Five Questions to Ask Yourself before a Mid-Life Career Change

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on March 14, 2016

Do you like your job? For many Americans, the answer to that question is a big "no." Around 70 percent of us hate work or are actively disengaged from our jobs. This figure doesn't get any better with tenure. Among the over 45 age group, 80% of workers have considered changing careers to eliminate the Monday morning blues. Disappointingly, only 6% actually do.

Proactively looking for new and more fulfilling ways of working can ignite a new-found passion for work and stop you from feeling bored, unhappy or worn out. Yet, while Millennials may be quick to make a change, workers in midlife often feel that it is too risky to embark on a new career. Rather than stepping out of their comfort zones, they put their heads down and accept the long, hard slog towards retirement.

It doesn't have to be that way however. Here are five questions which, when answered, should give you the confidence to leave a job you hate - before it's too late.

1. What really matters to me?

Research tells us that people want different things from their careers at different stages in their life. While younger career changers may be motivated by challenge, by midlife, authenticity takes predominance. Doing work that means a lot to you personally often brings the greatest rewards.

Ask yourself, what really matters to you? What would you wish to leave as your legacy? How do these values translate into the career options you are exploring? If you're stuck for inspiration, think back to what you loved to do as a child. A recent article in the New York Times demonstrated how childhood dreams can inspire a truly rewarding second career.

2. What skills and abilities do I possess that I could take to a new place?

Many midlifers are fearful of making a change because they think they are not qualified. This is a mistake. While it is true that the careers landscape has changed, and is continually changing, people fundamentally are using the same skills, talents and abilities as they always have. Communication skills, problem-solving skills and a strong work ethic will always impress an employer. It's worth making a list of these skills and figuring out how you can package them into something that's attractive to companies.

3. What do I need to know about this new career?

Getting lots of information is essential - otherwise you might end up as underwhelmed in your new career as you were in your old one. Ask lots of questions, get some work experience under your belt, and ask to shadow someone. Figure out how the worst day in a possible new career compares to the worst day in your current career. And don't jump ship until you are certain that it will be a good move.

4. Am I financially strong?

To make a career switch you need to be financially stable. Midlife is a time when out-of-pocket expenses may rise significantly, especially if you are paying for your children's college tuition or directing more of your money into retirement savings. It's essential that you keep a reserve fund to help you through the career transition. Otherwise, you might not be able to afford re-training or, heaven forbid, your health insurance.

5. Will anyone hire you?

Sorry to give a reality check but it's a bad job market in some careers right now. If you have a burning desire to become a flight attendant, or a desktop publisher, or a florist, be aware that these jobs are quickly disappearing. You may be competing against hundreds of other candidates, and they all may be more qualified than you are. You might have to relocate to get a job, or you might have to work part-time. Could you do that?

A better way of looking at it is to consider what's going on in the world. Smart technology, demographic shifts, and any number of other things could have an impact on jobs in your area. Stay as informed as you can, and be open to new ways of working or careers that you might not have thought about before.

The bottom line is, there's a lot at stake for midlife newbies. Mortgage payments, credit card debts, dependent children and your own fear can all ax a possible career change. Against this background, reinventing yourself can seem like an impossible task. But with a lot of research and a robust plan, anyone can step off the established career path and find meaningful work that they enjoy.

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a B2B tech copywriter and the editorial director here at Truity. When she’s not writing to a deadline, she’s geeking out about personality psychology and conspiracy theories. Jayne is a true ambivert, barely an INTJ, and an Enneagram One. She lives with her husband and daughters in the UK. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Guest (not verified) says...

Soon to be retired from one job that I enjoy but definitely need a change. The transition is tough because of the need to separate myself from my existing position and pursue other options is time consuming. It is like going through a separation from a relationship because in is emotional and yet challenging. I want to accomplish this amicably but my present employment position makes it harder to accomplish this ambition.

However going forward I realize that I need to plan my time I have available to start making this transition work for me and my family. This may mean compromising my values to commit myself to making this work especially since I am under an employment contract that only allows for certain free time options.

It is not the fear of being a good prospect for someone to hire after I leave it is making some arrangements soon so I can visualize my options going forward.

This will assist me in making this transition work well. it is just doing it without consent fro my employer but by using what is accessible to me.

M (not verified) says...

I'd suggest another question: Is it the job or is it the environment that makes you unhappy?

Personally, it's taken me a good few years of searching to realise that it's not the profession that makes me unhappy. Rather I just can't stand the corporate life. Consider your other options:
-Can you work on a contract/freelance basis instead of as an employee?
-Do you want to start your own business?
-How about learning to be an investor?

For me, these options are much more interesting and therefore I will try them all. There's loads of help out there too. I only wish I'd known about them when I was starting my career!

Kim Dority (not verified) says...

A very realistic take on this topic - especially when the temptation to leap into something else, ANYTHING else, can be overwhelming. One way to deal with that sense of frustration is to really focus on #3 and start investing time and energy into learning more about potential employers, industry trends, areas of specialization that might make use of your existing knowledge base, etc. This is a great time to start really hitting those informational interviews to get a sense of your true options.

Wanjiru (not verified) says...

Very informative. Yes, one can be ready to change a career if one can answer the question "what really matters?" then we are well self aware of ourselves, something that most people long for.

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