Midlife Career Change. A perfect time to reconsider what you really want to do with your life - 10 tips to help you ...

As exciting as it sounds to make a midlife career change, the reality is that you may find it's one of the hardest things you have ever done.

By midlife you've spent years building up the credibility, salary, benefits, status and lifestyle that you are currently living. No matter how much you are due for a change, the thought of a midlife career change makes you feel like you're throwing away all that hard work. What will happen? How will the bills get paid? Why are you thinking that you need to change anything? Your spouse, family and friends will probably think you're crazy. Yet, the thought persists that you need to make a change.

To move forward it's often helpful to imagine what will happen if you don't make a change.

In 2009 a study was published in the UK by Mike Bowman of More Than Business. The survey included 500 people over the age of 60. He found that almost three-quarters of the people he interviewed “had significant regrets about their choice of work”. A quarter of them said they stayed in their jobs far too long, and a third of them said they regretted never having started their own business.

Although the study was done in England, I can bet a similar study done anywhere in the western world would yield similar results. It certainly rang true for me. Somewhere deep inside us we know when it's time for a change. Will you be like one of the people in the UK study with "signficant regrets" or are you ready to get on with your midlife career change?

Some people figure out early in life exactly what they love to do and then proceed to do it. But for many of us, we either went down the wrong road to begin with or have found ourselves in a career that is no longer fulfilling. There comes a time when we realize there’s something missing and we need to make a change - a BIG change.

I'm not going to tell you there's an easy solution to a midlife career change. It takes time to decide what you really want to do. But I can tell you there's a process that you can work through, there are steps you can take, there's planning you can do, there are dreams to be considered before you decide to bag it and put your nose to the grindstone in your corporate job for another ten or fifteen years (assuming your employer wants to keep you that long).

Here are 10 tips to help you with your midlife career change based entirely on what I learned during mine:

1. Give yourself time.

Making a midlife career change isn't the same as hopping to another job like you did in your 20's. This time around you want to make sure you consider your lifestyle, your dreams, your goals. It took me almost 2 years to finally make the leap - don't be in a rush.

2. Start getting your financials in order, even if you don't know what you want to do yet.

Instead of spending your bonus on an expensive vacation or a new car, bank it - and put it someplace where it can serve you when you need it later - either to fund a new business, some education, or to pay bills while you're transitioning between careers. If you're a two-income family, can you try living on one income and banking the second income? Pay off all your credit card debt as fast as you can. Are you ready to downsize into a smaller home if your family has grown up and moved out?

3. Dream for a while.

Not forever - but give yourself the luxury of dreaming about what you would rather be doing. One of my corporate colleagues used to joke on a bad day that he'd like to work at Trader Joe's so he can wear his Hawaiian shirts every day. Probably your dreams are bigger than this - but the point is to have some fun with it. What would you really rather be doing? This is your midlife career change - there is no wrong answer - it's your life.

4. Know your strengths.

What are your natural talents, your gifts? How can you use your strengths to build a new career? What kind of knowledge and experience do you have that will help you? Put all of these on a list. Some people like to build a career portfolio to document what they have and where they've been - at this stage in your life there's probably a lot to compile. Seeing all your accomplishments can help build confidence and see a bigger picture during your midlife career change. It will also remind you of things you've done that you loved, experiences that have been fulfilling.

5. Do some research.

Some of your dreams have merit in terms of income potential. With a little bit of research you'll figure out which ones those are. Who is out there already doing what you want to do? Who is making money doing what you dream of doing? How can you move toward that kind of work? Do you need some education? Do you need to start your own business? Do you just need to figure out how to find a job in a different industry or sector? Your research should help you get focused and bring a more practical aspect to your dreams - one that will lead to concrete midlife career change actions.

6. Get clear on your personal life vision.

Once you've done some dreaming you have a better idea of the things you want to do, the lifestyle you want to live, your goals. If your dreams are compelling you will feel excited and ready to do something about it. While you're still feeling this way - write it down. A clear vision is the single most important thing you can do right now if you want a successful midlife career change. This is not the time for fuzzy thinking - that wastes your time and energy and leave you in murky areas. Clarity is key. Imagine what you truly want and write it down. Once again, there are no wrong answers.

7. Make a plan.

Once you have some focus you then need a plan. Most of us hate doing this so keep it simple. I started with a list of things that I thought I should do. Just a simple list on 1 page. When I look back at that old list it wasn't so far off the mark. Usually there are some big categories (buy a new PC, refinance the house to lower the monthly payment, put together a business plan, quit job, etc.) All of the big categories eventually break down into smaller tasks when you're ready to tackle them.

I like having a timeline associated with my plans so I made a Gantt chart (by hand) and scheduled in all the tasks to see how long it would all take. Since I was working full-time and doing a lot of business travel utilizing my spare time in the best way was of great importance. You're probably juggling a lot of things, too, so putting some time estimates on your tasks is a big help to help you get your head around the amount of time needed to do these things.

8. Take at least 1 action every day.

This is usually where we all fall down on the job, so to speak. You've got this list of things and they seem insurmountable. And because the list is too big you don't do anything. Here's how to get past this - don't think about all the things you have to do -- just find 1 thing you can do today and do it. Then get on with your life. These small things will add up over time and suddenly you'll realize you've made a lot of progress.

9. Be flexible.

Sometimes the idea you start out with is not the idea you end up with. This is especially true if you're starting a business. Usually you have an idea that seems right, but as you do your research and learn more it starts morphing into something different. As long as it's still leading to the things you want to do most in life, the things that will make you happy and fulfilled, then it's okay.

10. When you have a relapse and think you should just keep working your current job - stop and take an imagination break.

Imagine what your life will look like in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years -- if you keep doing what you're doing. There are reasons that you want a midlife career change. There's something motivating you to want to do this. Envisioning "no change" should scare you. Thinking about sitting in that cubicle and answering to clueless bosses (probably several years younger than you) for another 10 or 15 years should scare you. If it doesn't scare you then maybe things aren't bad enough to motivate change. Or maybe your life vision isn't compelling enough. Look at it again - what's missing?

We're human - it's normal to try and avoid change. None of us actually want anything to change even when we know it will make our lives better. And even when we're miserable where we are right now. Just remember that freedom in this life is all about doing what you want to do -- and that includes doing the work you want to do. It's your contribution to the world. It's how you spend the largest part of your time.

What do you really want to do with the rest of your life? When you have a clear answer to this question you will be ready to move forward with your midlife career change.

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