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Career Change Tools for the Mid-Life Woman

Career transitions at midlife are very different from those we make in our twenties and thirties. The recognition of our mortality diminishes the importance of status, success, money and meeting the expectations of others. At midlife we tend to reflect on the gap between the reality of our lives and the dreams we once had. We want the second half of our lives to be meaningful because we won’t get another chance.

Here’s a 14-step plan to make your career transition manageable and help you re-envision the second half of your life:

1. Determine If It’s Time for a Change

Are you bored by what you’re doing now? Do you feel by your day? Do you feel unsatisfied even after you’ve accomplished something? Have you lost interest in things that used to excite you? Do you wake up dreading the day about to unfold? Are your talents being squandered?

Of course, a career change is not the only solution when you feel like this. Sometimes you can make changes in your current job to make it more satisfying and meaningful. But if you feel as if you’re dragging yourself from one day to another, some kind of a change is probably necessary.


2. Write Your Mission Statement

Ideally, work is an expression of who we are. A meaningful and satisfying career meshes with our values, our talents and what is truly important to us.

Think of someone who is living the life you most envy. What is it about her life that you wish were part of yours? Write the eulogy you’d like someone to deliver for you. What contributions would they say you’ve made to the lives of others and to the world?


3. Inventory Your Accomplishments

This is often very difficult for those of us taught not to brag. But affirming your valuable experience and successes helps ground you in your strengths and remind you of what you do well. It serves as a compass and provides refueling for the journey ahead. Write down all you’ve accomplished in all of our life roles. What a resume!


4. Inventory Your Competencies

List everything you do well. Ask others to share their perceptions of your strengths. Don’t restrict yourself to job tasks. If you’re particularly good at convincing your partner to do things your way, that’s evidence of your persuasive skills. Perhaps the big social event you organized showcases your leadership and organizational
skills. Are you an effective manager of your family’s finances? Do people praise your analytical abilities?


5. Inventory Your Satisfactions

Just because you’re good at something doesn’t necessarily mean you find it satisfying. Do you get the greatest satisfaction from doing things that help others; from the process of working as a team with other people; from activities that produce tangible results?


6. Inventory Your Values

What matters most to you? Consider values like autonomy, altruism, creativity, power, financial gain, intellectual stimulation, leadership,affiliation, beauty, knowledge.


7. Make a List of the Things You Absolutely Love to Do

If money were not an issue, how would you spend your perfect day? Think of the physical settings you’d like to be in, the people you’d want to see and how you’d want to relate to them, the activities you’d engage in, the pace at which you’d move and whether you’d seek relaxation or excitement.


8. Gather Information

Once you have your list of accomplishments, competencies, values, and passions you can find careers that fit your personal description. Search the Internet. Read the classifieds. Review the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Most colleges and universities have career libraries filled with descriptions of careers you’ve never heard of.

At this point in the process, your goal is to create a list of options, not to find the one "right" career. Include every job that intrigues you, regardless of whether you have the required skills for it. This is a brainstorming session. You want to generate possibilities in a non-critical way.

9. Do Informational Interviews

Talk to people who do the kinds of work you’ve identified as interesting. Call your alumni association for names of people to whom you can talk.
Contact professional associations and ask your friends if they know anyone. Ask your potential interviewee if they’d be willing to spend some time with you, in a location of their choosing, discussing their work. Ask what it’s like to do their job, what they love and hate about their work, how they landed where they are, what they wish they’d known before they started.


10. Narrow Your Focus

As you gather information, your focus will narrow naturally. When you’re down to just a few possibilities, research for details. Try volunteering or taking a short-term, part-time position to see how your potential new career feels. Factor in how your life would change if you chose a particular career.


11. Learn New Skills

Identify what training or education you need to make you marketable in your chosen career. Think in terms of skills instead of credentials. Although degrees and licenses are required for some kinds of work, often you’ll just need to acquire or hone skills, and the best way to do this is through experience. Investigate internships and apprenticeships. Contact the nearest college or university to find out about adult education programs. Most schools offer special programs for returning women
students which have flexible schedules, prepare you for the classroom and help you find financial aid.


12. Network

Making connections with people in your chosen field will enrich your understanding of the career, inform you about specific job opportunities and position you to be a serious candidate. Join professional associations; attend meetings. Make your interest and enthusiasm visible. Genuine excitement and commitment naturally attract the interest of others; that way you don’t have to do a hard sell.


13. Overcome Obstacles


Most people are so consumed by their current job and responsibilities that they feel unable to make a career change. You may worry about jeopardizing financialsecurity or reneging on your obligations to others.

These are valid concerns. But equally valid is the issue of what you owe yourself. Your second adulthood is your opportunity to turn your most important dreamsinto realities.

You can minimize conflict between meeting your own needs and those of others by giving yourself a relatively long time frame to make your career transition. Set manageable weekly goals that represent small but consistent steps toward changing your career.


All systems, including families, resist change. Give your family members time to anticipate and adjust to changes. Midlife tends to be a time when we renegotiate our relationships at home as children move away. Consider incorporating your career-change needs into your negotiations. Discuss the time and support you’ll need. Define the boundaries you’ll need to set and anticipate things you’ll need to say "no" to.

The best way to get your family on board is to help them understand how important this change is to you. Remind them how much more energy you’ll have to bring to your relationships once you’re invigorated by your work. Show them your short term goals and the results of your accomplishments. They’re more likely to show faith in you when they see you making progress. Be sure to let them know how grateful you are for their help.


Change is frightening for everyone. Sometimes we focus so much on what we stand to lose that we forget to consider all that we can gain.

List all the risks you’ve taken before. Vividly recall a time when you faced down a fear and the wonderful feeling when you overcame the barrier and did itanyway. Imagine yourself successfully making this transition as well. See yourself in your new life. Since most of our fears are of the unknown, try to know as much as possible. Do research; get experience. Resist the temptation to reduce fear by avoiding the challenge. Instead try to accept and manage the fear. Remember, it won’t last forever.

14. Get Support

Making career transitions requires lots of emotional support. Try not to be afraid to admit your fears. Find good listeners who can give you honest, nonjudgmental feedback. Ask others about their experiences. Look for support groups at women’s career centers, adult continuing education centers, 40 Plus Clubs.

Most importantly, enlist your own support. Your commitment to make your career transition work is the most important factor in your success.

Author: Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., Guest Author, Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. shares her 14 steps to re-envisioning your work life.


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