U Turn: How to Switch Careers Midlife


by Louise Hayes

What is a midlife crisis? The term often comes up in sitcoms and movies in relation to humorous situations faced by characters who suddenly come face-to-face with the reality of their aging. Often, they decide to go into denial by feigning youth and vigour.

Invented by Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in the 60s to describe the episode that many people live through when they finally realize at around 45 that they do not have an endless supply of youth and time to count on, the term midlife crisis has been highly influential.

The depth of the anxiety that people tend to feel about not achieving the dreams that they set out with, though, is no laughing matter. It’s a force to be harnessed, something that can make people stop coasting, and start acting. In real life, people respond not by cheating on their spouses to prove their vitality to themselves, but by thinking of a career change. It’s a wonderful thing to do, rather than the ineffective thrashing of the clueless.

If anything, it’s at 40 or 45 that a person truly begins to understand for the first time what he really is good at, and what he wants out of a career. Such a change is a reasoned move towards a well-thought-out career choice.

As natural and essential as it may be, a career switch can be difficult
The problem with career switches is that people tend to receive little education in how to find one’s calling. While some people find theirs with ease, others simply have no clue, stumbling into one of various ready-made options for want of better choices.

It’s the same with midlife career switches. No ‘right’ career choice is going to simply offer itself up. All you will ever feel is unhappiness with the current state of your life.

The fact that many self-help books keep talking about how you should love what you do doesn’t help, either. It tends to be misleading to people to hear of the word ‘love’. Love for a choice of career tends to feel not like love of chocolate or a favorite TV show; rather, it tends to feel like a quiet, but powerful internal drive. It takes time to find it.

How do one go about working on what you love?
Identifying your passion can help take some investigation. Taking personality tests is one way. Most people make the mistake, though, of not educating themselves in the myriad possibilities open to them. There are only a few well-known vocations that get consideration. Going to a resource like O.Net can help you actually find a few obscure choices that might work for you.

How exactly do you make that switch?
Even once you do identify what you want to do, making the actual switch proved to be challenging. It can be hard to get any hiring manager to pay attention to you when you have no experience. One of the secrets of making a major move, then, is to break the move down into smaller moves.


As an example, if you are a doctor, and want to move to managing a luxury hotel, it’s a huge switch. When you apply to a management position in the hospitality industry, they are going to shoo you away the moment they see that you have no experience in management or hospitality. It is an option, though, to make the move one step at a time.


You could first move to a management position that calls for medical expertise, perhaps one at a pharmaceutical company. People would give you a chance, because you do have medical experience, if not management experience. Once you gain some management experience, you could move to the hospitality industry. Neither career switch would be a very big deal on its own, and you would be welcomed at each stage.


According to HELettings.co.uk, the home lettings major, many people making midlife career switches tend to choose real estate. For those who are talented in dealing with people, a switch to a career in real estate tends to be particularly attractive.


It’s important to be practical
Self-help books have mined the midlife career switch market by telling people that nothing stops them from doing anything they want. As much truth is there may be in such encouragement, it tends to go overboard, pushing people to do things that they really couldn’t. It’s important to not rush headlong into anything that one dreams of; rather, it makes sense to try things that one is likely to actually be good at.


A person with a past in financial management may or may not do well working as talent in the movies. He may do well as a film production accountant or manager, though. It’s important to find an angle that speaks to one’s strengths and helps one stay in touch with one’s dreams.


Louise Hayes has carved out a career in recruitment and likes to share her career-planning insights online. She is a regular writer for a number of recruitment and business websites.

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