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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Change Careers When It Seems Too Late

How to Change Careers When It Seems Too Late

The wake-up call often comes when you least expect it. Maybe you’re enjoying a relaxing get-together with your old college buddies when someone turns to you and says, “Wow, I never thought you’d become an investment banker. I always thought you were going to ride around the country by motorcycle and write about the experience.”

Before you know it, you find yourself remembering your old dreams—and comparing them to where you are now. Life rarely goes according to plan. Marriage, kids, and grandkids often come earlier than imagined—or later.

Maybe you pursued one career path because you were considered the breadwinner, but now someone else in the family is the breadwinner. Conversely, maybe you landed a job, thinking you’d stay for six months, and now you’ve been there for sixteen years.

The good news: the average person will have five careers in her or his lifetime. It’s perfectly normal to change careers even when it seems too late! Steering your way through a career change is part calculation, part chance, and part leap-of-faith.

As you set out, take these steps to guide you on how to change careers.

Step 1: Be Mentally Prepared

Points 1-4 below can help you master the psychological aspects of a career change at any age.

1. Now or Never Is a Fallacy

For most professionals, there is no cut-off age for striking out in a new direction. People do it at all stages of their careers.

If you’ve ever dreamed of leaving a large company to hang your own shingle, you are not alone. Similarly, thousands of entrepreneurs and people working for one-man shops decide each year that they’d like to work for larger organizations.

You’ll find hordes of Baby Boomers looking for a redo alongside mobs of GenXers and Millennials—especially as the Boomers now remain in the workforce longer than their predecessors.

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2. Your Career Is Not a Straight Line From A to B—It Has Zigzags and Curves

You don’t have to have your career trajectory completely decided from the start. In fact, that’s an unrealistic expectation no matter how methodical you are.

People change. Industries merge, morph, and in some cases, disappear. Careers rarely follow the straight and narrow.

Many careers can be compared to journeys—there are the adventurous patches, the boring patches, the downright scary patches, and the hills and valleys, too. The trick is to try to have a little fun while you’re charting out your various careers.

Don’t panic if you find you need to change your career. It may take some work, but you’re up for it.

3. Career Changers Are Among Good Company

Consider these well-known trailblazers whose careers took a radical turn:

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, studied computer science and electrical engineering at Princeton, went on to establish himself as a Wall Street prodigy, then quit to launch Amazon.com.

Sara Blakely, a billionaire businesswoman, was a fax machine salesperson before creating her signature slim wear line, Spanx.

Jonah Peretti, co-founder of the media sites Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, initially taught computer science to middle schoolers for years.

4. Be Ready to Take on the Naysayers

Expect plenty of advice—usually of the discouraging kind—from friends and family when they learn that you’re exploring a career change. Those you know best are often the most vocal in trying to thwart your plans.

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Be prepared to field a flurry of pessimistic conjecture and doomsday scenarios. Know, though, that when your loved ones question your judgment, they’re not necessarily doubting your talent but trying to look out for your wellbeing. They may also be voicing their own inner turmoil over whether it’s time to plan their own change of careers.

Keep in mind that pessimists avoid the unknown, while optimists invite new challenges. Above all, believe in yourself and follow your instincts. Don’t let your fear of change paralyze you from seeking out your new career path.

Project an aura of enthusiasm, energy, and passion. You’ll find it’s contagious.

Step 2: Be Proactive

Points 5 through 9 can help you master the practical aspects of changing careers at any age.

5. Take Baby Steps

Ease into your new direction. Start building the skills you’ll need to make the switch.

Find out what skills you will need, and do whatever it takes to add them to your skills arsenal. Make the time to invest in additional training.

Start by devoting a half-day each week to your new pursuit until you’re ready to confidently make a move.

Clearly define where you want to go and what you’ll need to do to get there. Take an inventory of your strengths. Read trade magazines, and study up on industry trends.

6. Volunteer

Charitable organizations are often looking for volunteers to help them with their outreach, social media, and engagement. You can show up without the requisite skills and learn as you go in a fun, convivial, low-pressure environment.

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Once you’ve mastered the needed skills, be sure to have the president of the organization or someone on the Executive Board write a glowing recommendation for you. (Don’t be afraid to ask them, too, if they happen to know anyone in the field of your dreams. Work those contacts!)

7. Take Online Courses

Today, LinkedIn and many other providers offer online courses in everything from accounting software to time management to mastering Excel. For extra credit, see if you can find classes that award online badges for completing each course.

Don’t be shy about adding these certificates to your online profile. Keep your profile fresh by adding more and more skills to it.

8. Take a Temp Job

Depending on your field, it may be possible to freelance at a company where you learn on the job.

Remember that you can’t just show up at a potential employer’s claiming you have the skills. Taking a temporary job that allows you to polish your skills is proof that you’re serious about your career change.

9. Tell Everyone You Know—and Have Them Tell Everyone They Know—About Your Aspirations

Build a family tree of contacts. Explore beyond the main branches of your work acquaintances, industry groups, and social contacts. Join your alumni organization. Tell the women at your bridge club. Tell everyone.

Ask friends and friends-of-friends to meet you for coffee to explain what it is they do and tell you which skills you’ll need to succeed in your chosen field.

If you have friends or associates with ties to the organizations where you want to work, ask your contacts to make an introduction. The majority of today’s jobs are found through one’s own networks. When jobs open up, companies invite informal recommendations from internal and external channels.

Step 3: Take It Online

This last step can help you master the online aspects of a career change at any age.

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10. Develop an Online Presence in the Field of Your Dreams

Reconfiguring your online presence will be a critical step in your career change. Fine-tune your digital identity to reflect your new direction, tailoring your profile to the role and industry you’re after. Include keywords that are relevant to the industry so that recruiters can find you.

Craft a clever personal statement that states your interests, your values, and your dreams. Once you’ve zeroed in on your message, also pick and choose which outlets make the most sense for it.

Will your personal statement resonate on LinkedIn? Or is it highly visual—making it a better fit for Instagram?

Polish your sites until they gleam, then get active so others take notice. Add insightful content to your social media pages that goes deeper than the information on your resume, such as commentaries on something taking place in your newly chosen field.

Final Thoughts

Americans spend 1,800 hours or more each year working. That’s nearly one-third of your life, and it goes without saying that how you spend your working hours has a great bearing on your life’s happiness barometer.

Set out to intentionally pursue career satisfaction, looking for opportunities to fine-tune your working life so that you find fulfillment.

If playing the piano is your personal bliss, could you meld your love of music with your clinical psychology background and pursue using music to promote healing? Perhaps there’s a foundation that would fund you in a multiyear study.

Or, if you’re a movie buff for whom every encounter has the makings of a screenplay, why not sign up for an evening class and see if your years of writing advertising copy could morph into a new career in the film industry?

Success with a career change will occur when you mentally prepare, take a proactive approach, and mine your personal and online networks. The pay-off will be in a life well-lived—yours!

More Tips on How to Change Careers

Featured photo credit: Jason Strull via unsplash.com

More by this author

Vicky Oliver

Author of 6 best-selling books on job-hunting and job interview questions, business etiquette, frugalista style, advertising, and office politics.

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

7 Steps to Achieve Career Success on Your Own Terms

7 Steps to Achieve Career Success on Your Own Terms

I often hear people say, “I want to be successful, but don’t know where to start” or “I’ve achieved success in my carer, yet I’m not happy.” And then I ask, “What does career success mean to you?” And many have a hard time articulating their response with much conviction.

It’s common that people lack clarity, focus, and direction, and when you layer on thoughts and actions that are misaligned with your values, this only adds to your misdirected quest to achieve your career success.

A word of caution: It’s going to take some time for you to think about and work on your own path for career success. You need to set aside time and be intentional about the steps you take to achieve this kind of success. This guide can help you get started.

1. Define Career Success for Yourself

Pause. Give yourself time and space for self-reflection.

What does career success mean to you?

This is about defining your idea of success. This should not be based on what you think you “should” do, what others want you to do, or the norms you observe around you.

“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms” -Zen Shin

When you strip away all your external influences and manage your inner critic, what are you left with? You need to define the type of success that best suits your life situation.

There’s no fixed answer. Everyone is different. Your answer will evolve and be impacted by life events. Here are a few examples of career success:

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  • Work-life balance
  • Opportunities for growth and advancement
  • Feeling that contributions had an impact

Now, even as you reflect on the examples above, the descriptions are not specific enough. You’ve got to take it deeper:

  • What do you mean by work-life balance?
  • What do you consider to be opportunities for growth and advancement?
  • How do you like to be recognized for your work? How do you know if your contributions have had an impact?

Let’s take a look at some potential responses to the questions above:

  • I want more time with my family, and less stress at work.
  • I want increased responsibilities, to manage a team, a higher income, and the prestige of working at a certain level in the company.
  • I’d like my immediate leader to send me a thank-you note or take me out for coffee to genuinely express her or his gratitude. I’ll know I’ve made an impact if I get feedback from my coworkers, leaders and other stakeholders.

Further questions to reflect on to help narrow the focus for the above responses include:

  • What are some opportunities that can help you get traction on getting more time with your family? And decrease your stress at work?
  • What’s the most important thing for you in the next 12 months?
  • What’s the significance of receiving others’ feedback?

Now, I’m only scratching the surface with these examples. It takes time to do the inner work and build a solid foundation.

Start this exercise by first asking what career success means to you and then ask yourself meaningful questions to help you dig deeper.

What types of themes emerge from your responses? What keywords or phrases keep coming up for you?

2. Know Your Values

Values are the principles and beliefs that guide your decisions, behaviors, and actions. When you’re not aligned with your values and act in a way that conflicts with your beliefs, it’ll feel like life is a struggle.

There are simple value exercises that can help you quickly determine your core values. Carnegie Mellon University designed a particularly good exercise to help you discover your top 5 values.[1]

Once you have your top 5 values, keep them visible. Your brain needs reminders that these are your top values. Here are some ways to make them stick:

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  • Write them on cue cards or notes and post it in your office
  • Take a picture of your values and use it as a screensaver on your phone
  • Put the words on your fridge
  • Add the words on your vision board

Where will your value words be placed in your physical environment so that you have a constant reminder of them?

3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

When writing your short-term and long term life goals, use the SMART framework: Specific Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Treat this as a brainstorming exercise that will point you in the direction of career success. Your potential and possibilities are limitless.

How you define short-term and long-term is entirely up to you. Short-term can be 30 days, 90 days, or even 6 months. Maybe long-term goals are 4 months, 1 year, or 10 years.

Here are a few self-reflection questions to help you write your goals[2]:

  • What would you want to do today if you had the power to make it the way you want?
  • If no hurdles were in the way, what would you like to achieve?
  • If you had the freedom to do whatever you want, what would it be?
  • What type of impact do you want to have on people?
  • Who are the people you most admire? What is it about them or what they have that you’d want for your life or career?
  • What activities energize you? What’s one activity you love?

Remember to revisit your core values as you refine yours goals:

  • Are your goals in or out of alignment with your core values?
  • What adjustments do you need to make to your goals?
  • How attainable are your goals?
  • Do your short-term goals move you towards attaining your long-term goals?

Get very clear and specific about your goals to achieve career success. Think about an archer, a person who shoots with a bow and arrow at a target. This person is laser focused on the target, the center of the bullseye. The target is your goal.

By focusing on one goal at a time and having that goal visible, you can behave and act in ways that will move you closer to your goal.

4. Determine Your Top Talents

What did you love doing as a kid? What made these moments fun? What did you have a knack for? What did you most cherish about these times? What are the common themes?

What work feels effortless? What work do you do that doesn’t seem like work? Think about work you can lose track of time doing and you don’t even feel tired of it[3].

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What are your desires? Try it out. Experiment. Take action and start. How can you incorporate more of this type of work into your daily life?

What themes emerge from your responses? How do your responses compare to your responses from the values exercise and your goals?

What do you notice?

5. Identify “Feeling” Words You Want to Experience

Do you have tendencies to use your head or heart to make decisions?

I have a very strong tendency to make rational, practical, and fact-based decisions using my head. It’s very rare for me to make decisions using my emotions. I was forced to learn how to make more intuitive decisions by listening to my gut when I was struggling with pivotal life decisions. I was forced to feel and listen to my inner voice to make decisions that feel most natural to me. This was very unfamiliar to me; however, it expanded my identity.

Review any list of feeling words[4]. Use the same technique you use for the values exercise to narrow down how you want to feel when it comes to career success.

Keep these words visible too!

Review your responses. What do you observe? What insights do you gain from these responses and those in the above steps?

6. Be Willing to Sit With Discomfort

Make career decisions aligned with your values, goals, talents and feelings. This is not for the faint-hearted. It takes real work, courage, and willingness to cut out the noise around you. You’ll need to sit with discomfort for a bit until you build up your muscle to hit the targets you want.

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Surround yourself with a supportive network to help you through these times.

“These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them” -Rumi

7. Manage Your Own Career

No one can make you happy but yourself. If you don’t take control of your career success and manage it like your own business, no one will.

Discern between things that you can control and what you can’t control. For example, you may not be able to control who gets a promotion. However, you can control how you react to it and what you’ve learned about yourself in that situation.

The Bottom Line

For many who have gone through a career change or been impacted by life events, these steps may seem very basic. However, it’s sometimes the basics that we forget to do. The simple things and moments can edge us closer to our larger vision for ourselves.

Staying present and appreciating what you have today can sometimes help you achieve your long-term goals. For example, if you’re always talking about not having enough time and wanting work-life balance, think about what was good in your work day. Maybe you took a walk outside with your co-workers. This could be a small step to help you reframe how you can attain a work-life balance.

Remember to take time for yourself. Hit pause, notice, observe, and reflect to achieve career success by getting deliberate and intentional.

“When you stop chasing the wrong things, you give the right things a chance to catch you.” -Lolly Daskal

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Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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