Figure Out What's Next

Four Strategies for Charting a Midlife Career Change

career change jeremy koch purposeful living Apr 22, 2010
conversation two women

by Jeremy Koch

photo by Alexander

It's common for people in midlife to feel a strong urge to change careers in search of something more meaningful or fulfilling. But while the need for a change may be abundantly clear, the question of what that change should actually involve is often murky and undefined.  With that in mind, here are several well established strategies for gaining clarity and direction when considering a major career transition:

Tell Your Story: Looking Back to Find a Way Forward

Mining your past for clues is a time-tested way for career changers to find a road map to their future.  Writing an autobiography highlighting critical events, influential relationships, and significant achievements can often lead to surprising revelations. What were the high points in your career that gave you a jolt of energy and pride? What makes you happy? What do you want more or less of in your life?  These questions might seem simplistic, but the answers can be quite profound, often providing that much needed insight into your new journey.

Create a Personal Board of Advisors

It can also be helpful to seek the counsel of friends and colleagues. After all, it's just human nature to miss things about ourselves that are apparent to others.  You can't see your own eyes light up or hear your voice change when you talk about the volunteer job at the local elementary school, or that environmental vacation spent cleaning up Mexican beaches. For that reason, career coaches and counselors often advise their clients to assemble a team of trusted advisers who can help one recall childhood aspirations and career high points. The team might include former bosses, professors, coaches, and high school friends.  Noted career coach Richard Leider recommends that you look for variety in your advisory group.  In particular, he suggests including members who can play the following roles: 

  • Committed Listener: Someone who can listen and ask good questions. "Look for someone who ‘gets you' and doesn't just agree with you," says Leider.
  • Catalyst: Choose someone who pushes you to act, who can say, "Pick up the phone, hire a coach, read this book, make some moves."
  • The Wise Elder: This might be a clergy member or community leader.  As an alternative, you could also read biographies of prominent figures like Nelson Mandela, whose words and life inspire and provide perspective.

Other members of the group might include a career coach or counselor, a financial planner, even a doctor if health conditions are a factor.

Establish a Support Group

Another effective career exploration method is to form a small brainstorming group of supportive, creative people whose aim is to help each other, not just a single individual. During recent hard economic times, coach Caroline Adams Miller created a "mastermind group" for six to eight professional women in the Washington, D.C., area. "You run it like a business meeting, with ground rules," she suggests. "No alcohol. No whining or complaining. Use a timer and give everybody six minutes to share their challenges or their dreams, then another six to ask questions. It's amazing how group members energize each other."

Friends, family, and colleagues can play a support role in a midlife career quest, but they don't have the specialized training to listen deeply, ask probing questions, and help you find the right path. For that you may need to call in the pros.

Building Team "Me:" Call in the Pros

A major career transition -- be it a full makeover or just a tweak -- may require expert help.  Career coaches and counselors can help clients identify skills, set goals, and draw up action plans, as well as provide support during the process. Certified financial planners can help crunch the numbers to make sure the plan is affordable and that retirement is secure. And increasing numbers of planners are adding life-planning skills to their portfolios, so they can help clients with the non-financial aspects of life. With the right help, you can travel down the road to reinvention faster, with fewer bumps along the way.

For additional information and advice about midlife career change, download our free guide, Career Change & Life Balance.


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