Making a Midlife Career Change

by | Jan 27, 2021

nicoa dunne
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So you’re thinking about making a midlife career change but afraid to do it? “Exactly, Nicoa, I’m already in my fifties! How am I supposed to totally up-root myself and move into some other career where I have no experience?” I know, I know. Making a massive change like this when you already feel so settled into life can be extremely daunting. But it is possible. And if it’s the right decision for you and you feel the pull to do something completely different, then it is worth it. You are worth it. 

I know from experience that a midlife career change can be one of the most frightening things a person can go through, but I can also tell you that it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself. And I didn’t even have a plan! I spontaneously quit a top executive job in the middle of an economic downturn with a stay-at-home husband, three kids, and two mortgages! 

People thought I was a crazy woman. Maybe I was! But I knew like I knew that if I didn’t make that life decision, either the company would have made it for me over time as I continued to disengage, or I would have been forced down by illness. I knew I was put on this earth to do something different.

So let’s break it down a bit—a midlife career change is not the right choice for everyone, but maybe you’ve been really ready for a change and thinking about it. First, be clear why you want to make a change. Reflect on what the cost to you is in the current situation. Dream into the benefits of doing something different. And then create a plan.

Let’s talk about what it takes to take that plunge and what your mindset needs to be in order to keep you and your deepest heart’s desires and interests aligned. 

If you want to make a midlife career change, be super intentional about it.

I’ve had several clients come to me and say, “Nicoa, I just hate where I work, I feel like I’m not going anywhere, and I desperately need something to change. Do you think I should quit?” Here’s the thing, though. That decision—to quit your job and seek out something else that could be better or could be worse, or to stay where you are and see what happens—has to be made by you. I can’t tell you what to do here. But I can tell you what I wish I had done before I quit my job without a plan!

Spend some time—a lot of time, preferably—going over your options. I’m a big proponent of being intentional, and this is a situation where I think that matters exponentially. Because guess what. What if you quit your current job, go through the process of a midlife career change, find yourself at some other desk with different tasks and different deadlines, and you’re still not satisfied? Still not fulfilled? Still not happy with your work? 

I like to call this the “same circus, different tent” outcome. It happened to me. I started two endeavors after I quit my job and was focused too much on how to recreate my total income and not enough on how to do what I loved. The same symptoms of annoyance and job frustrations popped up, and I realized I hadn’t actually dealt with what I truly wanted to be doing. I hadn’t aligned what I was doing with what really mattered most to me.

That’s the point that I’m trying to get across with being intentional. It’s a shift in mindset and alignment to your values as much as it is a change in career, and if you don’t do the accompanying mental and emotional work, your midlife career change just isn’t going to have the results you’re hoping for. So ask yourself these questions: Do I really want a different career? Or do I just want a different mindset? Does this job enable the life I crave, or is it a hindrance to what matters most to me? What would the ideal job look and feel like?

It’s possible that you want and need both—and that’s not a bad thing! In my experience, this is an extremely common desire that a lot of people come to at some point in their life. But it is still a huge decision, and it’s one that is going to impact a lot of areas of your life and your family. So be intentional about it. After you are clear about what matters most to you and you’ve done a cost-benefit analysis of sorts on your current state and the ideal state, then you’re ready to put it out there to those in your world who would be impacted by a change. 

Talk with your partner, with your kids if they’re old enough. And be prepared for their reaction to your ideas. Give them time to hear and understand your thinking and feelings about this possibility. Get other opinions and use them in your decision process, but remember: You are the only person that gets to make this decision. This is your life and your life by design. 

If you’re making a midlife career change, you have to open yourself up to new possibilities.

All right. So let’s say that you’ve made your decision. This is what you want, and you’re going for it. You’ve ensured the decision aligns with what and who matters most to you, and it meets the vision you hold for your life by design. Congratulations! Now let’s get into what the next step is and what the potential roadblocks of a midlife career change might look like for you. 

No matter what your old career was, you have skills that are transferable to your new career! Take stock of those, and remind yourself of your own value. Don’t lose sight of that value just because it seems like you have a lot left to learn in your new career—we all have a lot left to learn, and that’s a good thing. Give yourself a break as you adapt to a new life journey.

In your new career, you’re going to realize that the world is full of possibilities, and it’s also full of challenges and difficulties that might seem like too much to overcome at times. This is where the mindset shift comes in. Yes, you have spent most of your adult life learning the ins and outs of one career path. But here you are now, starting in a new direction. It will be important to have a daily reminder of why you made this change even when it feels hard. 

You are not behind the curve or fighting an uphill battle—you are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to do. Odds are, you’re going to feel a bit left behind, though. That’s natural, and the best way to remedy that feeling is to continue reminding yourself that you are valuable in your new career. It is completely normal to feel this way—anyone would in this situation. Knowing this is part of your career growth will help you get through it much more easily.

You have what it takes, and you are open to learning new skills and ways of thinking, or you wouldn’t have started down this new path. There will be people along the way to help you find your footing and figure out what works best for you, I promise. It’s just up to you to develop your new open and ready mindset and keep the faith that what this will enable is going to serve you and your lifestyle better.

View your midlife career change as an opportunity for growth and greater satisfaction.

I know that change can so often be scary, especially when it feels like you’re taking a solo dive into a dark ocean, and you’re not quite sure what is waiting for you under the water. But whatever your next move is, it is an opportunity for you to grow as a person and as a professional. As Dale Carnegie reminds us, “Take a chance! All life is a chance. The [one] who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare.” 

Your world is without a doubt going to expand, and your skill set and mindset will expand with it! You may not find your next career as soon as you leave your old one, and that’s okay. Maybe some time in between is just what you need. Maybe you need to take a little bit of time to just give to yourself, to replenish and recharge before you dive back into something totally new and different. Actually, if you’re in a situation where that’s an option, take it! You won’t ever regret taking a break. 

Don’t discount your own personal growth in this decision. Yes, finances play a major role here, but if you can take the time to discover something new and wonderful about yourself, it will be worth the extra investment. You are worth the extra investment. This is your life and your midlife career change. Make it what you want it to be. 

And ask for the support of those around you. I have coached many people through their career change decisions. Having a safe third party who is only interested in you and your goals, like a coach, to be your partner on this journey is highly advisable. There are just some experiences that need to be separated from the emotional ties of family and friends.

I can remember the fear that came with leaving my corporate executive position. I didn’t have a clue what I would do next. But I took the time to figure myself out, to see what I wanted for myself and my career, to understand the legacy that I wanted to create. If that is what you also need in order to shift your mindset, then I implore you to take advantage of that time of self discovery along the way. 

Your midlife career change is about you. Don’t settle for anything less than what you want. 

It’s going to be tempting to simply take the first opportunity that comes along, no matter what it is or whether or not it matches up with your new desires and goals. Please. Don’t settle. Like I said, remember your value, both as a person and as a professional. And remember your vision of a lifestyle that serves you emotionally! You have skills, knowledge, and experiences that make you a great addition to the teams you want to play with, and it’s a two way contract. 

Think win-win! Getting away from a career that is draining you only to jump right back into some new form of mental anguish isn’t going to get you anywhere—and it isn’t going to help you with your mindset shift either. It’s just going to make you feel more desperate to find something that will make you feel better. You want to go toward something, not run away from something. 

You deserve a career that is giving as much back to you as you are giving to it! And here’s the good news: That career is out there. Pause for a moment. Close your eyes and become very still. Feel into what you crave and desire from a day-to-day life experience. Visualize yourself being happy and enjoying the work you want to do. Imagine others engaging with you. How does it feel? Are you in an office or outside? Are you working all day or part of the day? Hang your hat on these feelings and believe it is possible. You just have to go out and get it. How willing are you to do at least one thing today toward this midlife career change?

It all comes down to taking the first step. Take the time you need now to figure out what you want and to align yourself and your mindset with those desires. Engage the people that matter most to you in the conversation, in the dreaming to get the support and clarity you need. Engage a professional third party coach or career consultant to help you hold yourself accountable along the journey. And once you put it out there that this is what you desire, allow yourself to just be in between for a little while until the opportunities appear. 

Trust me, when you’re ready, the opportunities will come to you! Believe it. The secret here is intentionality. You can have what you want! You can design the life that you’ve always dreamed of with a lot more ease and fulfillment sooner than if you just suddenly quit like I did! How willing are you to take the first step?

Got questions about loneliness or other #LifebyDesign topics? Chat with Nicoa Dunne today!