A short guide to starting all over in mid-life
Most people who come to a career coach have it up to their ears with their jobs. They don’t even want to consider talking about any changes in their current workplace. Usually they’ve already decided not to stay where they are now. Stuck in jobs that pay the bills but no longer feed their souls, they cannot bear anymore the strain of an unfulfilling career.
Sometimes they are a desert inside but you’d never tell. Smiling from their LinkedIn profiles they seem to be a modern success story. You can meet them at events, conferences and talk about the latest market trends. If you get a bit a closer, you might learn that they are ‘looking around’, thinking about ‘making a move’ or ‘investigating new options’. No no, nothing serious.
The process usually takes time. Torn between the stability of one’s present job and a blurry vision of the future, it’s easy to procrastinate. What’s more in mid-life we usually have a lot to lose, we’ve made connections, got used to some standard of living or gathered enough experience to get at least a reasonable income. A change means effort, chaos and insecurity. Who on earth would want that?
A change means effort, chaos and insecurity. Who on earth would want that?
If you are in this group and you’re in for a bigger move, then this article is for you. Having witnessed a few makeovers, here’s some advice I can share.
- Stop thinking about what you don’t want. People who realize they’ve burned out or they just desperately need a change usually know extremely well what they don’t want. If you let them talk about it, they can go on for hours, describing their current workplace, how terrible their boss is and other things they dislike. Such behavior is very common, however it brings one nowhere. Even if it helps eliminate some options, there’s still an ocean of possibilities left. That’s why instead of wasting time dwelling on what you don’t want, ask yourself instead what is it that I want. Reverse the focus to the future you would like to build and do not look back. At this point it will be just brainstorming ideas and you might not know exactly where you’re heading but do not worry about this too much now. The bottom line is to stop thinking about what doesn’t work and concentrate on what potentially could.
The bottom line is to stop thinking about what doesn’t work and concentrate on what potentially could.
- Don’t expect others to tell you what you should do. As many of us have been raised to become full time employees managed by an outside authority, we are used to getting guidance and directions. I’ve had people come to me and say “if only someone told me what I should do with my life, as I have no idea!” Please dismiss this tempting approach as soon as possible. Yes, there are many smart people out there, but they will always advise you through their perspective of the market and through their lens of how they see you. They might wish you well and share some wise insights or great market tips but bear in mind that their vision of who you could be might be limited. If you’re aiming for a great life, you need to start your hero’s journey on your own. You are the only one who holds the key to your potential. A career coach wil never tell you what you should do with your life. They will rather storm you with questions and assignments that will help you make the decision yourself. And just by the way, what if your task was to create something completely new, a new niche, a new blue ocean or a new trend in your area of work? Who’d ever could predict that or invent that in your name?
And just by the way, what if your task was to create something completely new, a new niche, a new blue ocean or a new trend in your area of work? Who’d ever could predict that or invent that in your name?
- Work on your self-esteem. Many people who consider career changes tend to (initially) have low self-esteem. Limited success, being mismatched for a job, working in a declining industry or in a toxic atmosphere are conducive not only to burnout or lack of satisfaction but also to thoughts as: “I’m no good”, “I failed so many times”, “I cannot achieve great things.” Let’s state this clearly: poor performance in one area does not predict one’s future. Our past experiences show only how we performed on such and such position in such and such company. Period. They say nothing about the future. In my opinion most people could achieve mastery at a number of things. The reason why some try, persevere and after failures lift themselves up to start anew is connected to their mindset. A healthy self-esteem is an element of such attitude. Work on it.
Our past experiences show only how we performed on such and such position in such and such company. Period. They say nothing about the future.
- Start seeing your assets. Some people have the power of a racing car, but think of themselves as an old convertible. Some are like a house with a beautiful basement full of treasures to which they have lost the key. Here’s where asset inventory comes in. Evaluating where we stand and what we have almost always brings some new insights and a feeling of greater security. Whether you work in a group or 1:1 setting, it does not matter that much, what matters is that it is best to do it with the help of another human (Every person has their own bias and is blind to certain facts).
Some people have the power of a racing car, but think of themselves as an old convertible.
- Try what you’ve never tried. Asset inventory widens the perspective, enhances the mood and often leads to new ideas. There is however one drawback — it shows only a part of your story. Most probably there are some things you could easily be good at but you don’t know this.. because you have never tried or you have some false assumptions in your head. And what about the wounded little child inside you who was told it will never be good at public speaking? Or that creative bit of your soul that heard ‘all artists are psychic’ and so you majored in mathematics instead? Allow yourself to work with abandoned parts of yourself, to explore the new. Can you imagine how great it feels to discover a dormant talent in mid-life? Or to realize that you are actually good at some new skill and it did not take that long to learn?
Allow yourself to work with abandoned parts of yourself, to explore the new.
- Get out! You will never make a decision if all you do is meditate, write in your diary or fill in a multitude of personality tests. Don’t get me wrong, these are nice tools and at some stage they can provide valuable insights (I often journal for a variety of reasons and it really helps). However, like anywhere in life, a balance is needed. Having done some inner work, you need to get out — start meeting people, asking questions and building new connections. One of the most important reasons why people remain in unfulfilling jobs for years is because they don’t start exploring the reality. Take a course, sign up to school, join a project, attend a workshop, a conference or a networking event — be active and curious, engage in conversations and most of all meet new people. They are the ones who will show you different ways of life, introduce you to the realities of different industries and maybe event lead to other people or other places that will help you see new perspectives. Do you necessarily need to be a pro to attend a conference on a subject that’s of interest to you? Do you need to be sure of your life path to sign up for a weekend training ? Do you honestly need a written permission to attend an industry event?
Having done some inner work, you need to get out — start meeting people, asking questions and building new connections.
- Develop creativity. Creativity helps in many professions, however it is especially important if you’re planning to build a business or going freelance. Have you noticed how some businesses are average and others stand out? Have you noticed how some freelance specialists become a distinguishable brand while others melt into the background? And what about building a blue ocean, would that be an idea for you? Creativity helps us not only to promote ourselves, it helps us generate new ideas for products, innovations and novel approaches to old problems. I’d say, whatever your potential line of business, an investment into playing with one’s creativity always pays off.
Whatever your potential line of business, an investment into playing with one’s creativity always pays off.
- Be your own ally. Be aware that not everyone might want you to change. People like stability and most of your friends and family have a firm vision of who you are professionally. “You’ve gone such a long way. You will not give up all that effort you put into getting your qualifications, will you?” — be ready to confront something like this. Once you start the transition you might also hear “So when are you coming back to accounting?” As you start changing, your friends and family might need time to adjust. If they don’t support you, seek your allies elsewhere, but most importantly, be one for yourself. If you tune attentively inside, you’ll always hear that little voice softly whispering “go on, this is your path…let’s explore something new..”
If you tune attentively inside, you’ll always hear that little voice softly whispering “go on, this is your path…let’s explore something new..”
And finally, or maybe even most importantly, stay hopeful that change is possible. The term “mid-career transitions” and “mid-career crisis” was not coined out of the blue, thousands of people have walked this path before you. The best source to learn about them, is to start looking out for such people and raising this topic in conversations. Google stories, find books, talk and ask questions (Hey guys, I was wondering, have you ever met anyone who made a significant change in their career, like totally changing jobs or their way of life?). If you haven’t met anyone yet, I can be your first example, having transitioned from business to therapy and coaching.
And what will be your story?