Navigating a midlife career changeWritten by Patricia Mitchell
What's inside this article
The elevated walkway gave me a view of the snow-shrouded plaza and bare trees outlined in twinkling lights below. I had always enjoyed taking the scenic route between office buildings, but not this time. Instead, the landscape below brought me face-to-face with an uncomfortable reality: This wasn’t where I wanted to be anymore.
After 25 years as an editor at Hallmark Cards, I still enjoyed my work and liked the people and the products. But another role kept defining itself in my mind: I felt drawn to use my writing and editing in service to the church. In addition, like many people in midlife, I found that my family duties were pulling me away from the office more and more. My mother’s declining health was making it difficult for her to care for my brother who has disabilities. So the following summer, I opted for an early retirement in order to work from home.
Count the cost
An entrepreneurial spirit and family needs aren’t the only reasons many midlife adults strike out on their own. Corporations reorganize and not everyone finds a place in the new structure. Company mergers render jobs redundant or obsolete. New personal priorities often prompt people to leave workplace demands and follow new dreams.
A midlife career change, whether voluntary or involuntary, carries a price tag. It often includes the near certainty of earning less and never regaining the status or position that was once held. Its consequences touch health insurance, personal savings, retirement status and future financial stability. The rewards, however, can be tremendous.
"Having a clear goal comes before anything," says Jacqui Barrett,president of Career Trend. Barrett adds that, even with a clear goal in mind, some in midlife fail to take into account the realities of today’s job market. "Expect a longer job search than in the past,particularly if you’re looking outside your current industry," she says. "Be willing to take lower pay and a lower position than the one you left. You’ll need to work [your way] up, though you will work up more quickly than someone without your skills and experience."
As a writer, I found it took longer than I expected to get where I wanted to be. After months of self-assessment, talking with others and planning my new role, I began to catch on. At writers’ conferences, I watched how other authors presented themselves. Now, I welcome the chance to connect with new people. If you’re hoping to attract clients,customers or a new employer, your confidence in who you are and what you have to offer can make the difference between good contacts and lost opportunities.
Whether home- or organization-bound, a resumé or business brochure forces you to clearly state your skills. It serves as an introduction to potential buyers, clients or hiring managers and tells them how you can meet their needs.
"A resumé is no longer simply a list of accomplishments," Barrett says. "Now, it’s a marketing document to show how you can solve problems and meet the needs of the organization. To resonate with the reader, the document needs to be focused on those skills specific to the reader’s needs, not cluttered with irrelevant information. "Show those accomplishments that matter in your new role," Barrett says. "For example, if you want to transition into teaching, show your training experience, even though training wasn’t your major role."
Barrett also emphasizes the necessity of building a "career brand."She emphasizes focusing on challenges, actions and results. "Ask, ‘What makes me valuable to the organization?’ " she says. She invites clients to think of instances in which their strengths came into play, such as innovative ideas adopted by co-workers or projects brought to successful completion. If someone has not worked outside the home for many years, Barrett encourages drawing on any organizational experience. Examples include church committees, civic or neighbourhood groups, school associations, social clubs or volunteer organizations.Even a family difficulty a person has worked through and resolved demonstrates decision-making and problem-solving skills, which are key to success in a new organization or your own business.
While accumulated experience is important, there’s little room to rest on past accomplishments. For me, my initial response of "Yippee!No more performance reviews!" quickly changed to "I need to set some monthly goals and a few long-term ones that will stretch me." I devised a plan with measurable progress in areas where I wanted to improve,gain experience or grow financially.
If a new role is something you feel God is calling you to, it’s possible that exciting and fulfilling opportunities await you. Pray about it. Talk it over with family, friends and people who are now where you want to be. You possess a proven set of skills, a track record of accomplishments and time-tested knowledge. Remain realistic enough to know the consequences of making a change, yet be courageous enough to go where the Lord may be taking you.
Patricia Mitchell lived in Kansas City, Missouri at the time of publication.
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