New Year, New Career: How to Navigate a Mid-Life Career Change

The new year is a great time for reflection on all areas of our lives. Given how much time we spend working, it may be time to ask yourself whether now is the time for a mid-life career change.

It is quite common to desire a career change when you turn 40. Even if you have enjoyed your career to date, you may start feeling a ranking discontent. Sometimes the feeling that something is missing gets increasingly stronger. Trust these feelings as you are most certainly right. Something is missing and your desire for change reflects your gut instinct.

To a certain extent, before 40, we can get away with a career that isn’t the best match for our natural talents and abilities. If you work hard and are smart enough, you can be successful in a job that isn’t aligned with your abilities. However, a hidden ability that hasn’t seen the light of day in years will cry out for expression. The sign that this is happening is a niggling feeling that you aren’t entirely satisfied with your life. At this point, people usually blame their spouse and get divorced or buy a fast car in their desperate, although misguided, attempt to satisfy this nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right. Of course, doing those things won’t help if they aren’t the source of the problem. At this point, a mid-life career change may be what’s right, but you shouldn’t enter this decision without being armed with information on what will be a satisfying career move. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to have a full-blown mid-life crisis to figure out what’s missing. We have sophisticated career assessments that determine what your brain is wired to do well with objective, scientific clarity. If you have an inherent ability and you’ve been neglecting it, by the time you hit 40 you’ll start to feel unsatisfied. This is a pretty clear indication that it is time to do some serious navel-gazing and figure out what hidden ability is demanding some expression.

It is a tragedy to go through life without knowing or using your true natural abilities. Unfortunately, people assume that any natural talent will be patently obvious. For some, yes, it is obvious. You were a child prodigy at the piano and music has been a clear passion throughout your life. But for others, it isn’t so obvious. You may have never had the opportunity to express an ability so it has never seen the light of day. I was just this sort of person for the first 29 years of my life. I seemed to be pretty good at a lot of things but there was no clear or obvious thing at which I was excellent. So I became a mid-level manager at the bank – a generalist role.

I was unhappy and unfulfilled but successful. It wasn’t until I discovered life coaching that I found my passion in life. I’ve never looked back. Also, it wasn’t until I took the career assessments in the Career Change Kit that I learned that I am not a generalist. I am a specialist who simply hadn’t discovered their specialty yet! I can’t imagine how many other specialists masquerading as generalists are living in mild misery because they have yet to figure out their passion. There are even books that claim that you don’t need to find a passion! This may be true if you are a generalist, but it’s not true at all if you are a specialist. 

The other common misperception is that it is great to have many talents and abilities. This can be great if you have an outlet for using these talents and abilities. However, most jobs only require one or two abilities. If you have four or five strong talents, the ones that aren’t being used are going to niggle at you, demanding some expression somewhere in your life. People who job-hop often have multi-abilities and go from career to career trying to find satisfaction. It would be so much easier if you simply knew exactly what your abilities are and then can take deliberate action to find outlets for those talents in your career and personal life. Most of us have no clue and are just using trial and error to find a happier path in life. 

The challenge with a mid-life career change is that it can be costly. At this point in life, most people have already invested heavily in their education and they may have family and financial commitments to maintain. They may need to live in a particular geographic area to look after aging parents. These can all make a mid-life career change more challenging given you now have income requirements and geographic requirements. 

My husband found himself in just this trap—supporting a family, looking after his aging parents, and paying off a large mortgage. He is an excellent coach and facilitator and loves this work. But also he has a need to use his hands and create a tangible product at the end of the day. Most white-collar jobs are abstract and have no tangible result. He can work all day and do an excellent job, yet still feels vaguely unfulfilled because he hasn’t created something “real.” The solution is to find a hobby that uses his hands (i.e., woodworking, cooking, gardening). Yet, being busy, he rarely finds time for these activities.

The problem with having multiple talents is that no single job is likely to leave you feeling fulfilled. More often than not, you’ll have to look outside your career for opportunities to express those unused abilities. You can’t just leave your abilities on a shelf and get them down on occasion. You need a regular outlet for those hidden talents. Some of my clients realize they don’t need to quit their current job, but they do need to add new hobbies that specifically use their abilities. Sometimes a shift in your work role can also satisfy those missing pieces of yourself.

When I worked at the bank in NYC managing a financial center downtown, I was successful but unfulfilled. I had this nagging feeling that there had to be something better for me to do with my life. I was only 28 at the time that I discovered life coaching. I was initially skeptical as the profession was brand new. I doubted that I could make a viable living as a life coach. However, with my coach’s urging, I signed up for life coach training and it was instant love! I couldn’t get enough of the course materials. Before I even finished the course, I was teaching the classes. Life coaching was a new profession, in its infancy, at the time and we created content as we went along. So, don’t be discouraged if your ideal career doesn’t yet exist. You may be the first to start it!

Learn more about the assessment tests in the Career Change Kit here

Not ready or able to spend the money on the Career Change Kit just yet? Get started with Coach Yourself to a New Career.

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