Six steps to a successful mid-life career change

Six steps to a successful mid-life career change

July 23, 2019

Whatever you do, don’t call it a mid-life crisis.

Maybe a mid-life opportunity. Or a mid-life challenge. Or best yet, a mid-life dream.

Considering a mid-life (or even late-life) career change is no longer a sign of failure or having experienced some sort of occupational breakdown. Rather, today it represents a courageous realignment with one’s dreams and passions. It’s healthy. It’s normal. And it’s invigorating.

Consider this, the average age of a Capella University student is 39. Sure, many of those students are advancing in existing careers, but many others are exploring new ones, or careers that they once aspired to, but life took them in a different direction. What this shows is that those exploring a career change deep into their careers are not alone.

“These people are incredibly courageous, but they need not be fearful or have self-doubt,” says Al Gorriaran, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Core Faculty in Human Resources Management at Capella University. “There is nothing more beneficial for you, your workplace, your family, than to take the time to re-evaluate your career and determine whether it aligns with what you are truly passionate about. If it doesn’t, make the change.”

Gorriaran offers the following six steps to making a successful mid-life career change:

Step 1: Realign with your passions

The first step in exploring a mid-life career change is to take a deep breath and find the time and space for some serious personal reflection on what inspires you and the impact you want to have with your career.

“Start by looking in the mirror, then walk outside and look at the stars and ask yourself, ‘What was my dream starting out? Is that still my dream? What did I always want to do with my career but didn’t because of money, family, or other circumstances?’” Gorriaran advises. “This takes a ton of courage, but the flexibility we have to change careers today is so much more than in the past. Today, if you want to change your career when you are 40 or 50 or beyond, you can.”

Step 2: Let go of your self-doubt

As thrilling as it can be to reignite your career dreams and passions, the nagging companion that often tags along is self-doubt. Am I too old? Am I too stuck in my ways? Will I be accepted in my new field? Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Those are the types of questions that are almost always rooted in fear.

“It may sound corny, but believe in yourself,” Gorriaran says. “Remember, age is just a number. The only thing that stands in your way is usually you. Yes, you should weigh the risks versus the benefits of making a major life change, but more often than not, the real risk is simply not doing it. Time will pass no matter what, and either you will have made the change your heart desires, or you’ll be stuck right where you are.”

He adds, “It’s important to know and believe that your background—who you are—does not define or limit your future. Don’t let your gender, the color of your skin, your sexuality, deter you. Believe that everything you are, everything you bring to the table, is a strength, because it is.”

Step 3: Enter reality

Once you’ve settled on the career path that you believe will most fulfill you and you’ve let go of any nagging self-doubt, it’s time for a reality check. How much schooling will be required to enter your new field? How much money and time will it take? What sort of licensure might you need? Do you have the family support you will need as you take on this new endeavor?

“Exploring the feasibility of your career change shouldn’t scare you,” Gorriaran says. “More often than not, the issues you explore as part of a reality check are surmountable. The important thing is not to go into a major life change without doing your due diligence. Keep your enthusiasm, but make sure you are setting yourself up for success.”

Step 4: Dip your toe in

Once you have the confidence that your new career path is feasible, expose yourself to it. The last thing you want is to find out the new career you are so excited about and have imagined in your head is nothing like the real world. Do informational interviews. Job shadow. Find a mentor in the field. Research projections for the growth of your chosen career. In other words, know what you are getting into.

Gorriaran gives the example of how he wanted to be a police officer after leaving the Armed Forces, believing his military experience would translate naturally into policing. However, he discovered after just three months on the job that the reality of being a police officer was not what he envisioned. It simply wasn’t for him, so he left.

Step 5: Embrace the change to your whole person

Changing careers is about more than just switching jobs. It can fundamentally change your identity and how you see yourself. This can be wonderfully affirming, but it can also be a bit jarring. Be prepared for that, and be ready for reactions from your family and friends about the new you.

“This is about way more than just a new job; this is about reinventing who you are,” Gorriaran explains. “People who try to divorce work from identity and purpose are kidding themselves. They are intricately intertwined. Understand and embrace that.”

Also, don’t be shy about using what you learned in your former career in your new one. Having deep experience, often in a fundamentally different industry, can be incredibly refreshing and enlightening to your new workplace and co-workers. Having a different worldview and new ideas can be tremendously valuable.

Step 6: Changing a career is rarely a one-and-done phenomenon 

What many people don’t appreciate or realize is that career progression is typically a cycle of continuous improvement—an ongoing evolution. Life is about constant change, and therefore so is your career. Many people change careers multiple times enriching their lives and those around them in the process. From there, things can steamroll in exciting ways.  

“You become a more accomplished, complete person when you strive for a new career and realize it,” Gorriaran concludes. “Some even get hooked on their new profession and want more. Your newfound career success can become a springboard for other ventures. You could become an author, a business owner, a professional speaker. The sky’s the limit!”

Explore your next career change with a human resource management degree from Capella University.

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