, fear of success, fear of commitment. And the fears will follow you to your new career, if you don’t confront them.
Before you change jobs (a risky thing, especially in today’s economy) try changing something about yourself and routine. Shake things up in your own corner of the world.
3. Mid-Life Career Truth # 3: It’s Not Always Going to be Fun.
You’ve heard the saying, ‘Do what you love and the money will follow.’ In one way, it’s true: if you’re personally passionate about your work, you bring such energy and enthusiasm into your labors that you reap more than others who are just mechanically meeting deadlines.
But the key word here is energy and enthusiasm. Can you really bring in the hours and extra effort needed to start all over? Can you slug it out against competition, and do the ‘grunt work’ that we all know is part of ‘paying one’s dues.’ Your skills and experience in your current industry may mean nothing in the field that you’re planning to pursue. You will, for all intents and purposes, have the leverage of a fresh graduate — and will have to expend extra effort in jobhunting in a recession.
4. Mid-Life Career Truth # 4: Don’t be an Idiot. Plan.
When you’re going through a mid-life crisis, your extreme emotions can make you as restless as a teenager on a hormonal high. But teenagers had one advantage—their youth. They had less at stake. No mortgage payments, no credit card debts, no families to support, and no career clock ticking.
You need a plan. First a career plan: what are your job options? What skills do you need and how long will it take to develop them? If you need additional education, what is the cost? Do you have contacts in the industry? How can you translate your current job experience and skills into something that’s attractive to companies or investors?
Second, you need a financial plan. It’s essential to have a reliable income stream in place, especially since it’ll take a while before you earn from your new career. Don’t dip into your retirement money, or jeopardize your financial future without a clear idea of how you’ll be keeping things afloat.
5. Mid-Life Career Truth # 5: Don’t Gamble Everything on a Hunch.
You want to quit because you believe that 1) the other career will be more exciting and 2) you think you can succeed in it. Both may be entirely untrue.
First talk to other people who work in that industry to get a clearer idea of what their job entails, how hard they
had to work to get to their current position, the level of competitiveness, and the kind of skills required to succeed.
Then assess yourself. It might help to get career and personality tests to see if you have a real aptitude for the work you desire. Older people do tend to be a little more set in their habits and ways, so it’s best if there’s a natural fit.
Finally, research into the stability of the industry. Is there a healthy growth? Are there openings, or is it shrinking? If the industry has downsized, then there are professionals who are also looking for jobs—and they are more qualified than you are. This can only mean that it may take you several months of looking for work, or training for it in order to be competitive. Companies will not be inclined to invest in a newbie if there are hundreds of ‘ready’ candidates.