How to navigate a career change at 50

How to navigate a career change at 50
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Is this you: somewhere in ‘midlife’ and hate your job?  Well, you’re not alone. The Office for National Statistics reports that an increasing number of ‘middle-aged’ people in the UK now change careers. So, while it isn’t always easy, midlife career change is certainly a thing!  If you want a career change at 50, it is possible.  I’m a professional career change coach, and I’d love to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years to help you navigate that change

I can’t put up with this any more

Midlife and why you should have a career change coach

Life, as John Lennon said, is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. We get so caught up in the daily grind that we take our eye off the ball at work.

But then there’s a wake up call…

  • A review of the finances revealing that you’re going to need an income for another decade or two. You can’t just keep your head down and soldier on for a few more years before getting a fat pension
  • Changes in your family life – divorce, ‘empty nest’, your parents suddenly needing more support
  • A less than positive performance review at work
  • A ‘significant’ birthday or death in the family triggers thoughts about time being finite
  • Seeing a friend taking a ‘midlife gap year’, getting a great new job
  • Stress related illness – back pain, migraine, anxiety

A career change at 50 is about so much more than the career itself.

I hate my job: How did I get here?

Career change at 50

‘I hate my job’. It might be a flash of insight at three in the morning. Or a gnawing feeling that crystalises over time. And once you’ve accepted that you’re just not happy, you start wondering how you got to this point.

In my work as a career coach, and specifically a midlife career change coach, I see some typical scenarios:

  • You’re sick of the rat race, corporate politics and poor work life balance. What used to feel exciting and motivating is now getting you down
  • You’re in ‘middle management’ feeling under-utilised and under-valued. You realise that there aren’t enough senior roles to go round and are aware of younger people snapping at your heels
  • You fell into your job and then just drifted along without asking too many questions. You’ve always seen work as a necessary evil
  • You’re holding on for the next pay rise or bonus. You’ve half heartedly applied for a few things, heard nothing back. This confirms your fears that it’s your age or lack of skills

What’s stopping me making a mid-life career change?

So you’ve decided that things need to change. What’s holding you back?

First, a reality check. It may be that you have so many responsibilities and commitments that it’s just not the right time. If you’ve recently suffered a bereavement, been through a relationship breakup or relocated you may not feel strong enough for another shake up.  It could make good sense to delay.

But we have all sorts of other reasons for procrastinating:

  • One of the barriers I see most frequently is lack of self-belief. Working in an unfulfilling role can grind you down and people often worry that they are ‘too old to start again’. Interestingly, this can happen at any time after the age of 35 typically.  Changing careers at 40 can feel incredibly daunting in a world where these kind of issues are still not talked about freely
  • Family and friends who worry for you, or perhaps don’t want you to upset the apple cart, can try to persuade you to hang on in there.  A career change at 50 can feel like a high-risk strategy
  • Many of us fear change. In my case, I enjoyed the familiarity and security of working for a multi-national pharmaceutical and it took me a long time to get out of my comfort zone and reinvent myself as a coach (I’m so glad I did!)
  • Some people simply have no idea what else they could do and feel they have little to offer. They lack direction, motivation and support

An example based on one of my midlife career change clients (name and details changed to preserve anonymity):

Career change coach

Career change at 50: Let me tell you about Janet

Janet was 48 when I first spoke to her. She had built her career in a global life assurance company and was now a business project manager. At our introductory meeting Janet told me that the company had become less ‘human’ and more driven by process and profit. She had frequently faced the threat of redundancy. Janet said: I hate my job and I hate this industry. I don’t want to rely on my husband’s income as our relationship is a bit rocky and I’d love to do something that feels worthwhile. But if I leave I don’t know what else to do, my CV is way out of date and I just can’t ‘sell’ myself at interviews.

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want

People in midlife often talk about career change but usually it’s more significant than simply moving from one type of work to another. Some of the underlying themes I see are:

  • Money vs job satisfaction – Financial security for ourselves and our dependents is really important. Yet, getting older can also bring the realisation that ‘you can’t take it with you’ and that quality of life may be less about possessions and more about self actualisation
  • Midlife crisis – we internalise the idea that we are mortal. This shift in thinking can result in the desire to leave some sort of ‘legacy’
  • The last hurrah – wanting to finally nail that super-senior position, find the dream job, ‘do me’ at work
  • Downsizing – wanting to move out of the corporate world into self-employment, a not-for-profit organisation, a startup or a smaller company where the culture and ways of working feel more in line with our personal values

Midlife career change – where do I begin?

  • It’s good to start with a cool analysis of your situation. What’s the bottom line on finances, what are your transferable skills, is it feasible to retrain, are you in a good place psychologically to make a big transition?
  • The next step is exploration and research. If you already know your heart’s desire then you’ll need to start finding out if/how you could break into this field. If you just know you want ‘something different’ then it’s about fact-finding, learning and experimenting
  • Either way, networking is essential. Repeated research indicates that over 70% of jobs are found via contacts. And, once you get over feeling awkward, it can be a great way to get information, ideas and leads 
  • Even when you’re pretty sure what kind of work you want, it’s important to define it as clearly as possible. An accountant in a global media company will have a completely different working life from an accountant working with say, small businesses
  • Before making the grand gesture and handing in your notice, you’ll need an action plan with realistic steps and timescales

Career Coaching

A key part of midlife career change is having the right support. Family and friends may be on board but they often have an axe to grind or just don’t have enough time to help. Not surprisingly, I suggest finding a good career change coach for neutral, professional input!

A coach can be a partner on your career change journey, someone to help you test your assumptions, ask searching questions, acknowledge your successes. And knowing that you are accountable to someone else is a great incentive to get on with things.

Going back to my client Janet, career coaching helped her to identify her transferable skills, examine what ‘worthwhile work’ meant for her, revamp her CV, rebuild her self-belief. Together, we  discovered that ideally, she would like to be in project management in a healthcare role supporting the community. Janet started to explore possibilities and talk to people in the field. With a new confidence and energy she applied for a project/event manager role in a high profile cancer charity.

Janet emailed me after the interview to say: I’m delighted I’ve been offered the job. Even though the pay is slightly lower, I’ll gain lots of great experience and I can see myself working in this area for the next 10 or 15 years.

This is not the dress rehearsal – this is the live performance

If you think you might want to make a midlife career change, ask yourself – where am I now, where do I want to go next, how do I get there? You’ll need positive mental attitude, resilience, a willingness to try, fail and try again, oodles of self-confidence. It will be important to have support from those around you or from a professional. Plus a bit of flexibility, creativity and knowing where you are prepared to compromise.

Career change at 50 is possible

Is it worth it? Well, we only get to go round once – as they say, this is not the dress rehearsal! We owe it to ourselves to give it our best shot. Whatever age you are, change is possible.  Changing careers at 40 is possible, career change at 50 is possible.  But you have to believe it, you have to grasp the opportunities as they come your way and you have to ask for help.

Janet concluded: ‘I’m enjoying work in a way I’ve never done before. I was feeling really stuck but I’m so glad I made the switch. I can honestly say I’m really looking forward to the future now’.

Dr Lesley Trenner – professional midlife career coach

Lesley is a highly qualified coach with particular expertise in helping people make successful midlife transitions such as career change and balancing work with eldercare. Before setting up her own business, Lesley was an Organisational Change specialist for the pharmaceutical giant GSK. She is ICF accredited and has worked with 100s of clients from senior executives to job changers in a variety of fields. Using proven coaching techniques, empathy, intuition and humour, Lesley helps clients build confidence, create goals and find work that they love.  Lesley is based in London and sees clients face to face or via Skype or Facetime


Further reading on midlife career change

Orientating yourself is one of the first steps to making a change. This article looks at how to analyse yourself and your own personality to help you answer the question, what do I want to do?

The world is not orientated to those wanting to change careers later in life. Have a read of this article that looks at why this is so challenging and what you can do about it.


Useful websites

Careershifters is a great place to start, with lots of useful resources and a team of coaches offering support and workshops across the country.

Chasing our Financial Freedom from Corina Denov has a lot of useful content on career change and is well worth a look.


One to watch…

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. The need to transition through the various stages of life is difficult. Becoming stuck in ones career can weigh heavy on the mind and how you view your life. With the right support, skills and mindset it is never too late to make the change that will turn the way you feel about your live around.
    This article gives hope to those who may feel trapped and who need help.

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