Making a mid life career change is hard, but not impossible!
If you’re reading this, chances are you are dissatisfied with your current job. Or, maybe you have become unemployed and are looking to make a positive change in your career. You are also (probably) a little older than 22… 😉 Making a mid life career change is hard because you often don’t know what to do next. It can be hard because you have become accustomed to the lifestyle your existing career has afforded you. In addition, the “weight” of several/many years of work experience in a particular field can make it feel impossible to change direction.
Rest assured making a mid life career change is possible, but its important to adopt the right approach. There are countless blog articles falling over themselves to share with you great career alternatives. These include lists of new career ideas that might just be the dream job you never knew existed. Chances are you’ve already read a few before you came across this article! Whilst I’m sure the authors all have good intentions I’m sorry to say this the wrong starting point. Sure, you might get lucky and find a career idea that you later fall in love with, but it will be just that – luck.
To stack the odds in your favour and maximise your chances of identifying good ideas, you need to look inwards. You need to ask yourself some probing questions. The good news is that answering these questions will substantially increase your chances of finding (and transitioning) to a future career that you love. The bad news is that it may take a while to answer some of them.
Question 1: What are you passionate about?
This may seem a rather obvious question when considering a mid life career change, but how many of us have a clearly defined answer? In my experience as a career change adviser and coach, most of us have several passions – there is not one ideal career or job. Ask yourself, what gets you out of the bed in the morning? When do you feel accomplishment, satisfaction, joy?
It took me several years to realise that whilst I loved all things science (I studied physics at university) what I really loved was helping people improve their skills and make positive life changes. Naturally this makes politics and education particularly relevant professions (if we can call politics a profession!).
If you really struggle to answer this question, it means you probably need to get clarity on your values. Franklin Covey has some great exercises to help uncover core values. Just note, that like many of the articles with lists of career ideas, these online tests won’t give you all the answers!
Question 2: What are you good at?
More specifically – what are your strengths? When you lay out all of humanity in a long (LONG) line, what are the things that mark you out from others? Research has regularly shown that people who focus on using their strengths are more productive. They are also happier in their jobs than those who try to address their weaknesses. Having a clear understanding of your strengths is essential for anyone considering a mid life career change.
After working as a management consultant I realised I was good at analysing problems and transferring skills. After running for parliament in the UK 2015 General Election I also realised I was good at debating and public speaking. Unfortunately, this process of realisation doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Sometimes we fail to spot what we are good at. Worse still, we sometimes think we are very good at something, when the reality is anything but! In these circumstances it’s often really useful to ask close friends, family, and work colleagues for their opinions. When do they see you struggle and shine? Their answers may surprise you.
Question 3: What does the world need tomorrow?
I know this question might, at first glance, seem a little odd. After all, surely if a job exists today that’s good enough… no? This is one of the reasons why I don’t find articles with lists of specific career ideas particularly helpful. If you are considering a mid life career change, you want to be confident that any alternative career has good future employment prospects. You want to be confident that the career is going to stick around for long enough for you to enjoy it. Whilst we can’t predict the future with certainty we can make some pretty good assumptions about how things will change. We can do this by analysing trends.
Think you want to be a lorry driver? Have you read about Elon Musk’s driverless lorries? Understand the limitations and potential of machine learning? You probably should, if you’re interested in accounting! Technological change is going to have such a significant impact on employment that anyone considering career change must do all they can to educate themselves about the changes taking place. For those of you who struggle to think about the future – here is a great TED talk by Anthony Goldbloom on the potential implications of machine learning:
Question 4: What do I need to live my life the way I want?
I actually think this is the hardest question to answer. In my Career Re-Orientation Programme, I help clients explore all four of these questions in detail. And out of the four questions, it is this one that typically takes the longest to answer. We are bombarded with so much advertising everyday telling us how we should look and act. As a result, I think it’s easy to lose sight of what we truly want, or need, from our jobs. Whilst money typically remains very important, especially if you have children and a mortgage, other factors such as development opportunities, flexible working, and minimal commuting are increasingly being identified as priorities. And don’t forget that your needs change, which is probably one reason why so many people are considering changing careers! Like the other questions, there isn’t one right answer.
When I was a management consultant, I earned a decent salary, but the commute was tiring. I would need to spend a good chunk of my salary on holidays just to get me through the year. Sound familiar? As a career coach and business change specialist, I now do most of my work virtually. That frees me from an office and allows me to spend much of my year in Spain. Consequently, what I need to live well is now quite a bit less than when I lived in London.
And once I’ve answered these questions, will I have ideas for my mid life career change?
Yes and no. It’s my experience that through the process of answering these questions, people naturally generate career ideas and curiosities that align with their needs. However, it’s also the case that having answered these questions, you will need to go out into the real world and engage with people working in the fields you are curious about. It is often through meeting new people, who are outside of your existing networks, that you uncover new career ideas that spark your interest, and which you want to explore further. I recently published a short guide containing 5 simple ways to explore career ideas whilst you work. You can download a copy for free here.
The important thing is that having answered the 4 questions described above, you now have a means of exploring and evaluating ideas clearly, rationally and objectively. This will help ensure that the decision you make about where to go next in your career is the right one.
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