Are you over 40 and afraid that you are too old to make a significant career shift? Think again, my friend. If you started your career at 22, and you are like the average American, you won’t retire until you are 66 or older! I’ll let you do your own math, but if you are 50, you still have at least a good solid decade left to do something completely different, or at least make a slight pivot that might make all the difference in your career- and life- satisfaction! I know that many reading this may believe it is possible for others, but doesn’t apply to them. Let me be clear- I am talking to you, so listen up!
After years of working with people who fervently desire a job or career change, I am convinced that we are our own worst enemy about 99% of the time. Most of us can easily list the things we don’t want to do, or are not good at, but when pressed to articulate the other side- the stuff we want to do or do more of, or even describe our ideal job situation, we adopt a blank stare.
Obviously, the first step to getting what you want is actually knowing what you want. Have you ever said “I don’t know what I want, but I know it’s not this?” Next time you go to a restaurant, try that. “I don’t know what I want, but I know I don’t want the eggplant.” The chances that you will end up with the tasty meal you desire are slim. Same goes with careers and jobs.
I get it. No one ever taught you how to actually get what you want in your career. But the process of identifying it and getting it is exactly the same, whether you are 28 or 58! The only advantage the 28 year old has is that he has a longer career runway left than the 58 year old does, so may be able to take more risks in trying new things. The 58 year old has more experience, more wisdom, more knowledge. And given that the average time in a job right now is 4.6 years, the 58 year old may be the better bet!
Your barriers are in your head, and boy, are we humans the masters of unhelpful head talk! I’m too old, no one would want me, I’m too expensive, I don’t have time to look for a new job, blah, blah, blah. Engage in that talk long enough and it becomes your truth. And that will sentence you to a life of mediocrity and career unhappiness. If that is okay with you, have at it. But if it’s not, read on.
Step #1 OWN IT
Your career is yours to manage and take action on. What do you want? I find it helpful with clients to ask a more easily answered question: What do you want more of and less of at work? Make a list. What is working for you right now? What isn’t? Is it possible to change things where you are? Sometimes it is, as long as you can clearly articulate what you want. For example, saying “I want more responsibility” is too vague. Responsibility for what? If you determine that what you want isn’t available where you are, then you need to make a decision to find it elsewhere.
Step #2 PLAN IT
You may not be able to get more of what you want right now, but you are certainly able to plan to get it. What do you need to do? Who do you need to meet? What skills or knowledge do you need to add or brush up on? Who might be looking for someone with your skills/ knowledge/interests? Attach dates to your plan and commit to getting closer to the job or career you want.
Step #3 ACT ON IT
I get it. You have a thousand other obligations. Changing your job or career is a move that should not be rushed into. Connect with people you know who have successfully changed jobs and careers over 40 to get ideas and inspiration from them. You will likely find that they had the same negative head talk you did, yet they pressed on anyway. Find ways to step carefully into your next move to build confidence. Think you want to work for a non-profit that focuses on a cause you care about? Spend a few hours a month volunteering to learn more about the work, the organization and the skills they need to determine fit. Consider two part time jobs if necessary as an interim move.
And about your age. Yep, age discrimination exists. But we have more control over it than we think.
Update your look because first impressions are so powerful. Are your glasses, your hair and your wardrobe up to date and age appropriate? An out- of-date look can signal out-of- date ideas and skills, fair or not.
Brush up your skills and knowledge At any age, it is expected that you stay current in your field, but the stereotype of not being able to teach old dogs new tricks can work against you. Be ready to discuss how you have stayed current in your field to show any networking contact or potential employer that in hiring you, they are getting an up-to-date, mature professional, not someone who is looking to coast to retirement.
Utilize technology Is your LinkedIn profile up to date and robust? If you are not a fan, get over it. Nothing says old like a failure or refusal to use tools that are commonly expected and embraced.
And yes, consider investing in a coach. This stuff is hard, and it is not your area of expertise. You likely hire someone to sell your house, do your taxes, replace your roof, so why not invest in yourself and get it done right? Trust me, you are worth it!