Making a career change is challenging at any age, but it can seem especially daunting if you’re decades into a particular path and have a family depending on you. Rather than feel excited about the prospect of starting a new career, many people feel trapped and hopeless.
When you’re unhappy in your current job but don’t see a way out, every day starts to feel like Groundhog Day — the same routine over and over again, with no end in sight. People often defer career changes because they don’t think they have the money or the time. Not only are they the primary earners in their families, but their schedules are filled with work projects and personal obligations. They can’t fathom how they could possibly prepare to make a career change at 40 (or later), which typically requires at least some new skills training, without bankrupting their families and burning professional bridges.
But as the old saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I know a guy who became a lawyer in his 40s. He started law school at 42 while working a full-time job and supporting his family. Then there’s the stay-at-home mom who became a nurse while caring for her husband and children. I’m not saying it’s not tough. But if you really want to change careers, you can — and you will.
People tell themselves two lies about why they can’t change careers: “I don’t have the money,” and “I don’t have the time.”
Let me start by saying that concerns about money are valid. Whether you’re the sole breadwinner in your family or you’re worried about saving for retirement, it’s important to consider the financial impact of pursuing a new field. However, there are ways to make changes without sacrificing your family’s security.
Thanks to the internet, it’s now incredibly easy to access free and low-cost educational resources. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) such as those offered by edX and Coursera provide access to Ivy League-level classes and certification programs. YouTube has a limitless supply of content on just about any topic you can imagine, so you can at least begin your new career training there.
Depending on what field you want to enter, you may need to join a degree program. But even then, there are loan programs, scholarships, and assistantships that can help alleviate the cost burden.
Now let’s talk about time constraints. Again, I’m not denying that this is a real concern. However, most of us have more time than we realize. Think about what you do when you come home from work. When 5 p.m. hits, where are you? Are you reading voraciously about your new field of interest? Or are you relaxing in front of the TV?
I know TV can seem like a respite after a long day, and relaxing is crucial. We need to recharge our batteries. But if you cut back your Netflix time by an hour or two each night, just think about what else you could accomplish. That might be enough time to keep up with an online university course or start building a freelance business from home. Generating income from a side business could buy you the time and financial breathing room you need to go all in on your new career.
I learned this from my friend Todd Williams, a two-time Olympic runner. After retiring from professional sports, Todd found himself working a dead-end sales job for a shoe company. At the end of each workday, Todd’s colleagues went to a local bar for happy hour to decompress before heading home, going to sleep, and getting up to do the same thing again.
Todd, on the other hand, headed to the local Brazilian jiu jitsu gym, where he worked his way up to becoming a black belt. Eventually, Todd combined his love of jiu jitsu and his sales knowledge and created his own company. He had a new lease on life when he left the shoe company and set out on his own. But that change didn’t happen overnight. He built up to it by working his sales job during the day and cultivating his passion during his free time.
Todd’s story reminded me of something a mentor once told me. He said, “Bob, you’re going to make your living from 9 to 5. You’re going to make your fortune after 5 p.m.” That advice stayed with me: Get a good, stable job to provide for your needs. Let that stability fuel your passion when you’re off the clock.
It’s also helpful to identify the worst-case scenario. Another friend of mine is a prominent real estate CEO in Atlanta, and he’s always been a risk-taker. Once, when he was discussing how he leverages his business and assets, some of his peers balked at his appetite for uncertainty. “If the economy turns, you could lose everything!” they exclaimed.
But he was unfazed. “That’s just how I’m wired,” he said. “I swing for the fences. We live in the greatest country in the world, and I know that if I lose everything, I can rebuild. I’ll find a job making $40,000, $50,000, and I’ll be able to put food on the table. I might not be driving a Maserati, but I won’t go homeless or hungry. So I have no fear.”
When we think through the worst-case scenario, we often realize that even the worst case doesn’t spell total disaster. And if we’ve prayed about our decision and feel that a career change aligns with God’s plan for us, we can be even more confident in our ability to weather the challenges that lie ahead.
There are many factors that can influence a career change. You might be so fed up with your current job that you’ve reached the point of hopelessness and desperately need to do something different. But maybe you like your job. You earn good money and enjoy positive relationships with your coworkers. Yet you have the nagging sense that you should be doing more.
I encourage you to follow that instinct. People often suppress the desire for a career change because they’re comfortable and complacent. They may not feel deeply fulfilled by their work, but they get along. They’re not miserable. So they figure they’ll just keep going as they are.
These people might think, “How am I going to change careers at 40 with no degree?” or “How would I ever get back to this salary level if I changed careers now?”
Comfortable mediocrity seems preferable to economic uncertainty.
In other cases, people desire change but don’t know what that change should look like. They know they’re unhappy in their current positions. But they’re unsure what to do next. If you fall into this category, I encourage you to take our Career Direct Assessment. Those will help you identify your core skills and determine what your next step should be.
It’s OK to not know what you want to do. Staying complacent is the problem.
When we’re comfortable in a job, it’s easy to assume that we can continue doing it indefinitely. But as many people learned in the Great Recession, economic disruption is always a heartbeat away. I knew many friends and colleagues whose comfortable lives were up-ended because they were totally unprepared for a downturn. Their experiences taught me to always be prepared for a five-alarm fire. Our jobs are not guaranteed, and we should be prepared to pivot at any moment.
A recession isn’t the only thing that can disrupt our work lives, however. The rapid pace of technological change demands that we all be learning new skills all the time. The fact you earned your degree 20 years ago doesn’t guarantee you a job forever.
If you’re too comfortable or complacent and you’re mulling a career change, trust that impulse. You may find that you can carve out a new career for yourself at your current company, thereby enjoying all the perks of your long tenure while staying agile and competitive. Or you may need to go back to school and start an entirely new degree program.
Whatever you do, avoid complacency. We can and should strive for contentment in our work, but the two are not synonymous. Be grateful for the gifts God has given you, and take joy in the life He’s helped you build. Honor those gifts by continuing to stretch your boundaries and challenge yourself professionally.
Making a career change is difficult. But it’s worth it. That’s why athletes vie so hard for the gold medal. They’re not interested in a plastic participation trophy; they want to feel the weight of solid gold hanging around their necks. That’s how they know they’ve gone above and beyond to be the best in their fields.
Find out what your gold medal is and chase it wholeheartedly.
You may have to grind away at your day job a little bit longer, and you may need to give up your free time at night. But if God inspired you to change jobs, it’s for a reason. And you do right by Him and yourself when you sacrifice comfort and complacency for a new kind of glory.
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