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Can You Really Renew Your Career at Mid-Life?

By Gerald Walsh ©

Does this sound like you? You’re now about halfway through your career. You have a decent job with a respectable income, nice benefits and comfortable surroundings. You’re well regarded for what you do and your future is relatively secure.

But deep down, you’re feeling less than satisfied with what you’re doing. For some reason, that passion you once had for your career is fading.

When you think back to the early part of your career, you remember those idealist dreams you had to change the world, to make a difference in people’s lives, and to bring real purpose to your work. You remember actually making a promise to yourself that you would never ‘sell your soul’ to your employer, as your parents did for many years.

It seems like a blur when you reflect back over the last 20 or 25 years. You begin to realize how much of your energy was spent on career advancement – building those “marketable” skills needed to get better jobs and promotions. But why?

Making money used to be very important to you. But lately, money has become less of a motivator. You know now that it doesn’t make you happy. You shake your head in disbelief when you think about the crummy jobs you took (or stayed in) because of the money.

You begin to realize that you’re bored, exhausted and restless. You find that you are spending much of your day at work thinking about doing something else – something that would be really fun. Staying in the same job for another twenty years … well, that feels like a prison sentence to you.

As you raise this issue with friends, you discover that many of them are feeling the same as you and are raising the same questions. But the thought of a career change at mid-life frightens you. You have the safety and security of your current job. It’s familiar and comfortable. While you know logically that a change would be good and could lead to exciting personal growth, it’s still scary. You find yourself rationalizing that things aren’t so bad. You wonder if you should just “suck it up” and stay where you are.

What should you do?

This is not a simple question to answer. It will require careful research, discussion, reflection and discovery. Here are five exercises you can complete to guide you down that path:

1. Learn more about yourself by taking various personality and aptitude tests. Up to this point in your life, a busy schedule with family and work has probably prevented you from taking a deeper look at yourself. These tests will help you identify your skills, strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and interests and could suggest career possibilities you might not have thought were possible before.

2. Develop a list of the top ten most important things you need in a job in order to be fulfilled. To do this, rate each of the following items using this scale: (A) Absolutely essential that you have this in a job; (B) Very important but not absolutely essential; or (C) Of lesser importance although still nice to have

  • Meaningful work
  • Compensation
  • Job security
  • Benefits
  • Vacation
  • Physical location
  • Workspace
  • Industry
  • Company size
  • Good boss
  • People
  • Status and title
  • Opportunity to learn new things
  • Type of work
  • Scope of responsibility
  • Opportunity for advancement
  • Recognition
  • Culture

Once you’ve completed the individual scoring, decide on which ten are most important to you and rank them from most important to least important.

3. Prepare a list of your transferable skills that you could readily apply in another job. All too often, we limit ourselves to what we’ve done before. On the flip side, many people make successful transitions into very different jobs by identifying and marketing their transferable skills: accountants become bankers; managers in industry become executive directors in not-for-profit; sales reps become fundraisers; and lawyers become teachers.

4. Create a list of jobs you would love to do, assuming money was not an obstacle. For sure, this activity might seem impractical at first. The thought of giving up the financial security of your job is frightening. But it will help you to isolate characteristics of a job that excite you.

5. Finally, seek advice from experts in the field you are considering. Contrary to what you might think, you will find that people are willing to share their thoughts and opinions on your career options. Their advice could be invaluable.

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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and writer. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn