As you have entered the middle phase of your life, you have probably settled into a steady rhythm in your life and career. You have had experiences that have helped you to grow and challenge yourself. You may have traveled around the world; you may be a parent; you may volunteer your time; you may attend a weekly brunch with your three best friends.
Amidst all of this steadiness, you may find yourself lamenting the monotony of the way you pay your bills or the career you have chosen. The way you spend the majority of the waking hours of the majority of the days of the week might have you saying, “I feel stuck in my career!” And that idea might be distressing, depressing, and scary.
It can be difficult to imagine a career change during midlife for several reasons: you rely on the predictable routine of going to the same job you’ve had for a decade; you were taught to get in with a company and work your up; you invested money in post-secondary education in order to join your field and so many more. By mid-life, you may or may not have a nuclear family who depends upon you to pay bills or be supporting yourself alone (an almost impossible task with the cost of living these days). If you’ve been doing your job for a long time, your identity may feel intertwined with your career.
There are so many stories we tell ourselves about careers; ours and other peoples’. We may tell ourselves these stories so often and for so long, that we don’t even permit ourselves to envision a career change. No matter how persistent the thought is, we might think there is no reason good enough to make mid-life career changes. But in truth, there are, and wanting to do so is sign number one that you should give the idea serious consideration.
You know that you have reached a dead-end street when you have lost the joy, passion, and motivation to create. No matter what line of work you’re in,
approaching your day requires imagination and positivity; struggling with these is a telltale sign that your heart isn’t in it anymore. This may also be the case if it is getting harder to connect with your team or clients. You deserve to spend your waking hours doing something that, at the very least, doesn’t deplete you of your joy and energy. If you’re going to work every day feeling half-asleep and watching the clock, it might be time to consider a change.
You are experiencing an increase in depression, irritability, and impatience with others (such as partners or kids). Built-up resentment comes out at inopportune times; you struggle to regulate your emotions and/or respond appropriately to what happens around you, and the littlest thing might set you off. Getting out of bed in the morning feels like a monumental task, or you might feel anxious when you think about going to work.
You may disconnect from your life, opting to zone out in front of the television or sleep extended hours because you are so fatigued by the mental and emotional strain of doing something you don’t enjoy day in and day out. It isn’t sustainable to continue working somewhere that not only makes you feel bad when you’re there but also when you are not. Not every day at work is going to be full of sunshine and rainbows, but if the majority of your days are negative, there is no way to avoid the negative impact on your mental health.
We tend to think of our careers as “the one thing” that shouldn’t change, no matter what other things do. However, with COVID, many of us started to do our jobs a little differently. The
pandemic gave us, our companies, and our clients’ new perspectives on how to connect that may have changed the way we prioritize or the value we place on what we do for a living. Frankly, the economy is always changing, and that may play a role in your decision to change career mid-life. Other changing life events can be: aging parents and the need to live closer to them; expanding your family and needing a bigger home somewhere else, or maybe going through a divorce. If all of that can change, why can’t your job?
You might think to yourself that you are too “old” to change careers; people love to say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Even if that same logic applied to human beings, I happen to know for a fact that you can teach an old dog new tricks. And what’s more, there is no such thing as “too old” to pursue a life that you live with purpose and passion. Mid-life is in no way too far along to make positive changes; it’s the middle! It’s right there in the name. Like all changes, switching up your career will take planning and action. It will probably be an uneven process, with some steps forward and some steps back.
You can’t make a change until you come to accept exactly where you are starting. Begin with surrendering; you will experience a great shift in your life that will include emotions and events beyond your control. You have done what you could with the career you are leaving, and now you are on to a new adventure. Come to terms with the idea that this is the end of your chapter as a teacher, doctor, or accountant. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), the tool Radical acceptance highlights the importance of accepting things as they are radically, wholeheartedly, and non-judgmentally before healthy changes can be made.
This step will require mindfulness and may include affirmations you write on a post-it and stick on your mirror, or say aloud, or both. “I had a productive career as an accountant, and now I am doing something else,” or, “I helped many people as a doctor; I am excited to make an impact in a different way.” Something that affirms that your previous career choice had a purpose, taught you, challenged you, made a difference. Something that shifts your focus toward the future.
The first step in taking action toward the career change is to assess what will bring you joy and passion. This ensures that you are not making an impulsive decision about changing your career. Yes, it is good to get out of toxic situations, but that is only one part of this equation. The other part is knowing where you want to go. By reconnecting with yourself, you are able to consider where you want to go next.
Make sure you engage in a value exploration. This means that you put some time and thought into identifying the values that have changed in your life that may play a role in this transition. A high value may sometimes be a financial one, i.e., you may decide that you want to make more money. On the other hand, maybe the value that has become a priority is traveling, so you want to start a new career that allows you to travel more. From there, you might consider if you want to work less or pursue a job that you can take with you wherever you go. A high priority for you in mid-life may be caring for others, such as aging parents, friends or siblings who are single parents, or your child(ren). All of these reasons (and more) are okay. No one value is inherently more important than the other. It is about what matters to you. The goal is to have insight and awareness about your current value system that is playing a role in the need for the career change.
Other people will not always understand your decisions. It can be embarrassing or intimidating to share your new decision with others, especially if you are the only person in your circle
who has made a change of this nature. Sometimes our loved ones don’t support our decisions right away; not because they are bad people or don’t care about us, but because they are afraid and worried about us. While you can empathize with their concern, you still need to learn how to set healthy boundaries so that their opinions don’t shape your decisions.
Remember: it is not them who are living your life. It’s you. You are the person who has to get up every day and walk the path you’re on. The people around you may have similar values and priorities to yours, but that doesn’t mean they’re in the same situation. Their concern might feel personal, but could actually just be their reaction to seeing someone they care about doing something unexpected. They may get hung up on what your career change “means”; maybe they’re “the next thing to go.” Ideally, if they are worried that your new endeavors will change things between you, they are able to articulate that to you so that you can have a conversation about it and get on the same page.
You are allowed to change and evolve. It is okay to realize that you are not where you were 10, 15, 20 years ago, and therefore the career you pursued many years ago doesn’t match the person you are today.
It is not just what others think that may get in your way, but also your own negative self-talk. Do you have thoughts that criticize you harshly? Do you mock yourself? When was the last time you thought about pursuing a goal and approached it with confidence and optimism?
Anytime we make changes, we need to have our own back, which means having supportive thoughts about our decision and journey. Our thoughts are in our heads all the time, so it is helpful if those thoughts are saying things that benefit us. You might be thinking, “I can’t help my thoughts!” It is true that the way we think is often in a pattern; if it’s a negative one, it may take some time to create a new pattern. A good place to start is to imagine that your negative thought was just communicated to you by a friend. How would you respond to that person? Try saying it aloud; literally, talk over the voice in your head that is putting you down. You can choose to look in the mirror when you speak to yourself in more supportive words (if you are somewhere with a mirror available). It will also help you to set aside some time to think and journal about all the ways your plan can go right instead of wrong. You may want to do this in therapy. Designated time to cheer yourself on allows you to practice it until it becomes more of a habit.
Making midlife career changes will look different for everyone. For some of you, you may have to keep your day job while attending extra courses in the evening. For others, maybe you have some savings that will allow you to make the transition to the new job immediately. Any change requires you to create an action plan and be realistic about the steps you will need to take to get to your end goal.
A great way to take one step at a time is to set a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goal in the first place. Specific: what exact job will you be doing? Measurable: you will know you’ve achieved your goal when you have the job. Achievable: is this actually possible at this time? Are you qualified/prepared? Relevant: are you pursuing this new job for a purpose? Time-Bound: by when will you have achieved your goal? These aspects of the goal help you focus on your priorities, what you can achieve realistically, and where you’d like to be.
Changing your career is a big step, but it consists of a bunch of smaller steps. Staying focused on why you want to make that change and how you will be able to approach it will enable you to keep moving forward. As we enter mid-life, most of us still have decades left of work ahead of us. Do you want to spend the next several years of your life doing something that makes you feel defeated and drained, just because you’ve spent the last several years doing it? Or do you want to spend the next several years making the money you deserve; spending time how you want to; doing something that inspires you? The choice really is yours, and you are entitled to make that choice for yourself.
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with one our Client Care Coordinators.
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