This stage of life - mid-life - puts its own unique spin on everything we do, and career change is no exception. Changing careers in your twenties or thirties is one thing; career change in your fifties or sixties? It’s a whole different ballgame. Sixties? you ask.. who’s changing careers in their sixties? A lot more than you would think!
When we change careers in mid-life, it is sometimes voluntary. It is sometimes forced upon us in a devastating way and by surprise. Maybe it is not career change that we are experiencing, but career entry - after years of being outside the workforce.
I have my own story of mid-life career change and in my case, it was voluntary. I had been working happily for several years in the financial aid office of a local college. In spite of the fact that I loved the beautiful campus, the people I worked with and I especially loved the students, in 2011 I began to have inner stirrings; thoughts of doing something different. Thanks to a serendipitous conversation with a coworker, I was ultimately led to a different kind of employment opportunity in a nearby county. The position was still in the field of human services, but it involved serving people in a much different way. I applied, tested, interviewed, interviewed again and by early spring of 2012, had a job offer in hand. I retired from state service and went off to pursue a new career. This was crazy! It was also exhilarating.
My husband, who apparently had had some quiet concerns, now began voicing them. “But, you’ve been working at the school for so long..” “You’re so happy there..” “It’s right down the street from you and now you’ll have to commute.” “I thought you said you were trying to simplify your life, not complicate it..” His points were, of course, all valid. But my inner voice continued to say, “This is right.” And so I followed that voice, gave notice to my old employer and began to walk in a new direction.
I took a two-week break and went to Kansas (yes, Kansas, it was wonderful), then started my new job upon return. The first couple of weeks felt surreal. Was I really here? Had I actually left my old job? At first I viewed everything through the lens of comparison.. comparing my new and former industries, comparing office practices, workplace culture, and people. Now I had a whole new crop of co-workers that I saw each day. I would get to know these people and I knew that, given time, they would become my friends.
Learning my new vocation required a one-year training process in a class with nine other individuals. The last time I had trained for a new job, I’d been in my thirties; now I was in my fifties. Could my brain do it? Did I have what it would take? Well, it did not prove easy. There was a lot to learn, much of which involved new computer systems. Some days were really hard and confusing, and those days were sometimes followed by tear-filled evenings. During this time my husband was my champion and definitely earned an “I-survived-my-wife’s-training” T-shirt!
Inevitably, I began comparing myself and my learning to others in my class. Was I doing as well as they? How were they able to recall concepts and answer questions so easily? Comparisons led to self-doubt about my abilities. Then even worse, I began to doubt my intelligence. My whole life I had believed that I was a smart person, then one day I had a conversation with myself and questioned if all along I’d been wrong about that – that maybe I really was not the smart person I thought I was.
At this point I decided there was only one thing to do: have my brain evaluated by a professional – a psychiatrist! When I called for an appointment and was asked the reason for the request, the scheduler on the other end was kind and began to talk to me. For fifteen minutes we discussed different thinking styles and learning styles; she shared with me that there are concrete thinkers and there are abstract thinkers. I was able to determine that I was an abstract thinker, and because of that, I think and learn differently than those who are not. This woman was my personal angel that day. Now I began to feel better about myself and did not need that appointment after all!
How did things turn out? I passed the training class. After proving myself a solid worker, I twice moved up to new opportunities, and LOVE what I currently do. So many lessons here, including the power of following our inner voice, and the power of never giving up on ourselves. Please join me next time as we continue our discussion of career change in mid-life.
Cindy works as an employment development counselor, and is a mother and grandmother. She has lived in Sonoma County for 28 years.