How to Change Careers at 30, 40, 50+

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About ten years ago I was having a conversation with my literature professor in college about what I should do after graduation. The subject had been stressing me out a great deal. “Well,” my professor said. “I think one of my favorite jobs was herding sheep. That was in Ireland.” I looked up at him in surprise. “You were a shepherd?” I asked. “When you get to be my age,” he said, “You’ve lived many lives.”


I didn’t leave our conversation knowing any better what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I did feel more calm about the whole issue. Here I had been thinking that after graduation I would have to choose one line of work and then stick with it till retirement. It was nice to remember that there’s room in life for multiple paths, passions, and changes of heart and of mind. 


People in their early twenties change jobs almost as often as haircuts, but for people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s the decision can be more fraught with anxiety. People worry that their resume won’t carry over into a new field, or that it’s too late to learn something new, or that it’s just not a good time in their life to take a risk – especially if they have a partner, children or a mortgage to worry about as well. 


But if you have the itch to try something new, you shouldn’t let fear get in your way. Here are some tips for people brave enough to make a transition in their careers:It’s Never Too Late to Learn.


1.It’s Never Too Late to Learn

Many career shifts will require that someone go back to school to study. This can be the first obstacle in the way of individuals in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s+ as they plan their career move. After all, college is often thought of as something for 18-year-olds. The truth is, actually, that a whopping 38% of college students are over the age of 25. You may not be joining a sorority or a frat this time around, but that doesn’t mean you’re beyond the age of getting an education.


Many adults find it easier to attend online universities or take night courses, this way they can complete their degree while keeping up with their other responsibilities to their families or current jobs. Finding a program that fits with your schedule is key. It will be a challenge, but it’s a short-term investment with a big payoff when you graduate and find yourself qualified for an exciting new career. Pursuing a specialized undergraduate certificate program often proves to be a beneficial option.  


2.You Haven’t Wasted Time

Many people, when transitioning careers, feel like they are losing out on the investment of time they’ve made in their current career. I don’t think this is a great reason to stay with a job you don’t love, but I understand why it bothers people. 


For people who feel this fear, I suggest re-conceptualizing the issue. The time you spent in the first stage of your career was a preparation for the second.


After I graduated I worked for three years at a large company doing copywriting. I had my own cubicle and everything. Even though I stayed there for three years and got a couple of promotions, I just didn’t like the work and it never got better. I decided to make a radical change and became a teacher.


At first, this felt like a random departure. I loved teaching, though, and would have never gotten there if it wasn’t for that office job. The office job taught me very valuable things about what I’m NOT looking for. It taught me that I didn’t want a job where I’m sitting by myself all the time and that I didn’t want a job where I’m staring at a screen too much. It just wasn’t for me. If I hadn’t worked in such a job for those years, I wouldn’t have learned this important information.


3.Make a Good Plan

If you’ve been working in one field or at one company for a long time, then you may have been on auto-pilot for a while now. You know what to do, you know what’s expected of you, you know where to turn for support, etc. Changing careers a bit later in the game means that you’re going to be thrown into a world where you don’t know exactly what to do, what’s expected of you, and where to turn to support.


That’s why it’s important to make a thorough plan. Research schools thoroughly, and try to make a connection with a mentor: either someone from your school or someone already working in the field you want to work in. They can help by answering all your important questions and giving you guidance about your new career path. 


Also, make a plan for how you will balance your responsibilities while you’re studying. Discuss with your family, partner, or pet what the plan is if there is a gap between leaving your old job and starting your new one. This will minimize surprises and stress when you put this plan into motion.