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How Mentally Strong People Make Career Decisions

How Mentally Strong People Make Career Decisions

Mentally strong people don’t let others determine their career paths. Instead, they take charge of their own lives and go where there want to go. I was lucky to realize that at the stage where I was making my own career decision, and I want to share my story with you.

I planned to become a medical doctor.

Back when I was in high school and through the first couple of years in college, I had a clear career goal. Why? Looking back at it, my career goal was a result of the encouragement and expectations from my family and friends.

My family emigrated from the Soviet Union when I was 10, and we spent the next few years living in poverty. I remember my parents’ early jobs in America, my dad driving a bread delivery truck and my mom cleaning other people’s houses. We couldn’t afford nice things. I felt so ashamed in front of other kids for not being able to get that latest cool backpack or wear cool clothes – always on the margins, never fitting in. My parents encouraged me to become a medical doctor. They gave up successful professional careers when they moved to the US, and they worked long and hard to regain financial stability. It’s no wonder that they wanted me to have a career that guaranteed a high income, stability, and prestige.

My friends also encouraged me to go into medicine. This was especially so with my best friend in high school, who also wanted to become a medical doctor. He wanted to have a prestigious job and make lots of money, which sounded like a good goal to have and reinforced my parents’ advice. In addition, friendly competition was a big part of what my best friend and I did – whether arguing with each other about life questions or playing poker into the wee hours of the morning. Putting in long hours to ace the biochemistry exam and get a high score on the standardized test to get into medical school was just another way for us to show each other who was top dog. I still remember the thrill of finding out that I got the higher score on the standardized test. I had won!

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As you can see, it was very easy for me to go along with what my friends and family encouraged me to do.

I was in my last year of college, working through the complicated and expensive process of applying to medical schools, when I came across an essay question that stopped in me in my tracks:

“Why do you want to be a medical doctor?”

The question stopped me in my tracks. Why did I want to be a medical doctor? Well, it’s what everyone around me wanted me to do. It was what my family wanted me to do. It was what my friends encouraged me to do. It would mean getting a lot of money. It would be a very safe career. It would be prestigious. So it was the right thing for me to do. Wasn’t it?

Well, maybe it wasn’t.

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I realized that I never really stopped and thought about what I wanted to do with my life. My career is how I would spend much of my time every week for many, many years, but I never considered what kind of work I would actually want to do, not to mention whether I would want to do the work that’s involved in being a medical doctor. As a medical doctor, I would work long and sleepless hours, spend my time around the sick and dying, and hold people’s lives in my hands. Is that what I wanted to do?

There I was, sitting at the keyboard, staring at the blank Word document with that essay question at the top. Why did I want to be a medical doctor? I didn’t have a good answer to that question.

My mind was racing, my thoughts were jumbled. What should I do? I decided to talk to someone I could trust, so I called my girlfriend to help me deal with my mini-life crisis. She was very supportive, as I thought she would be. She told me I shouldn’t do what others thought I should do, but think about what would make me happy. More important than making money, she said, is having a lifestyle you enjoy, and that lifestyle can be had for much less than I might think.

Her words provided a valuable outside perspective for me. By the end of our conversation, I realized that I had no interest in doing the job of a medical doctor. And that if I continued down the path I was on, I would be miserable in my career, doing it just for the money and prestige. I realized that I was on the medical school track because others I trusted – my parents and my friends – told me it was a good idea so many times that I believed it was true, regardless of whether it was actually a good thing for me to do.

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Why did this happen?

I later learned that I found myself in this situation in part because of a common thinking error which scientists call the mere-exposure effect. This term refer to our brain’s tendency to believe something is true and good just because we are familiar with it, regardless of whether that something is actually true and good.

Since I learned about the mere-exposure effect, I am much more suspicious of any beliefs I have that are frequently repeated by others around me, and go the extra mile to evaluate whether they are true and good for me. This means I can gain agency and intentionally take actions that help me toward my long-term goals.

So what happened next?

After my big realization about medical school and the conversation with my girlfriend, I took some time to think about my actual long-term goals. What did I – not someone else – want to do with my life? What kind of a career did I want to have? Where did I want to go?

I was always passionate about history. In grade school I got in trouble for reading history books under my desk when the teacher talked about math. As a teenager, I stayed up until 3am reading books about World War II. Even when I was on the medical school track in college I double-majored in history and biology, with history my love and joy. However, I never seriously considered going into history professionally. It’s not a field where one can make much money or have great job security.

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After considering my options and preferences, I decided that money and security mattered less than a profession that would be genuinely satisfying and meaningful. What’s the point of making a million bucks if I’m miserable doing it, I thought to myself. I chose a long-term goal that I thought would make me happy, as opposed to simply being in line with the expectations of my parents and friends. So I decided to become a history professor.

My decision led to some big challenges with those close to me. My parents were very upset to learn that I no longer wanted to go to medical school. They really tore into me, telling me I would never be well off or have job security. Also, it wasn’t easy to tell my friends that I decided to become a history professor instead of a medical doctor. My best friend even jokingly asked if I was willing to trade grades on the standardized medical school exam, since I wasn’t going to use my score. Not to mention how painful it was to accept that I wasted so much time and effort to prepare for medical school only to realize that it was not the right choice for me. I really I wish this was something I realized earlier, not in my last year of college.

3 steps to prevent this from happening to you:

If you want to avoid finding yourself in a situation like this, here are 3 steps you can take:

  1. Stop and think about your life purpose and your long-term goals. Write these down on a piece of paper.
  2. Now review your thoughts, and see whether you may be excessively influenced by messages you get from your family, friends, or the media. If so, pay special attention and make sure that these goals are also aligned with what you want for yourself. Answer the following question: if you did not have any of those influences, what would you put down for your own life purpose and long-term goals? Recognize that your life is yours, not theirs, and you should live whatever life you choose for yourself. This approach is part of a broader strategy of dealing with common thinking errors by considering alternatives, which research shows is a very effective way for avoiding thinking errors such as the mere-exposure effect.
  3. Review your answers and revise them as needed every 3 months. Avoid being attached to your previous goals. Remember, you change throughout your life, and your goals and preferences change with you. Don’t be afraid to let go of the past, and welcome the current you with arms wide open.

Featured photo credit: Smiling via flickr.com

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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Last Updated on April 6, 2020

How to Make a Career Change at 50 for Great Opportunities

How to Make a Career Change at 50 for Great Opportunities

Turning 50 is a milestone in anyone’s life, after all you are half way to 100! But seriously, turning 50 is often a time in life when people can sit back and take a look at where they’ve been and contemplate what the future holds.

Can you change careers at 50? It’s not uncommon for people in their 50’s to consider a career change, after all if you’ve spent 20 to 30 years in a career, chances are that some of the bloom is off the rose.

Often, when we are starting out in our 20’s, we choose a career path based on factors that are no longer relevant to us in our 50’s. Things like our parents’ expectations, a fast paced exciting lifestyle or the lure of making a lot of money can all be motivating factors in our 20’s.

But in our 50’s, those have given way to other priorities. Things like the desire to spend more time with family and friends, a slower paced less stressful lifestyle, the need to care for a sick spouse or elderly parents can all contribute to wanting a career change in your 50’s.

Just like any big life changing event, changing careers is scary. The good news is that just like most things we are scared of, the fear is mostly in our own head.

Understanding how to go about a career change at 50 and what you can expect should help reduce the anxiety and fear of the unknown.

What are Your Goals for a Career Change?

As in any endeavor, having properly defined goals will help you to determine the best path to take.

What are you looking for in a new career? Choosing a slower less stressful position that gives you more time with family and friends may sound ideal, but you’ll often find that you’re giving up some income and job satisfaction in the process.

Conversely, if your goal is to quit a job that is sucking the life from your soul to pursue a lifelong passion. You might be trading quality time with family and friends for job satisfaction.

Neither decision is wrong or bad, you just need to be aware of the potential pitfalls of any decision you make.

Types of Career Changes at 50+

There are four main types of career changes that people make in their 50’s. Each type has it’s unique set of challenges and will very in the degree of preparation required to make the change.

Industry Career Change

In this career change, a person remains in the same field but switches industries.

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With an industry change, a person takes their set of skills and applies them to an industry that they have no previous experience in.

An example would be a salesperson in the oil and gas industry becoming a salesperson for a media (advertising) company. They are taking their skill set (selling) and applying it to a different industry (media).

This type of career change is best accomplished by doing a lot of homework on the industry you want to get into as well as networking within the industry.

Functional Career Change

A functional career change would be a change of careers within the same industry.

For example, an accountant at a pharmaceutical company who changes careers to become a human resources manager. It may or may not be with the same company, but they remain within the pharmaceutical industry. In this case, they are leaving one set of skills behind (accounting) to develop a new set (human resource) within the same industry.

In a functional career change, new or additional training as well as certifications may be required in order to make the switch. If you are considering a functional career change, you can start by getting any training or certifications needed either online, through trade associations or at your local community college.

Double Career Change

This is the most challenging career change of all. A person doing a double career change is switching both a career and an industry.

An example of a double change would be an airline pilot quitting to pursue their dream of producing rock music. In that case, they are leaving both the aviation industry and a specific skill set (piloting) for a completely unrelated industry and career.

When considering a double career change, start preparing by getting any needed training or certifications first. Then you can get your foot in the door by taking an apprenticeship or part time job.

With a double change, it’s not uncommon to have to start out at the bottom as you are asking an employer to take a chance on someone without any experience or work history in the industry.

Entrepreneurial Career Change

Probably one of the most common career changes made by people in their 50’s is the entrepreneurial career change.

After 20 to 30 years of working for “Corporate America”, a lot of people become disillusioned with the monotony, politics and inefficiency of the corporate world. Many of us dream of having our own business and being our own boss.

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By this time in our life, we have saved some money and the financial pressures we had with young children have passed; so it’s a perfect time to spread our entrepreneurial wings.

Entrepreneurial career changes can be within the same industry and using your existing knowledge and contacts to start a similar business competing within the same industry. Or it can be completely unrelated to your former industry and based on personal interests, passions or hobbies.

A good example would be someone who played golf as a hobby starting an affiliate marketing website selling golf clubs. If you are considering an entrepreneurial career change, there are a lot of very good free resources available on the internet. Just be sure to do your homework.

Practical Tips on Making a Career Change at 50+

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and make a career switch in your 50’s. No matter what your reasons or what type of a career change you are embarking on, here are some helpful hints to make the transition easier:

1. Deal with the Fear

As stated earlier, any big life change comes with both fear and anxiety. Things never seem to go as smoothly as planned, you will always have bumps and roadblocks along the way. By recognizing this and even planning for it, you are less likely to let these issues derail your progress.

If you find yourself becoming discouraged by all of the stumbling blocks, there are always resources to help. Contacting a career coach is a good place to start, they can help you with an overall strategy for your career change as well as the interview and hiring process, resume writing / updating and more. Just Google “Career Coach” for your options.

I also recommend using the services of a professional counselor or therapist to help deal with the stress and anxiety of this major life event.

It’s always good to have an unbiased third party to help you work through the problems that inevitably arise.

2. Know Your “Why”

It’s important that you have a clear understanding of the “why” you are making this career change. Is it to have more free time, reduce stress, follow a passion or be your own boss?

Having a clear understanding of you personal “why” will influence every decision in this process. Knowing your “why” and keeping it in mind also serves as a motivator to help you reach your goals.

3. Be Realistic

Take an inventory of both your strengths and weaknesses. Are your organizational skills less than stellar? Then, becoming a wedding planner is probably not a good idea.

This is an area where having honest outside input can be really helpful. Most of us are not very good at accurately assessing our abilities. It’s a universal human trait to exaggerate our abilities while diminishing our weaknesses.

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Requesting honest feedback from friends and co-workers is a good place to start, but this is another area where a career coach can come in handy.

4. Consider an Ad-Vocation

Sometimes, making a career change all at once is just too big of a change. Issues like a severely reduced income, geography and lack of benefits can all be impediments to your career change. In those cases, you may want to start your new career as an ad-vocation.

An ad-vocation is a second or ad-on vocation in addition to your primary vocation. Things like a part-time job, consulting or even a side business can all be ad-vocations.

The benefit of having an ad-vocation is being able to build experience a reputation and contacts in the new field while maintaining all the benefits of your current job.

5. Update Your Skills

Whether it means acquiring new certifications or going back to school to get your cosmetology licence, having the right training is the foundation for a successful career change.

The great thing about changing careers now is that almost any training or certifications needed can be free or at very little cost online. Check with trade associations, industry websites and discussion groups for any requirements you may need.

Learn How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive.

6. Start Re-Branding Yourself Now

Use the internet and social media to change the way you present yourself online.

Changing your LinkedIn profile is a good way to show prospective employers that you are serious about a career change.

Joining Facebook groups, trade associations and discussion boards as well as attending conventions is a great way to start building a network while you learn.

Here’re some Personal Branding Basics You Need to Know for Career Success.

7. Overhaul Your Resume

Most of us have heard the advice to update our resume every six months, and most of us promptly ignore that advice and only update our resume when we need it.

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When making a career change, updating is not enough; this calls for a complete overhaul of your resume. Chances are that your current resume was designed around your old career which may or may not apply to your new goals.

Crafting a new resume emphasizing your strengths for the new position your looking for is key. There are many places that will help you craft a resume online and it is a service included with most career coaching services.

8. Know Your Timeline

There are a lot of factors when it comes to how long it will take to make the career change.

Industry and Functional career changes tend to be the easiest to do and therefore can be accomplished in the shortest period of time. While the Double Career Change and the Entrepreneurial Career Change both require more effort and thus time.

There are also personal factors involved in the time it will take to switch careers.

Generally speaking the more you are willing to be flexible with both compensation and geography, the shorter time it will take to make the switch.

Final Thoughts

Changing careers at anytime can be stressful, but for those of us who are 50 or above, it can seem to be an overwhelming task fraught with pitfalls and self doubt.

Prospective employers know the benefits that come with more mature employees. Things like a wealth of experience, a proven work history and deeper understanding of corporate culture are all things that older workers bring to the table.

And while the younger generation may possess better computer or technical skills than us, if you’re willing to learn, there are a ton of free or nearly free resources available to you.

Deciding on a career change at 50 is a great way to experience life on your own terms.

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Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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