How to Change Your Career in Midlife

Career change is likely to take place in midlife because values shift from external to internal goals. Conquering the outer world is not as important as mastering the inner world.

The realignment in values begins around the age of 39 and continues (nowadays) into the 50s, signaled by feelings of restlessness, boredom and dissatisfaction. Resisting the urge to break free from what has outlived its usefulness projects the inner turmoil onto bosses, clients or customers who hold you back. The solution is to become aware of the fear that binds you to the past.

Self-scrutiny takes courage, you never know what you are going to find once you start looking at yourself. But honest evaluation is how you to discover what prevents you from taking the risks that make you feel alive. Once you give fear your full attention you diminish its power over your subconscious mind.

For example, stop for a moment and think about what scares you. Bring the fear directly in front of you. Now, name the fear. Is it fear of losing what you have: money, possessions, status, peer and family approval, even feeling miserable? How long have you been dominated by this fear? Are you willing to rebel against the inner tyrant that imprisons your spirit? If so, you are ready to take the first step to change: get accurate information.

Accurate information comes from experts, the Internet, magazines and newspapers, books, trade journals and other resources. But the most reliable resource is the experience of people who have conquered your fear. These brave souls will tell you what it takes to find the right niche in work, as was the case with a midlife client who was bored with her job.Susanne had been a highly capable operating room nurse for most of her career. Even though she excelled at her work, the nursing profession had lost its appeal.The surgeons and other nurses respect me, but I dread going to work. Its not what I want to do anymore, Suzanne said when we met in my home office. I was afraid to admit Im burned out until you said that was normal at my stage of life. I thought there was something wrong with me.Staying with what you know feels right because its familiar, even when it doesnt work, I said. But its wrong to stay if its killing you.Suzanne had struggled with a variety of health problems for several years, anemia, chronic fatigue and depression, all symptoms she was resisting change.Thats not the conventional take on what ails me, Suzanne said, smiling. But Im sure youre right. I feel so drained. Just knowing I have options gives me hope.Suzanne had always loved to travel to unknown places, wherever she went she made friends quickly, likeability that made her a natural for sales. I suggested she consider selling a product or service she admired, since a sales job would give her mobility and independence, two of her top values.
Being stuck in an operating room for hours on end might be part of the career problem, I said. I think you would enjoy the freedom of a sales territory, calling on physicians or others in the medical field that need what you have to offer. Talk with medical salespeople to see if what they do all day would interest you.The next time we met, Suzanne had talked with a medical saleswoman at the hospital where Suzanne worked.When I told her I was thinking about career options, she said she had watched me during previous sales calls. She thought I was efficient and personable, two qualities needed in her job. She asked if I had ever considered sales. I laughed and said as a matter of fact, I had been thinking along those lines. We set up a time to meet so I can learn more about her and her company.Before she met with her sales contact, I suggested Suzanne look in the Index section of her local Yellow Pages to find health care products shed enjoy selling.Select products you think are worthwhile, what you would buy. Take that list with you when you meet with your contact. Ask her if she knows anyone in those areas. Then contact those people to set up a brief meeting. After interviewing them youll know if you want to sell that product for a living, or if its just a personal interest.
A few months later, Suzanne accepted a job selling laser equipment to dermatologists and other skin specialists. Her company also sold other medical equipment, so she wasnt limited to just one product.I loved being trained to use the equipment, and I really like teaching the doctors and their nurses [passion clues!]. Suzanne said, when she called to let me how she was doing in her new career. I feel like I do when Im traveling, meeting interesting people and getting to know them; it doesnt feel like selling. I think they feel the same way about me. I have quotas to meet, but I dont feel hemmed in the way I did in the operating room. I know its because I feel in control.Suzanne felt even more in control when she began to write about her experiences as an operating room nurse, an endeavor that satisfied her need to be creative. I had commented on her writing ability when we worked through her autobiographymy clients first assignment.What happens in the OR is pretty amazing, Suzanne said, smiling. Everyone I know loves to read my stories. I have a long email list of eager readers.Well, the next step is to organize the stories into a book and then submit a proposal to an agent or publisher, I said.Suzannes story shows the importance of understanding and cooperating with the internal changes that take place in midlife. It also shows how she used what she already knew to succeed in her new career.
I could always find a job as a nurse, but I was afraid thats all I could do, so no wonder I felt trapped. Suzanne said. I took what I did easily for granted. As you say, you have to get feedback from observant people who can see whats not obvious to you. Then life gets moving in the right direction.For you to see the obvious get acquainted with the fear that stops you from making the changes that will revitalize your career. To reduce this fear get accurate information from people who excel in what interests you. They will encourage you to do what comes naturally, and to not let fear of the unknown hold you back from the success you so richly deserve.Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion and her new book, Work with Passion and Beyond, available in online and retail bookstores. Her website is Send questions or comments to
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