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midlife career change

Hello everybody, welcome to episode 202 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is on midlife career change.

I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com

Listen to Greg narrate this post on midlife career change on Episode 202 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

We’ve got a question today from a woman who dares to embark on a new career path at age 48! She’s fed up with the work she’s been doing, is looking for something new, but isn’t so sure where to start. We’re going to get right into the question, but I’m going to mention a great resource for those who are looking to change careers after my answer, so do stick around if you find yourself in a similar position. For now, though, we’ll do what we came here to do. Here’s the question.

QUESTION: “I’m a 48 year old recently divorced mother of two young adults. Classic empty nester! I’m starting life again but with a wealth of knowledge. I have been working in education (primarily high school) for 20 years and I am burnt out! The demands of the job are off the charts! I want to make a career change but I’m not sure how. My skill set is based in school counseling and academic advising. How do I jump into another career that I enjoy and earn a salary that I can live with?”

Women Starting A New Chapter of Life

Well, congratulations! Another new beginning we’re hearing about on OLA. Never gets old. For you, asker, or anyone else who’s a little lost on why I said “another,” it’s because we’ve had a few questions like this recently.

OLA Episode 193 (on midlife change) and Episode 195 (on making new friends at any age — by the way, links to listen to these episodes on Spotify are embedded in this post) also answer questions from women around your age who stand before a new chapter of life, seeking counsel on what to do with the opportunity. Those will be great for you to check out, though they don’t deal quite as much with work as yours does, so we’ll focus on that today more so than in those other episodes.

I love that you mention the wealth of knowledge you have as you start this new venture. Whether you’re starting a career at 48, 18, 28, or 68, it’s so important to take some time for analysis before taking action and actually trying to get hired.

So let’s consider what to draw from this wealth of knowledge and what questions to ask yourself before applying, so as to go into the application process with intention, clarity, and an understanding of what types of jobs will actually fulfill you rather than just pay the bills or keep you from being as dissatisfied as you’ve been in your career up to this point.

What Do You Need to Be Happy?

Let’s start with the personal side of things. Personally, what do you need to be happy? What have you needed in the past to keep happy?

Take some time to break down what you enjoy in terms of your schedule, your hobbies, your passions, etc. Also consider things that you’ve maybe wanted to do but haven’t yet had a chance to. This provides a nice look into the past and present that helps you hone in on that which makes you tick.

Listen to Greg's thoughts on courage and midlife change in Episode 193 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

I’d also suggest you ask yourself this question as it relates to your future. Based on the legacy you’d like to leave behind and how you’d like to adjust your lifestyle as you age, what do you project that you’ll need in your life to be happy going forward?

By asking these questions, you’re clarifying your values, and values should be put first no matter what. As you get these answers, look through them, decide which are most important, and also decide which of them you can flex on if you find it nearly impossible to find a job that maintains all of them.

The more you’re willing to sacrifice, the easier this job search will be. This is not to say you should throw your wants and needs to the wind for the sake of getting a job faster, but it is the truth of the matter, and you’ll have to decide where that line is. Creating a list of which of your preferences are negotiable and which are non-negotiable will help. But hang on, there’s more to add to this list.

Your Personal vs. Professional Standards

Just as you should get in touch with your personal standards, you should do the same of your professional standards (and there may be crossover here, which makes things easier). Professionally, what did you like and what did you dislike? So in what ways would you like to use your skills to your advantage, and in what ways wouldn’t you?

For example, maybe you loved working with kids, but you didn’t like the counseling portion. You may be skilled as a counselor, but if that part of work has brought you nothing but misery, no one’s saying you have to use that skill just because you have it.

It’d also be advantageous to consider what parts of your past work (or work you haven’t done) that you don’t mind, but make many others cringe. I’ve said this a few times regarding life coaching; I love hearing people’s problems. That’s something I enjoy that many others don’t enjoy. Understanding the parts of life that are troublesome for many, but not for you, is a great leg up when job searching.

Midlife Career Change: Your Personal Finance Goals

Do some financial analysis on your personal finance goals, too. Don’t worry so much about how much money you wish can make; rather focus on what the minimum would be for you to still lead a life outside of work that you enjoy.

Money comes in many different degrees, and that makes it an especially opportune area to sacrifice on. The lower amount of money you’re willing to work for, the more jobs you’re opened up to. This gives you a better shot at doing something meaningful and doing it sooner. I don’t want to assume your financial situation, but with two children you no longer have to pay for, a lot of work experience behind you, and getting closer to collecting social security, I imagine there’s more wiggle room than there’s been in the past.

Listen to Greg's thoughts on making new friends at any age in Episode 195 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

After answering all of this thoroughly, you should have a pretty chunky list in front of you. In the event that this list is heavily one-sided, you can safely start looking for jobs based on the other part that you’ve narrowed down more.

So if you have 25 things that you’d like to include in your next job, an overwhelming number compared to the, say, 3 things you definitely don’t want, it can’t hurt to lead with that which you definitely want to avoid, and filter out job possibilities that run the risk of having any of those.

Taking The Time To Do This Right

You’ve got a stable job currently. You don’t have children or a spouse in the house anymore to look after. This means that you gave plenty of time to do this thing right. Gather all this information and get as specific as possible about what you want.

You don’t want interviewers to walk out of their meetings with you only thinking that you want a fresh start and that’s it. You want them to see a sense of drive, certainty and precision. It may take some time to truly obtain those things, but it’ll be time well spent, especially why it isn’t hugely urgent for you to get a new job as soon as humanly possible.

Once you feel you’ve done the work necessary to hone in on exactly what you want, that’s when it’s time to strike. Now, whether you do feel very confident in what you want when you start looking or if you maybe jump the gun early by accident, the good news is you can always start small.

Midlife Career Change: Honing Your Skills

If you want to make a big career change in a field that you have no applicable skills in, starting from the bottom will be necessary. The same is true if you do end up being more unsure of what you want than you may have thought.

Either way, you have a safety net in the form of volunteer work, part time work, temp work, and the like. This will be a great space in which to hone your skills, and depending on how your finances and schedule pan out, you could potentially start this before leaving your current job. Whether you do or don’t have the clarity that would be ideal for starting a new career, don’t be afraid of starting off this way.

I also recommend that you play to one of the advantages that you may not know you have – networking.

Listen to Derek's thoughts on networking on Episode 131 of Optimal StartUp Daily.

Even if you’re not a particularly sociable person, this can be done easily enough online. This is a smart move for you because employers searching for candidates on job sites may overlook someone like yourself who’s older, not necessarily experienced in a new field, presumably not as up to date with tech (depending on the job), and likely in search of more money than someone fresh out of college.

However, what you do have is more people that you know after all your years of working. Especially working in the school system, you would’ve met a lot of people who have come and gone; from coworkers to parents of students. Use this.

Midlife Career Change: Conclusion

You also have a lot less to be afraid of than some of the younger applicants. While they’re inexperienced and trying to follow the book, you can identify more with the people who are hiring you. Build a kinship with them. Ask about the things that you know you’d like to be asked about.

Get creative and offer new twists on work. There’s a great book that I recommend you read on career changes called Switchers by Dawn Graham, and one of her suggestions is to offer experiments to new employers, such as “Let me run the numbers in the marketing department for 3 months and if there’s no improvement, you can let me go.”

This is just one of many unique ways to build relationships with employers that are both casual and professional, with very minimal risk involved for them.

Big thanks to our asker today for being brave and daring to make this midlife career change and the right changes for herself. As I said, we’ve seen a lot of this lately and it makes me oh, so proud. I just want to say quickly that a lot of people wish they could change careers but somehow don’t feel it’s possible.

I get questions like this a lot on the show, my coaching clients are in search of the same thing very often. If you’re in this position, I highly recommend you look into the NCDA, National Career Development Association as a great resource. They have a lot there on how to undergo this process, and it’s a great place to get linked up with a career coach, too, which is highly valuable as well. That’s NCDA, National Career Development Association. And their website is ncda.org. Check it out.

Ok, no free ads, NCDA! Time to get out of here, everyone. Thanks so much for being here today and supporting the show once again. Very happy to have you all here and grateful for each and every one of you. I hope you enjoyed this one as much as I did and, hey, I’ll see you in 203. Until then.

Listen to Greg narrate this post on midlife career change on Episode 202 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

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Greg Audino

Greg Audino is a Rhode Island-born certified life coach, actor, and graduate of Goucher College. He is the host of the mental health podcast Optimal Living Advice and narrates dating, marriage, and parenting content over at Optimal Relationships Daily.
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