Dear Coach Joan,

I recently turned 50 and feel like it’s now or never for a mid life career change. I’ve disliked my profession for several years now and have a number of career directions I think would be much more satisfying.

But I go around and around in my head with possibilities, then get overwhelmed and confused about what to think of first, and how to plan out such a major change.

Given you’ve worked with many clients making this kind of transition, what are some of the things I should be thinking about? What are some of pitfalls, sand traps and success factors, too?

Thank you,

John in Santa Rosa

Dear John,

Happy 50!! Clearly this birthday  is a big milestone for you, and you are seeing it as the time to make a major career shift. Bravo! There’s nothing like reaching a new round number birthday to wake us up and shake us up, realizing life isn’t forever and we want to make the most of our time.

You asked a very wise and complex question, one that I cannot answer in one  article so I will break it down into several parts and address several important considerations.

Drawing from my experiences with clients who came to me at various stages of their mid-life career change I’d like to start with three cautionary topics:

  1. The Financials – By the time you reached 50 years old you typically have a life style established. You have a certain kind of home, household, vehicles, vacations, clothing, shopping and eating habits and more. Yes, life can be expensive and when one is making a career change mid life, it’s vital to take a serious look at one’s current life style cost and the implications of a possible, at least temporary lowering of one’s income. Take a serious accounting of your current costs and see if you could be flexible if, in fact, your career change involved say a 50% reduction in income for at least a few years. Example: One client came to me after she had taken an early retirement and opted live her dream of painting part time and working in an art supply store part time. Somehow she thought that magically she could go from the lifestyle of a mid level corporate manager to a bohemian style artist lifestyle. She came to me after two years of her ‘dream life’ having depleted much of her savings and now needing to get back to a corporate job.
  2. Your Partner/Family – If you live with others, especially others who’re depending on your income or your availability and those things change, you really need to get them on board with your decision early on. Career change is a systems change for a family. Everything from income to hours working to stresses one brings home to status changes to new friends/colleagues and their influence, all changes and does impact the others in your household. Again, a cautionary example. A client came to me recently divorced. He had been a corporate executive and welcomed the chance to move to a teaching position at the local college. He realizes he hadn’t adequately communicated his job stress all along and when he made the career change, his wife and children were tremendously disappointed at the income reduction and what that meant to their lifestyle. In fact, his wife claims that had he communicated with her all along, he might not have made the change. You don’t want to have major regrets. Talk to your family, have many discussions so you can all see the implications of a job change.
  3. Incorrect Expectations. It is so important to know what one is getting into with a career change. Many times we have overblown or mistaken ideas of what another profession or job truly would entail. We often make our career assessments based on limited knowledge and experience, drawing from the media, popular culture and just our hopeful projections. That is where the power of Information Interviews, volunteer work and internships can play a key role. See if you can meet with people in your ‘ideal job’ and ask if they will give you 30 minutes to ask some questions. Do not make it into a request for a job. An informational interview is just what the words say; it is a chance for you to interview someone who has agreed to give you time and insights. Remember to follow up with a thank you, as they might be a colleague someday, and it’s the right thing to do. One young women client thought that working in the entertainment field would be glamorous from the start but once she started her job she realized it was a lot of administrative boring tasks and demanded many hours. She was unrealistic in her expectations.

John, I have offered you three essential things to consider: financial implications of a career move, getting your partner/family on board and getting a real world sense of the prospective profession and job. Next time I will address some success stories and insights into making a smart mid career move.

Onward in your career success,

Coach Joan