Mid-career change can be difficult. Plan A, on the other hand, is familiar. You have a career and are moving forward while you buy a house, send the kids to school, and try and save a few bucks for retirement. There’s an assumption working here, that your career will continue to provide personal and financial satisfaction as long as it lasts. What if instead, as you approach your mid-50s, your work starts to lose meaning or the road ahead looks like it is not worth taking.

The Midlife Career Dilemma

Lots of people would be surprised at how many of their midlife (45 -55) colleagues feel stuck in their current jobs. They experience both organizational and introspective signals that they are in the wrong place, in a situation that is no longer a good fit. The obvious solution – to find a new and different position – can seem too risky to consider seriously. So, many unhappy midlife executives and managers hunker down and try to endure the next 10-15 years. There is another way, a Plan B.

MId-career Change

Richard Leider, in his book Work Reimagined: Uncover Your Calling, uses the analogy of travel to describe the process of getting ready to start in a new direction in mid-career. He describes the process of unpacking your bags as deciding to carefully reexamine all the assumptions about previous decisions about how to construct a good life. What are the elements of a satisfactory career going forward? Are you happy with decisions about geography and relationships, both personal and organizational?

Questions for Your New Direction

Leider goes on to describe the process of constructing a new set of assumptions about how to live out the good life. He conceptualizes it as repacking one’s bags for the journey into the later years. So if you want to repack your career, make a mid-career change,  the following questions can prove helpful:

  • As you review the highlights of your working life is there a pattern to the moments that you experienced significant successes?
  • What motivated you to perform at your best? Was it being a leader or doing something meaningful? Was it pioneering something new and unusual, or was it finding efficiencies in essential processes?
  • What parts of the various assignments did you hate or what did you love doing that you would want to do again?
  • What would you consider an ideal job? Can you describe it?  What subject matter would you work on? What sort of organization would be attractive now – a startup or an established industry leader?
  • How important is money at this stage? Do you have enough to cover your responsibilities now so money can be less critical in your next choice?
  • Can you list 5 or 6 accomplishments that would give a prospective employer the confidence to make an offer?
  • Is there someone in your current network doing the sort of work you are considering who you can talk with?
  • Can you answer the question – “tell me what you are looking for?”

If you can handle these questions, then you are ready to start exploring whether there is an opportunity for mid-career change that you want to pursue. Not venturing out can feel safe but can often lead to long-time regret. Be brave.

Peter Sherer is a nationally recognized career coach who offers clarity and confidence to mid-career and senior executives in transition. His rigorous assessment tools enable his clients to identify a meaningful assignment that uses all of their skills and experience in just two short days. Learn more and get in touch with Peter today.