I’ve coached plenty of people in their forties and fifties through significant career transitions, and if you’re in the same boat, then you’re likely thinking that it could be pretty challenging. In fact, you may even be considering staying in an unfulfilling and miserable job instead.
But there’s no need! I’m here to help.
If you’re in a field or industry that’s changing beyond your recognition and at a pace that is beyond your prediction, then you’re likely to be feeling a bunch of insecurity. We all take responsibility for our professional happiness, so recognizing that insecurity is important. In fact, when I dig in a bit as I have a conversation with folks who are my age, the concerns follow one of two streams:
How do I figure out what to do next? Do I have transferable skills that will be useful in that field or role? And: Are there employers that are open to hiring someone who is older? If so, how will that pay compare to what I get now?
If you’re what used to be called “middle-aged”, but what these days, we just call “a little younger than Anthony Bourdain, and hey, he’s still cool, right?”…and you’re considering a career transition, then it’s important to realize that you are by no means on your own.
75 percent of Americans are unhappy in their jobs, so, welcome to the unfulfilled majority!
Now, here’s how we can work together to get you out of it…
First, congratulations on thinking about making a proactive step to make your life better. It might feel like you have a heavy lift looming, but the truth is, your judgment is probably clouded right now by some common beliefs about making a career transition when you’re more experienced. Please allow me to take a look at some of the most prevalent negative baggage about the search that you have been carrying and help you see what’s before you in a whole new, positive, way.
One commonly held belief is that I am only capable of a small set of things given my current job. No one outside of this field or role will see its value.
However this also means that you have a history of achievement, and can add to that foundation to become a more interesting professional hybrid.
Most people consider career transitions because they are bored, unfulfilled, or not seeing a sufficient opportunity to learn and grow. If boredom is your issue, it means you may well have additional capacity to learn new things in your workplace by requesting to engage with initiatives outside what you typically do, or that you can seek something new to do outside of work.
I encourage people considering a transition to consider how they might add to their current set of skills to become a more interesting professional hybrid, in this sense, and to break out of the box they find themselves in, without doing too much damage in the process. I know, for example, a former journalist who became an accomplished business development person, and a successful entrepreneur who is also a comic in their spare time. I know an expert programmer who is also an adept teacher. When you can combine your current skills with new ones, you become extremely interesting, professionally, to would-be employers. It is about seeing how you can build on your solid bedrock of existing skills. When you were younger most figured that you had energy and perhaps hunger to do the job. Rarely, did they think you were skilled because you had so little experience. NOW, you have the foundation of skills to which you can add.
Another common belief is I now have obligations which make me very cautious about taking risks That’s good to know and important to keep in mind as your prioritize the choices ahead of you. However, this also means that your career choices may also include being a role model to your children and younger people in your life.
We are often our own harshest critics, but it’s important to consider what you’d want your children, or other young people to whom you serve as a role model, to do in your situation. Is the message that you want to give them that work is an awful place, and you simply accept whatever you get? I have a friend who was raised in a home like that and struggles even when things are going well because work shouldn’t go well. He is persistently awaiting the bad aspects of a job. What is the legacy you want to leave your children around work?
Also, while I completely understand the fear people experience when they are about to make a career transition, particularly when it comes to our financial obligations and goals, I also want you to consider the frustration you might feel each evening about wasting your labor, or your poor treatment at work. That frustration can spill over into your relationships outside work, and toxify the comfortable home environment we are often seeking to insulate from making a risky career decision, in the first place.
Another frequently stated concern is that I feel like I should have figured out work that will make me happy by now. I won’t keep harking back to that percentage of people unhappy at work, but you saw it was darn high. This means that many if not most of your friends may also be unhappy with their work (and could help you in your mode of making a transition).
Countless research has been done showing that men, in particular, tend to isolate themselves socially in their thirties, losing track of friendships which have buoyed us up until then. In the age of ubiquitous social media, too, we’re under more pressure than ever to project positive images of ourselves and to leave the more challenging thoughts and feelings on Instagram’s cutting room floor.
A bit of real conversation with people you know best is likely to help them to open up and share that they, too, might be deeply unfulfilled. The truth is, more of us would welcome the opportunity to morally support each other, if we were more often given the opportunity. We are playing a game of chicken when it comes to our work. Swerve of the path. Take your foot off the gas. Roll-down-the-window. Talk to someone. Tell them you are lost. Maybe, even agree to hop in one car together to share the driving.
A very regularly expressed concern is that I haven’t looked for a job in so long that I don’t even know how to start. Yes, things may be very different since the last time you looked. However, you don’t realize the breadth of resources at your disposal.
I can attest to the fact that many people haven’t an idea about the best way to look for meaningful work. The whole point behind the founding of ClearlyNext is to help people make informed transitions. In fact, being a bit further along in your career alongside friends, family and a host of professional contacts who have similarly moved along means that you have a network of professionals from throughout your life experience who may also be in a position to help you.
You didn’t have the same kind of access to a network when you were younger, and now is the best time to tap into it.
One of the hardest truths a jobseeker will reveal is that I’ve had some bad work experiences, and I’m not sure work can ever really be good. There is so much backtracking to be done when someone has this worldview. Chiefly, to reflect on what happened in the past so we don’t repeat it AND what good there was. You have more experiences to draw on when it comes to considering your next move and deciding exactly what will make you happy.
For many people there was a youthful enthusiasm about what work could be, which lost its luster over time. Most often we “fall” into a position that we have continued on with, because it is what we have known, and because we weren’t sure about either what to do next, or how to figure that out.
The good news is that with more experience you know better so many details about what you don’t want in the way of tasks, culture, or colleagues. Simultaneously, you have some idea about what you would be drawn to, and what you want to learn more about. Experience gives us greater insight if we spend time reflecting on it.
I didn’t write this piece as an upbeat, exclamation point-driven missive to say that this process will be easy. It won’t. But it is neither futile nor without joy.
Consider this as a quest, akin to finding someone to love. You need to spend time exploring your motivations and options. As always the more introspection and support you have through this process, the easier it will be.
Work can be better, and a happier you will have ripple effects for you and for all those whom you know and love.
Russ Finkelstein is a Co-Founder and Managing Director of ClearlyNext, a guided online program that helps people figure out what to do next in their careers. Russ is also a co-founder of idealist.org, a senior advisor at Fund the People and board member of YNPN. He is all about helping people find their way – advising and coaching for free far more than his mother would like.
Don’t forget our elders can suffer in silence too: suicide prevention
Many people think that mental health and suicide are not topics that impact our elders but they could not be more wrong. The data tells us there continues to be an emerging trend when it comes to peop...
Wherever you look these days, not matter the developed country, whole population groups and peoples struggle with the daily grind of life. From children in state care to mental health, from affordable housing to the primary health system and from education to employmen...
For the last few years I have been fortunate to have been involved in the aged care sector and have seen both the lows and highs. Today we live in a world where most of us are living longer thank to more awareness around healthy living, the advancement of better medica...
You can’t go past a news paper, radio show or television news story these days without being flooded by all things Bitcoin or Crypto Currency. Some say it’s the new world of money while others suggest its all just a passing fad. Whatever your position or preference of...