For many women in their 40s and 50s, midlife can be a lot like our teenage years. We’re wiser, and may not hang out late with friends, but we can experience the same restlessness and yearning for change.
We’re asking what we want from life and what’s next. Only now the questions are more profound. This time, we don’t want to settle for anything less than what truly brings us joy.
This is especially true in our work. We want to be able to pay our bills, support a family, save for retirement. But we want our work to be more fulfilling and to have a positive impact as well. We ask ourselves, “If not now, when?”
Often, we find ourselves at an inflection point in our careers. Either we are dissatisfied with what we are doing, or we realize we are in conflict with who we are at our core.
We may hang on to what’s comfortable and not know how to move forward. For some of us, it takes a company layoff or personal tragedy to nudge us toward a new goal that fires our soul.
These moments become pivot points in our careers and the perfect time to act on our unfulfilled dreams. Because our work is one of the most profound ways we can honor our true selves.
But there’s a difference between knowing and doing. We worry that pursuing our passions would be risky or even selfish, especially if it means loss of income or changed relationships with family and friends.
“We often hesitate to follow our hearts, to grow, because of perceived barriers,” writes Carole Kanchier in Dare to Change Your Job — and Your Life.
The two biggest barriers are fear and confusion.
We think: “I’m too old to change. If I switch jobs now, I’ll have to start over at the bottom. What if I fail, then what?” Fear is normal, and it’s important to acknowledge it. There are numerous tactics to help you through the fear. The most powerful may be looking to others who’ve gone through life/career changes.
When I left my former company, I knew leaving was an opportunity for me to pursue my dream of a career in higher education. For every moment that I was excited about the possibility of developing the next generation of leaders, there were moments of doubt.
I wondered if my corporate experience and coaching skills would be transferable to an academic role. Confronting my fear of being inadequate was critical to being relentless in my pursuit of my dream.
I reflected on other major transitions in my life and focused on taking little steps. Creating a plan for my transition also helped me to move beyond my fear and avoid inertia.
Many of us are clearer about what we don’t want than what we do want.
We may have lived out others’ expectations for so long we’re not even sure what actually makes us happy. Or we’re not certain how to turn our many talents and skills into meaningful work.
For some, the career possibilities can be confusing — and overwhelming. To overcome these feelings, it is important to clarify what you really want. Don’t worry if you don’t have every single detail figured out. Begin by outlining what’s possible in your next career move.
A career coach may help you sharpen your focus and goals, guide you to imagine and create a path to your next career, one that isn’t just a job, but a whole new life.
Surround yourself with people who share your same passion or enthusiasm for pursuing meaningful work. Identify people in your network with whom you can confide in and provide insight on your next move.
I received guidance from mentors, advocates and close friends. My circle of influence provided me with multiple perspectives, inspiration and a kick in the pants when needed it. Their support helped me embrace the uncertainty and ultimately realize my dream of doing meaningful work.
Whether you yearn for a new career or want to transform how you do your present job, making a change in midlife can bring new energy and joy for life. Like being a teenager again — only better.
Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.