I Got the Job, Part 4: How to survive a midlife career change

Embarking on a new career midlife has been scary, exhilarating, tiring, mind boggling, fun, overwhelming, humbling, and deeply rewarding. I just started on my new career last year and am still figuring things out. It is probably too early for me to be giving advice, but there are some things that I know are helping me right now that might help you too.

Do you.

There is no road map for changing course – and that’s part of the fun. Make your own way, one step at a time. Your path will not look like that of someone who knew from day one that they wanted to be a such-and-such and spent their twenties and thirties building their career – and that is just fine. Blend your past experience with your current passion and lay down the bricks for your own road. For inspiration, listen to Dr. Thema’s Homecoming Podcast episode “Being an Original.”

Take your time.

Let’s face it – when you’re older, your brain just needs a little more time. It is not a bad thing, but it can be frustrating in our now-right-now culture. Don’t cave in to the rushers. Take your time and do the work right. Everyone will benefit from your attention to detail and your experienced perspective.

Get a mentor (or a few).

When people think mentor they often think of somebody new to the work world. That is unfortunate. Everyone can benefit from the insights of people who have already been where they are trying to go. I would argue that it is sometimes more important to have a mentor when you are older because you do not have as much time left to wander. Take the initiative to find someone whom you trust and who understands your goals and priorities. Better yet, find a support group of multiple mentors with varied life experiences.

Accept that you will make mistakes.

Yes, you have less time left to screw up, but you will, so get ready for it. It is part of the process. Making a lasting contribution to your field, performing well, making a positive impression – these are all reasonable and important goals, but they are not the begin-all and end-all. Approach every experience as a learning opportunity, a means of expanding your perspective and deepening your insight. By focusing on your own learning rather than other people’s impressions, you are putting yourself first.

Master the art of listening, if you have not already.

You have lived and learned a lot. You might feel like now is the time to make your voice heard more than ever. Yes and no. Do speak up when you have something to contribute. At the same time, prioritize listening. What are people saying? How are they saying it? What are they not saying? Who speaks most often? Are people free to brainstorm, or is spontaneity frowned upon? What are the unspoken rules of communication in your environment, and do they apply equally to everyone? How is criticism or feedback given or received? Who gets praised most often and why? Do the words you hear sync with the actions you have observed? Thoughtful listening cultivates awareness and understanding and makes you a more savvy professional.

Take guidance and inspiration from younger colleagues and clients.

Inter-generational alliances have kept me inspired, invigorated, and in-the-know. Watching younger people be bold in their activism inspires me to be bolder and less fearful in my day-to-day life. Lift up and celebrate younger people and their work.

Make your health priority number one.

You will be facing some big challenges and stressors, so you need to keep your energy at peak level. Sleeping four hours a night and eating frozen meals is not a program for success (speaking from experience). You will perform better and feel calmer if you are well rested and well fed.

Keep a diary.

This can be both therapeutic for yourself and inspiring to others who come after you. Consider recording your challenges, your failures, and your triumphs. What did they mean to you, and what did you learn from them?

Carve out time for your artistic passions.

Midlife is a time to take stock and set new priorities. If there’s an art you’ve always wanted to learn, find a way to get into it, even if it’s just for a few hours a week. After all, if you don’t do it now, when will you do it? Having a non-work related passion helps you relieve stress during rocky times and keep things in perspective.

Savor this moment.

It takes guts to change course midway and pursue a new path in life. Give yourself a pat on the back. Work your booty off, but enjoy yourself in the process. This is your time.

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