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 mywork and liked the people and the products. But another role keptdefining itself in my mind: I felt drawn to use my writing and editingin service to the church. In addition, like many people in midlife, Ifound that my family duties were pulling me away from the office moreand more. My mother’s declining health was making it difficult for herto care for my brother who has disabilities. So the following summer, Iopted for an early retirement in order to work from home.
Count the cost
An entrepreneurial spirit and family needs aren’t the only reasonsmany midlife adults strike out on their own. Corporations reorganizeand not everyone finds a place in the new structure. Company mergersrender jobs redundant or obsolete. New personal priorities often promptpeople to leave workplace demands and follow new dreams.
A midlife career change, whether voluntary or involuntary, carriesa price tag. It often includes the near certainty of earning less andnever regaining the status or position that was once held. Itsconsequences touch health insurance, personal savings, retirementstatus and future financial stability. The rewards, however, can betremendous.
"Having a clear goal comes before anything," says Jacqui Barrett,president of Career Trend. Barrett adds that, even with a clear goal inmind, some in midlife fail to take into account the realities oftoday’s job market. "Expect a longer job search than in the past,particularly if you’re looking outside your current industry," shesays. "Be willing to take lower pay and a lower position than the oneyou left. You’ll need to work [your way] up, though you will work upmore quickly than someone without your skills and experience."
As a writer, I found it took longer than I expected to get where Iwanted to be. After months of self-assessment, talking with others andplanning my new role, I began to catch on. At writers’ conferences, Iwatched how other authors presented themselves. Now, I welcome thechance to connect with new people. If you’re hoping to attract clients,customers or a new employer, your confidence in who you are and whatyou have to offer can make the difference between good contacts andlost opportunities.
Whether home- or organization-bound, a resumé or business brochureforces you to clearly state your skills. It serves as an introductionto potential buyers, clients or hiring managers and tells them how youcan meet their needs.
"A resumé is no longer simply a list of accomplishments," Barrettsays. "Now, it’s a marketing document to show how you can solveproblems and meet the needs of the organization. To resonate with thereader, the document needs to be focused on those skills specific tothe reader’s needs, not cluttered with irrelevant information. "Showthose accomplishments that matter in your new role," Barrett says. "Forexample, if you want to transition into teaching, show your trainingexperience, 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, ‘Whatmakes me valuable to the organization?’ " she says. She invites clientsto think of instances in which their strengths came into play, such asinnovative ideas adopted by co-workers or projects brought tosuccessful completion. If someone has not worked outside the home formany years, Barrett encourages drawing on any organizationalexperience. Examples include church committees, civic or neighbourhoodgroups, school associations, social clubs or volunteer organizations.Even a family difficulty a person has worked through and resolveddemonstrates decision-making and problem-solving skills, which are keyto success in a new organization or your own business.
While accumulated experience is important, there’s little room torest on past accomplishments. For me, my initial response of "Yippee!No more performance reviews!" quickly changed to "I need to set somemonthly goals and a few long-term ones that will stretch me." I deviseda plan with measurable progress in areas where I wanted to improve,gain experience or grow financially.
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If a new role is something you feel God is calling you to, it’spossible that exciting and fulfilling opportunities await you. Prayabout it. Talk it over with family, friends and people who are nowwhere you want to be. You possess a proven set of skills, a trackrecord of accomplishments and time-tested knowledge. Remain realisticenough to know the consequences of making a change, yet be courageousenough to go where the Lord may be taking you.
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