April 28, 2014

How to Make a Successful Midlife Career Change

Written by Rachel Eddins

midlife career change man on ladder

Are you considering a midlife career change?

Are you feeling frustrated with your current situation and not sure what to do next? Changing a career can be an overwhelming process.

The career change process is different for everyone, but it’s no simple task. Start your new career path with a plan. Ask yourself some honest questions to set yourself up for a successful midlife career change.

Making life changing career decisions takes courage and may ask you to face your greatest fears. There are many factors to consider from your family, your finances, to your own fears of failure. It can certainly be much easier to stay in your comfort zone, though in the long-run this can lead to issues beyond career unhappiness.

Career dissatisfaction can impact your health, your relationships, and your self-esteem. The benefits of reinventing yourself can bring fulfillment and a life of greater joy and satisfaction. You deserve nothing less.

Why Do You Want to Make a Midlife Career Change? 

You might find yourself unhappy with your current career situation for a variety of reasons.

It’s important to assess what specific areas you are dissatisfied with in order to best determine the next course of action.

Answering a few fundamental questions can help to get clear what is at the root of your problem and what type of career change is a solution.

Consider each of the following areas of your career and reflect on the prompting questions to gain greater insight about your career needs.

Do you need to make a midlife career change or just to make a change in your current career path?

Many people believe that they need a midlife career change when in fact, they often need a change within their current career path. This might also include a creative change in direction utilizing skills and knowledge you already have.

Consider the following aspects of your career.

For the areas that you are dissatisfied with, ask yourself, “what would I prefer instead?”

a. Are you unhappy with your work tasks?

Are you bored with your current work tasks, lacking challenge? Have you recently experienced a change in responsibilities or promotion. For example,  from a functional position such as an engineer to managing people?

b. Does your work environment need to change?

Think about your day to day function. Are you sitting in an office all day?

Working outside all day? What would you prefer? Do you need a window to connect you to the outdoors, more time moving about, or less time on your feet?

How would you prefer your day to day environment to be (don’t rule things out because you don’t think it’s an option).

c. Are your co-workers (or lack of), supervisor, colleagues prompting career unhappiness? 

In career counseling, we often talk about “finding our tribe”.

  • Do you relate well with your colleagues? Do you share similar interests (even if different personalities)?
  • Or are you working alone and would prefer to have greater collaboration with others?
  • How is your relationship with your supervisor/manager? Is this a pattern in your life or a one-time situation
  • Working with a difficult boss?

Depending on your situation, you may have more in your control than you realize. Whether it be changing your attitude, distancing yourself from emotional reactions, asking for support or clear communication, there might be ways to make the best out of your situation.

In your ideal job, what would be different for you in this category?

d. Do you need a change in your lifestyle?

How does your career impact your lifestyle? Do deadlines keeping you at work late? Do billable hours stress you out?

Perhaps the travel demands in your current job do not align with your desire to spend time with your family. Less travel AND more time with family would be important to include on your list.

e. Are major life events prompting a career change? 

Has there recently been a major change in your life (new baby, divorce, loss of partner’s job, illness, etc.)?

How might this be impacting your current career situation? What needs to change?

Going through a career change due to a major life event is a time of transition. Typically, this is followed by a sense of confusion.

This is when it can be most important to step back, tune in to your inner wisdom and identify what you really want vs. jumping forward and making quick decisions.

While the confusion is difficult and frustrating, we know, we’ve been there, in the long run this is a real opportunity to invest in your future. Though you might not see it now, there are opportunities available to you. A career coach can help you find clarity amongst the confusion and be an ally as you move through career transition.

f. Do you want to make a career change to increase your salary?

Perhaps you are seeking a career change because you are not being compensated enough to live the lifestyle you’d like to live.

It’s possible that you could stay in the same career field and obtain a salary increase by changing industries, type of employer, type of position, or if you are self-employed, by adding to your product or service offerings.

Some people may find a promotion is possible with the addition of a new certification or taking on a new project or responsibility that benefits your employer.

g. Are you experiencing work stress or job burnout?

Work stress affects your life more than you might realize, but it can also function as a motivator for career change. Layoffs are highly stressful and even if you aren’t the one that is laid off, it adds to work stress because the work environment has changed.

You might have more work to do as a result of the layoff or you might have lost a close work companion. Extreme work stress can affect your personal life, but it can also be one of the most common motivators for those that start looking for a different career.

Work stress can cause you to lose concentration and focus. It can also lead to physical and emotional burnout such as a weakened immune system, rashes, headaches and loss of appetite or depression.

It’s best not to make major decisions when experiencing burnout if possible. Rather, identify ways you can take a step back and get additional support. 

You may need to explore what power you have to set boundaries with work on a daily basis? What is within your control to change? And what aspects of stress are the nature of your career, no matter where you are working?

Evaluating Current Options Before Making a Career Change 

Each of the questions above represent different aspects of your career/life. For illustrative purposes, we’ll go through options to consider using question #1, your work tasks.

The solution here would be to examine opportunities to increase work activities you do enjoy, both internal and external to your organization.

External opportunities might include volunteer, civic involvement, hobbies, and additional training.

Adding a new hobby that captures your true passions or establishing meaningful personal relationships while retooling your work role may provide enough fulfillment to motivate you in your present job.

Consider new opportunities within your organization

It’s important to examine internal opportunities as well because sometimes we may miss opportunities within our reach. For example, an engineer working with the marketing department within the same organization.

Other internal opportunities could include participating on a committee, initiating a new project, or participating in training programs through your organization.

If this does not feel like “enough”, you may have to experiment more to discover which type of activities you would like to spend the majority of your time doing.

Consider a change in your role

Ultimately, this could involve a change in function or role within your career, but not necessarily complete midlife career change.

If your dissatisfaction with work tasks is resulting from a recent promotion, ask yourself whether this situation causes you to feel out of your comfort zone? In what ways is this a good stretch for you?

For example, “I’ve been promoted to manager and I don’t have good people skills. I could benefit by both working on my people skills and identify project team leaders in my team to help with the management tasks.”

Alternatively, could you negotiate a senior position in your functional role and let go of the managing responsibilities?

Career Change Assessment Exercise:

Part 1: Look to Your Past as a Way of Identifying Clues for Your Future

To get started on your own, you can begin by looking to your past as a way of identifying clues for your future. Start a journal or notebook where you can explore your career change process. Answer some of the following questions to begin your exploration:

  • Review your career/life experiences and write about times you did something well, were proud of what you did and enjoyed doing it (experiences that meet all three criteria!).
  • What do you want more of in your life/career? What do you want less of?
  • List experiences, memories, achievements, etc that you enjoyed and gave you energy and pride.

Part 2: What Isn’t Working for You and What Would You Prefer Instead?

Here is another way to explore your current career reality and your career needs. Take a step back and evaluate what isn’t working for you.

On a sheet of paper make 2 columns.

In the first column, write down the things that are causing you stress in your current job or that you did not like in your previous positions.

Get as specific as possible. For example, if you write, “too much pressure.” Be more specific. What is causing you this pressure? Who is instigating the pressure? Now you might have, “pressure to meet constant deadlines without enough time to complete them.”

In the second column address each item from the first column with, “what would I prefer instead?” Using the example above, you might state, “work at my own pace to complete projects.”

Now start a new list to add to the second column: what else? List everything else you would like in a dream career scenario.

Be as thorough as possible. When you’ve finished your list, your right-hand column will provide you a good starting point towards what you are really looking for in your career.

Your next step might be to talk with people and find out how you might incorporate your preferences in your career.

While the questions might seem basic, the answers can be very powerful in recognizing some significant patterns that can lead to a meaningful career change. Don’t censor any of your responses or rule out experiences at home or volunteering because “they don’t count.”

Everything is significant. 

A trained career coach can help you translate your responses into a career change.

Can Your Current Career Situation Change?

After you’ve evaluated each area of your career life, ask yourself:

a. What do I have control of?

Perhaps you could identify project leads to be responsible for team tasks so that you don’t have to spend your time micro managing.

You can ask your boss for help with learning new tasks such as performance appraisals. You can oversee and provide input on functional areas to stay engaged with your area of expertise.

b. What can I not change?

Can you live with this? Consider, “in order to advance in my career within this company, I must take on managerial roles.”

If I decide that I am not interested in managerial roles at all, I will need to identify senior positions in other companies or identify alternative ways to advance in my area of expertise.

c. Is this temporary?

If yes, what resources do I need to assist me in the transition? Consider what you can do to adapt or transition if the change isn’t temporary. If it is temporary utilizing support resources can help you while the change is uncomfortable.

Do You Need to Make a Midlife Career Change?

So now that you’ve asked yourself these questions, what is the problem with your current career situation? What do you want instead?

Go back and look at each area you were dissatisfied with and ask yourself, what would you rather have. This provides initial clues as to what a better fit would look like.

Making a career change for life balance means spending less time on things you don’t enjoy, making more time for connection with others, and having more energy for different roles in your life.

What are your values? Are there specific things that need to be in place in your career to support those values? What gets in the way?

We recommend that you keep track of your responses somewhere in a journal or career diary so that you can build upon your list of preferences and have a list to refer to as you gain new information about yourself and available opportunities.

career change direction in midlife

Five Realities of Making a Midlife Career Change

Once you’ve assessed your current career situation, it might helpful to remind yourself of the following realities of midlife career change to help you maintain perspective.

1. Career change is not a linear process.

What this means is that it is not a series of step by step actions you can take that will lead you towards your goal.

This is different than what you may have experienced with your first career: 1) go to college, 2) get internship or other experience, 3) start entry level job. Rather, you respond to opportunities, take one step forward, two steps back.

2. Career change takes longer than you expect.

There is no quick fix when it comes to making a successful career change. To reinvent yourself and create something that is more meaningful, more satisfying, or more rewarding to you, you will want to invest quality time.

You might talk to friends and colleagues to gather information, try out ideas, or explore additional opportunities.

A career coach can help guide you through this process, discovering new realties about yourself and establishing goals to keep you moving forward. And help you navigate this process more strategically to maximize your time.

Making a successful midlife career change is a long process. Depending on the nature of your career change, it can take months and years.

The more knowledge you have about yourself and what is available, the smoother your transition, but not necessarily the quicker.

However, in the big picture, your life is much longer and spending your days doing something more fulfilling is definitely worth the wait!

3. Ask many questions along the way.

For each option you consider, be sure and ask multiple people very pointed questions about what to expect. It can be uncomfortable to not know what to do and once you do, you can find yourself jumping into something too quickly.

You’re going through a major transition making a career change in midlife, so it’s important to get as much information as you can.

Here’s what to do: ask five-six people who are similar to you very pointed questions about the job, career path, educational program, company, industry or business. You want to get multiple points of input. A career counselor can help you identify the relevant questions to ask.

4. Know who to ask for help.

Watch out for getting advice from friends and family members. Rather, focus on finding resources who are particularly knowledgeable about the areas you’re interested in and again, get multiple perspectives. Choose your mentors carefully and remember, you get what you pay for.

5. Keep your power so you don’t feel like you’re losing control.

You’re giving up your power when you’re looking for:

  • an expert to tell you what to do
  • a proven formula to follow

This doesn’t mean not seeking assistance in your career change, but remembering that you are in control. This is your career and you know you best.

A career counselor can offer you an objective perspective and help you organize the information you have about yourself, experiences and available options. Ultimately you choose what is best for you. Your intuition will help guide you here.

Keeping your power also means that you move towards the career and life you really want not away from the life you don’t want. Don’t forget to create a back-up plan.

How to Make a Career Change in Midlife

Once you’ve decided to move forward with a career change, you’ll need to make a plan for finding your new career path. Here are some things to put in place as you begin to find your new career path.

  1. Assess yourself and identify your unique strengths and skills.
  2. Be able to articulate your unique strengths to others.
  3. Identify areas that could utilize your strengths whether within industries, roles or services.
  4. Prepare yourself financially for making a change. Establish and stick to a budget.
  5. Identify obstacles and identify a plan to overcome them.
  6. Gather support from friends, family, professional contacts/association, or a career coach.
  7. Write a resume for career change.
  8. What is your self-care routine? Making changes is stressful; set yourself up for success by taking care of your physical and emotional health.
  9. Challenge negative thoughts and fears. Don’t let negative beliefs get the best of you. And if you get stuck, find support!
  10. Keep things in perspective. Or try on a new perspective. Don’t get stuck. Remember, the only constant is change.
  11. Let go of how things were “supposed to be” and accept “how things are.” Find appreciation for what is.

Personality attributes of people deeply satisfied with their life’s work:

Outside of job loss and layoffs, making a career change in midlife is prompted by a desire for more fulfilling or satisfying work. No matter what path you choose, there are several qualities research has shown to be shared by people happy and fulfilled with their work.

Can you identify with any of the items on the list? Strengthening any of these areas may be beneficial as you contemplate a career change.

1. Positive sense of self.

Self-awareness combined with competency in specific areas = self-confidence.man making a career change in midlfe

Sometimes it’s easier to develop self-awareness by receiving objective feedback from others. Competency is developed by doing.

2. Self-determination.

Maintaining realistic views of situations, personal responsibility and clear personal values guide behavior and decisions in a positive direction.

3. Energy.

High levels of internal motivation.

You can increase internal motivation by trusting and speaking up for yourself, increasing mindfulness skills and taking small action steps.

4. Strength of character.

Tenacity to accomplish goals, resiliency during adversity, ability to tolerate ambiguity, uncertainty and frustration.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can provide you skills to increase your resiliency and ability to tolerate ambiguity and frustration.

5. Relationship with others.

Using strategies such as active listening, humor, building rapport, open-mindedness, trust in others, and team work to facilitate positive relationships with others.

6. Relationship to the world.

Exhibiting characteristics of positivism, curiosity, enthusiasm, and optimism, that allows for a hopeful and practical approach to functioning in the world.

Face Your Greatest Fears

Making life changing career decisions takes courage and may ask you to face your greatest fears. There are many factors to consider from your family, your finances, to your own fears of failure. It can certainly be much easier to stay in your comfort zone, though in the long-run this can lead to issues beyond career unhappiness.

Career dissatisfaction can impact your health, your relationships, and your self-esteem.

The benefits of reinventing yourself can bring fulfillment and a life of greater joy and satisfaction. You deserve nothing less.

Many people worry about making a big career change. However, if your job is truly making you unhappy, a change may be necessary for your long-term well-being.

Work stress and discontent impact so many aspects of your life and can lead to tense relationships, financial worry, and even diminished physical health.

On the one hand, you may feel you are in your comfort zone. But, if you take a step back and really examine your life, you may find your current job is not making your life comfortable at all.

For additional help in finding a new career, we offer the following resources:

1. Awaken Your Calling Self-Study Course. This course is an 8-week course designed to guide you through each step of our program for creating your inspired career path. The course includes guided exercises to help you create a clear career vision and an action plan to help you achieve those goals.

2. Awaken Your Calling Coaching Program. This is an 8-week live group experience conducted via phone giving you the benefit of learning and receiving input from others as well as career coaches.

3. Consult with a career counselor/career coach. Our career counselors in Houston are available to meet with you via phone, video, or in person whether for a short-term consult or ongoing process. Click here to book an appointment with one of our career counselors.

4. Complete an online career assessment test. For an objective measure of your personality or interests, you can complete an assessment online.

Give us a call to get started now and schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

Career Change Coaching Services

We are dedicated to helping you improve not just your success at work, but the quality and success of your entire life. Working with a career change coach involves looking at your life as a whole to identify what combination of experiences could bring you satisfaction.

Finding fulfillment through a career change looks different for everyone. For some, it might simply mean switching roles or industries, or wearing multiple hats to fulfill a variety of interests while for others it might mean a combination of meaningful work and leisure activities.

Ultimately, it involves finding a customized career solution that is meaningful and fulfilling to you given the realities of your career and life situation.

How Does Career Change Coaching Work?

Each person comes to a career transition for different reasons. Typically, the career coaching process involves discovering answers to the following questions: who am I, what do I want, where am I going, and how do I get there?

Another aspect of the coaching process is evaluating how you do what you do. This includes adapting to change, knowing what motivates you, performing at your best, communicating assertively, resolving conflict effectively, decision-making, and taking responsibility for choices you can control.

Career change coaching also involves recognizing when you’re stuck and identifying what’s getting in your way. As we embark on a path of change in our lives, it’s normal to experience stress, anxiety, or fears. These can show up in a variety of ways such as procrastination, distraction, or otherwise avoiding action steps towards your goals. As trained therapists and career counselors, we understand how to work with your fears and establish meaningful goals while helping you move forward.

If a career change seems overwhelming, you and your career counselor can develop a slow, step-by-step plan to help you make a gradual transition between jobs. You don’t have to make any huge leaps.

Why is it Beneficial to Work with a Career Coach?

  • Emotional well-being.
  • Improved relationships, reduced stress, greater work life balance.
  • Live life in alignment with one’s values.
  • Feel in charge of one’s career vs. at the mercy of others to hire or promote you.
  • A coach can help you clarify your goals and take intentional steps forward. Movement in a positive direction forward is one of the greatest benefits.
  • Can motivate, provide support and instill confidence.

How should someone go about pursuing their professional goals on their own?

  • Get involved in professional organizations.
  • Get a mentor.
  • Use resources such as Linked In.
  • Keep in mind that even if you are working for someone else, you should treat it as if you were an entrepreneur. Be thinking of your goals and the next steps to get there, keep your resume up to date with accomplishments, and maintain your network.
  • Read books/information on the web.
  • Ask for help when you get stuck.

Recommended Reading:

switchers career change bookSwitchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers – and Seize Success

Don’t settle . . . SUCCEED in the right career! Are you stuck in an unsatisfying job? In the wrong profession? An industry that just isn’t a fit? Get unstuck! Land a new career—one you’re genuinely passionate about. Switchers helps you realize that dream.


coach yourself to new career bookCoach Yourself to a New Career: 7 Steps to Reinventing Your Professional Life

Don’t fear taking the leap into a new career with this seven step program.



expert resumes for career changers bookExpert Resumes for Career Changers, 2nd Ed

This collection of resumes is aimed at people who are transitioning from one career to another. The down economy has forced millions of people to change jobs or industries in order to stay employed. This book gives strategies as well as 180 pages of sample resumes for successful career changes.

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