After nine years with one company, I got a pink slip. It was inevitable. The company had been sold several times, and with each takeover, my department's budget and staff shrank. Nonetheless, when the day arrived, it was a blow. With more than 25 years of experience in marketing and related fields, I knew finding a job to replace the one I lost would be difficult.
A few months later, I had probably sent out hundreds of resumes, resulting in exactly one interview. I didn't get an offer. It was time to try a different approach.
Honestly evaluating my strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, dreams and goals, I quickly realized that I didn't want to spend another minute marketing other people's stuff, but I wasn't clear what my options were.
One afternoon at Lemuria Books, Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity" (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002, $16.99) kind of jumped into my hand. I had considered myself an artist once upon a time, but that was long ago. Perhaps, I thought, what I needed was a jump-start back to that way of thinking. I paid for my copy and began reading and following Cameron's suggestions that very day.
Long story short, that book was the beginning of my journey to change careers. At the tender age of 50, I began an internship with the Jackson Free Press that, five years later, has me in the managing editor's spot. It's been great fun and hard work. Best of all, I've learned more in the past five years than in the last 10 years of my previous career.
Changing careers at mid-life isn't all that unusual. Sometimes, as in my case, a change occurs because of a layoff or a company closes its doors. Other folks just reach the point where they find their work boring and unsatisfying. AARP reports that about 6 percent of workers over 50 re-evaluate their jobs and careers.
At midlife, we're frequently empty nesters and often single again (or for the first time). Often, our passions have cooled for big money and power. It's natural to become more reflective, interested in simplifying and making a lasting impact.
If you're considering a career change, here are tips for a successful transition:
• Take inventory. Make lists of your accomplishments, competencies and satisfactions. "Affirming your valuable experience and successes helps ground you in your strengths and remind you of what you do well. It serves as a compass and provides refueling for the journey ahead," writes Ellen Ostrow on About.com. If you find yourself struggling, ask your family and friends to help with your lists.
• Clarify your values. What's important to you in your work—creativity, autonomy, intellectual stimulation, power, money, making a difference?
• What do you love to do? What if money were no object? I love yoga, for example, and I love to teach. I combined the two and learned how to teach yoga. It doesn't pay much, especially because I only teach a couple of classes a week, but I enjoy it.
• Gather information. Once you've narrowed down what's important, it's time to figure out what kinds of jobs or careers might match. Check job sites and classified ads. Visit a college career library. Make a list of possible and interesting matches, even if they sound implausible.
• Talk to people already in those jobs or careers. Ask what they love and hate about their job, how they got where they are and if they can offer any advice.
• Learn new skills. It's never too late to go back to school. You may need to brush up on some things, need special certification or even a different degree.
• Offer to work for free or take a pay cut if you can afford it. An internship is a great opportunity to try out a new career. Also look for intra-company opportunities.
• Network. Go to where people in your desired career network, including professional association meetings and chambers of commerce. Mine your contacts for information. In addition to face-to-face networking, don't forget social networking sites such as LinkedIn.
• Rewrite your resume to highlight the skills you have acquired throughout your career that are relevant and transferable to your new job.
• Relax and enjoy the journey. Nothing is written in stone. Changing a career can be scary and frustrating, but it can also be invigorating, exhilarating and liberating. If you can embrace it, this can be one of the most rewarding times of your life.
• About.com Job Searching (http://jobsearch.about.com)
• Forbes magazine "Making a Midlife Career Change."