How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

When is it too late to change careers?

I worked as a project coordinator and project lead for a consulting firm for almost twenty years.

I took a break from the paid workforce to help my parents during their decline. Mom passed away last year and Dad is in assisted living. I want to get my career going again but I worry that I am too old.

I haven’t gotten any nibbles from consulting firms and I’m also interested in trying something new, but I don’t know if it’s feasible.

I’m 54. Is that too late to consider starting over?

I also worry about what employers will think of the two-year gap in my resume. What should I do?

My condolences on the loss of your mom.

It is never too late to change careers, unless you are planning on doing something that only young people do — like playing for a major league baseball team.

The important question is not “When will it be too late for me to change careers?” but rather “What do I want from the rest of my life?”

That answer can only come from inside you. You will find it by reflecting on your life so far. No book or quiz can tell you what you’re passionate about!

Your experience is much more valuable than you know. Nearly every job-seeker experiences a Mojo Drop that makes them forget how talented they are.

People who have stepped off the conveyor belt may experience a bigger Mojo Drop than other folks, because they worry about what employers will think of the gap on their resume.

When you experience a Mojo Drop, you start to wonder whether you were ever as competent and successful as you remember feeling.

Your fearful brain might say “Maybe you never had your act together. Maybe you were faking it all along.”

Yes — of course you were faking it!

We all fake it every day, every time we step into new territory and say “Well, this will be a learning experience!”

How sad would it be if the only things we did every day were things we already knew how to do?

Your assignment is to step into your reinvention and revel in it. Reinvention is not a puzzle to solve in your head. It’s a physical transformation, like water turning into steam.

Don’t rush into a job search if you can afford to take a little time to reflect. If you need money right now, get a survival job that may have nothing to do with your career goals. It will still give you a place to go every workday and an income, at least a partial one.

You are finding your way in new terrain. You’ve performed a wonderful service for your parents by taking time off to tend to their needs.

As for your two-year resume gap, you have nothing to apologize for. Of course your duty to your parents comes before anything else.

Some employers won’t like the fact that there is a gap in your resume. Run away from them. They don’t deserve your talents.

Take some time to think deeply about your 54 years on the planet so far and the rest of your path leading over the horizon.

Your time is precious, and you get to decide how to invest every second of it. That’s a big decision. Make your decision from a place of trust in yourself — not a place of desperation!

The time and energy it takes to feel calm and centered again will be the investment that will make you successful in your upcoming Chapter Two. We can’t wait to hear about it!

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Decades ago, the majority of people chose an industry and stuck with it through their entire careers, from college graduation through retirement. In today’s market, where job-hopping, industry-wide downsizing, and “second act” careers are all prevalent, it seems that anything goes – and this can be a good thing for professionals who want to (or have to) change careers in their 40s or 50s.

It may seem daunting to switch to a new industry after several decades climbing the ladder in a different one, especially if the change is abrupt and not by choice. However, it’s certainly not impossible, and you may even find that you are happier, less stressed, and more fulfilled after you start your new career.

We asked members of Forbes Coaches Council how to deal with a career change late in your professional life. Here’s their best advice.

Members of Forbes Coaches Council share their insight.

All images courtesy of Forbes Councils members.

1. See This As A New Beginning

Everything in life comes full circle one day. You can’t control events, but you can control how you perceive things. See your job loss as a new beginning. It’s not the end of the world. This is finally a beautiful opportunity to do what you always wanted to do – disconnect from the mundane for some time, and then evolve as a much stronger person with more clarity than ever before. – Anjali Chugh , Cosmique Global Inc

2. Disconnect Your Identity From Your Profession

Whenever I coach clients through a transition, whether it’s a professional athlete leaving their sport or an executive transitioning from their corporate position, this question of identity comes up, and it’s vital that it be addressed. If you base your self-worth and self-definition on your title, transitions can quickly lead to depression. Your value is intrinsic to your humanity, not your job. – Debra Russell , Debra Russell Coaching, LLC

3. Embrace The Gig Economy

The job may have left, but you still have intellectual capital you could parlay into another successful career. If a full-time job with perks and security is your goal, and it’s not happening fast enough, participate in the gig economy, working on a project-by-project or interim basis. This will keep your skills sharp, and fill the gap until the right opportunity comes. – Daisy Wright , The Wright Career Solution

4. Aggressively Pursue New Training

You may not need to pay for technical certifications or semester-long classes, but any new employer will want to see your absolute commitment to change, your ability to adapt, your commitment to learning new information and applying that knowledge. Older workers post job-loss often spend too much time worrying and not taking immediate action to update, augment and improve their knowledge. – John M. O’Connor , Career Pro Inc.

5. Become A Mentor

It’s often hard to just stop doing something. Take the experience you have gained over your career and use it to help the next generation of professionals and leaders. Become a mentor to someone who is starting their career in a field that you worked in. Share your knowledge, and learn some things from the younger generation. As a mentor, you can develop meaningful connections. – Kathy Lockwood , Blue Water Leadership Coaching

6. Embrace The Unknown

Many times, work and identity go hand in hand. What do you do when you aren’t the wise voice of reason amongst the team? You embrace the unknown and allow yourself to be open. It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s the chance to explore another area of your life. Think back to childhood – what interested and captivated you that you could still do now? It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. – Maresa Friedman , Executive Cat Herder

7. Highlight Your Transferable Skills And Enthusiasm

The key to a modern-day job search is showcasing transferable skills and utilizing an updated resume format. Research current resume trends for your intended career goal and highlight your skills and accomplishments (not just job duties). Transferable skills can be used in multiple job types or industries, such as organizing. Finally, highlight your interest because employers are seeking passion. – Megan Watt , Dream Catalyst Labs

8. Know Your Value And Pivot If Necessary To A New Career

First, know your value. Many companies want to hire experienced executives for their wealth of knowledge. Next, if you’re in a career that is “disappearing” in the new economy (like journalism), or that favors younger workers (like digital marketing), do a career pivot. Identify your skills and passions and transfer them to a new career. Stay positive, network and move forward. – Rebecca Bosl , Dream Life Team

9. Make Your Encore Meaningful

Begin considering what will give meaning to your legacy and encore career early. I coach professionals to begin this process of defining meaning during mid-career. Nurture your network to set up volunteer or paid opportunities to do something that you love. If this plan is in place, an abrupt job loss is not so jarring, and a retirement can be a soft landing rather than a loss of identity. – Sharon Hull , Metta Solutions, LLC

10. Continue To Grow Your Knowledge And Stay Relevant

In the digital age, it’s imperative to stay relevant and up-to-date on the latest trends in personal and professional branding. For example, keeping an updated LinkedIn profile that accentuates your brand and value, as well as continuing your knowledge and training no matter your age, shows commitment and dedication to remaining in-tune with the skill set of your industry. – Wendi Weiner, Esq. , The Writing Guru

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only, fee-based organization comprised of leading business coaches and career coaches. Find out if you qualify at Forbes Councils.…

As you get older, there can often feel like a lot of pressure to have a stable career, especially when it seems like everyone else has got their lives figured out. But it is important to remember that it is not a race, nor is it worth staying in an unfulfilling job. In fact,some of the most successful people in the world, such as Mori Building Company CEO Taikichiro Mori and KFC’s own Harland Sanders, did not get their head start until later on in life.

Of course, changing careers is never an easy plunge to take. So, before you make the shift, here are some questions you might need to ask yourself:

Why do I want to change careers?

Stress is probably one of the first reasons behind your move. Some people find certain industries more stressful than others but something you have to consider is that stress can be caused by the gap between your preferred way of working, and the type of work you currently do. For instance, freelancers or contractors have to deal with financial pressures and managing a work-life balance, as opposed to full-time employees who get to enjoy the stability of having a set time to be ‘at work’ and ‘not at work’, especially in an office environment which has a culture that is aware of the importance of its employees’ mental health and wellbeing’. Verizon Connect’s Sergio Barata’s post on the gig economy highlights the ongoing struggle between engagement and feeling disconnected that employers have to deal with when working with remote workers. This, in turn, impacts their performance and productivity. In the long run, it can lead to greater stress and anxiety, as warned by organisational psychologist Cary Cooper. On the other hand, freelancers can manage their own time and often work from home whereas office work can be restrictive.

The choice is between the freedom and life style enjoyed by a freelance working life vs the comfort of the structure, team work and security afforded by being an employee.  The more your work setting is in harmony with your natural style and preference the less stressed you will be. While feeling tired is normal in any job, if you’re feeling stressed at work, you should know when to draw the line, and when all you need is a refreshing break.

Can you afford to take a pay cut?

If you are shifting careers, then you have to be prepared to start at the bottom. This includes your new salary.Fortunately, you probably won’t have to drop back to an entry-level position,as soft skills and experience are still valid no matter where you go. However,you have to manage your expectations with regards to the salary and perks,which are likely offered based on tenure and industry experience. Before deciding on a career change, you need to have to weigh up if you are willing to risk your hard-earned wage for career fulfilment and satisfaction.


Are you willing to go back into education?

Perhaps one of the ‘3 Things Stopping You from Changing Careers’, as discussed in a previous article, is the logistical barrier surrounding your coveted career. For example, moving into a new role might mean that you need to up-skill yourself and earn the necessary qualifications and experience to be successful. This means having to go back to basics, or even getting an entirely new degree for some high-profile jobs. Ask yourself if you are ready to go back in to education especially if you are in the latter half of your life.

Are you open to learning from others who may be younger than you?

Given your age in your current job, you are probably used to mentoring your recruits. However, are you willing to humble yourself and learn from someone younger than you who has been in the industry for longer? Can you look beyond their age and take their expertise as it is? For instance, Millennials have now started moving into managerial roles so it’s possible that your new boss could be a lot younger than you. If this is something you aren’t comfortable with, then you will have to decide if changing careers is right for you.

How does this benefit you in the long run?

The main thing to focus on is ‘what are you hoping to accomplish by shifting careers’? Is it the money, the job, or other personal reasons? All of these are valid, but it’s important that you consider your motivations.

Overall, it is never too late to make a career change. As long as you calculate your steps wisely and make sure youhave a safety net in case things don’t go as planned, then you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.

My career path took on a life of its own, one I definitely wouldn’t have chosen. When the economy took a dive in 2009, I felt like I fell into a “beggars can’t be choosers” position. Creative jobs were hard to come by or they weren’t paying much, and so I had to open myself up to positions that were in demand. That’s how I find myself doing production and product development for a small company that’s been “safe,” but by no means stimulating or satisfying.

I made the decision to stop complaining about my current situation and get moving on putting myself back into the line of work I’m excited about: PR/media.

My only problem is that most of my experience is in apparel development. The company is so small that I do wear many hats and have handled media and PR, but I’m not sure how to spin that on my resume.

My questions are, do I have a chance at 33 to break into a line of work I haven’t done in almost seven years? How can I alter my resume to make myself appealing to companies hiring for these positions?

I’m scared to jump back into the job search, so any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Hi Job-Search Shy,

Gosh, I sure hope 33 isn’t too late. You’ve got a lot of career years ahead of you (approximately 35). Imagine if we were all trapped for that long because of some decision we made in our twenties. I’d still be using Comic Sans on my resume. Frightening!

Certainly, refocusing or changing your career in your 30s takes grit and courage. But it’s not impossible. You’ve already cleared the first, and, frequently, the hardest, hurdle by identifying what you truly want to be doing.

I mention grit because job hunting can be tough, especially when making a career or industry change. I encourage you to build a support network of people you can lean on. While I hope you never experience rejection, you likely will, and you’ll need someone to grab a coffee with who can build your confidence back up.

Before you make a career change, you’ll want to assess your savings situation. If you find yourself leaving your current job before a new one is lined up, money in the bank will give you leeway during your search, which will stop you from jumping on the first available thing—avoiding 2009 Déjà vu.

As for your specific question about tailoring your resume to show you’re the right person for the job, you’re in good shape with relevant experience, even if it’s in a “jack of all trades” capacity. Because your current title may not correlate to the roles you’re applying for, you’ll need to make sure your job descriptions are as strong as possible. Below are a few suggestions.

Talk the Talk: Look at job postings in the industry you’re transitioning into and use their language and keywords. A recruiter can tell when a resume was written for a different industry, and it makes it harder for us to see the fit for our needs.

Own It: Frame your duties as accomplishments. This article breaks down how to do that effectively. For most roles, we have a pretty good sense of what your job duties would have been, so we want to see what you’ve achieved. For example, “planned events” would be considered a job duty, whereas “raised $100,000 by selling out tickets to a 200-person charity event” is a notable stat.

Show Me the Numbers: Nearly any description can benefit from adding numbers. The key is to quantify your accomplishments, not just list them outright. This article offers several before and afters that’ll help you as you shape this part of your own resume.

Grab a Thesaurus: Showcase the specific job duties that are relevant to the job you’re applying for, and use powerful language to really hook the hiring manager. Here are 185 verbs to get you started.

Seek a Second Set of Eyes: Have someone in the industry look over your resume before you start sending it out. This’ll give you an insider’s perspective.

I’m confident that with a well-tailored resume, and a pocketful of determination, you’re going to land that dream job. Go get ’em tiger!

This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Real Recruiter in the subject line.

Your letter may be published in an article on The Muse. All letters to Ask an Expert become the property of Daily Muse, Inc and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

When the clock strikes 5 PM, it’s quitting time! Well, maybe for everyone else.

But if you work multiple jobs, it’s time to re-focus and get back to work—for the rest of the night. And when you finally hit the hay at midnight, you only have a few short hours before you wake up at the crack of dawn to start all over again.

Working multiple jobs isn’t all that uncommon, whether you’re saving up money, starting your own business, or gaining experience in an unfamiliar industry. But with early mornings, late nights, and way too many responsibilities to keep track of, it’s pretty hard to find a balance between fulfilling your commitments to those jobs and maintaining your sanity.

I’ve been working two jobs for several months now, and while I still don’t have that balance down pat, I have picked up a few strategies that have made my work-packed life a little easier. If you’re on the verge of losing your mind (or quitting your extra jobs), try these five tips to get back on track.

Find Quick Fixes for Life Tasks

When work takes over, the other things necessary for a healthy, balanced life often become afterthoughts. Think it was tough to make dinner or have a regular workout routine when you had one job? Add a second (or third!) and the feat seems nearly impossible.

But in my experience, staying active and filling my body with good fuel plays a big part in keeping me sane and energized. And while I can’t commit to a comprehensive workout every day, I have found that I can at least do something. Try taking a walk or climbing up and down your building’s stairs a few times during your lunch hour. Or, look for a video workout that’s sensitive of your time constraint (30 Day Shred and Insanity have some half-hour workouts that are easy to squeeze in your day).

You can also find ways to simplify your cooking routine. (After a few too many Taco Bell dinner runs, I realized needed to give myself some quick options at home.) Crock-pot meals are great—throw a bunch of ingredients in before work and dinner will be ready by the time you get home. Or, make a triple batch of your favorite dinner recipe on the weekend and eat leftovers throughout the week.

Plan Out Your Week Ahead of Time

If you’re not keeping a close eye on your work schedule (as well as your social calendar), unexpected events can easily pop up and ruin your productivity. Just when you think you have a free night to work on your freelance projects, your other boss calls you to remind you about the charity gala you’re required to attend that same night.

To help keep your priorities straight (and your sanity intact), take a few moments over the weekend to think through your schedule for the week. For example, maybe there’s a meeting or happy hour you want to attend on Wednesday night, so you’ll need to shift the majority of your evening work to Monday and Tuesday.

Once you see your workload distributed throughout the week, you can also make a smart decision about anything else that pops up—if you have to decline a dinner invitation, you’ll know way ahead of time (saving you those awkward last minute “I’m so sorry, but I have to ditch tonight” phone calls). In the long run, you’ll be able to get your work done more efficiently—and fit in some time for the fun stuff, too.

Give Yourself Some Time Off

When you work multiple jobs, you’ll often hear advice to take at least one full day off during the week. And if you have the flexibility and schedule to do that, by all means—take it!

On the other hand, your mega-packed work schedule may not allow you to take an entire day off—and even if you try, you may not be able to shake that guilty feeling that creeps up when you’re baking cookies and watching a Real Housewives marathon instead of doing something job-related (I’ve been there!).

In the end, I don’t block out an entire day to myself, but I do try to give myself at least a few hours fully off at some point during the week. And more importantly, I focus on letting my mind relax, instead of worrying about the work I’ve done or still have left to do—which brings us to the next point:

When You’re Not Working, Don’t Think About Work

Juggling two jobs can have your mind spinning—for one job, you’re worrying about your expense reports and sales deadlines, and for the other, you’re racking your brain about whether you approved your employees’ timecards. Even when you’re not technically working at any job, it’s common for your thoughts to take over and prevent you from actually relaxing—which completely sabotages the little time off you do have.

There’s no magic cure for this, but to help you get your mind off work when you’re, well, off work, start by keeping running to-do lists of what you need to do at each job—and what you’ve actually done. When you physically cross “approve employee timecards” and “submit expense reports” off your to-do lists, you’ll be able to rest easy, knowing that your responsibilities are taken care of.

Then, once you know your to-dos are taken care of, try to separate yourself from your work. If you have a work cell phone or constant access to your work email, leave it at home, upstairs, or anywhere where it won’t constantly alert you about every new email. I’m not saying ignore your work—but for a few hours, make sure it’s out of sight (and out of mind).

Keep the End Goal in Sight

Let’s face it—you’re probably not working multiple jobs and 100 or more hours per because you’re bored and have nothing better to do with your time. You might be trying to pay off student loans or saving up for a down payment on a house. Maybe you’re freelancing to try to break into a new field—or to start your own company. Whatever your reason, this extra job (or jobs) is getting you just a little closer to that goal.

So when you’re entrenched in the day-to-day of your multiple jobs, it’s important to keep that end goal in mind—and remember that it is, in fact, an end goal. That means: You won’t be working this many jobs forever.

To stay motivated, keep a realistic time frame in mind. For example, once you earn a certain amount, you’ll quit at least one of your extra jobs. Or, maybe once you hit the year mark at a part-time, experience-gaining job, you’ll start looking for a full-time gig.

But for now, remind yourself to look at your jobs as the means to that end—they’re temporary, and as long as you can power through for a little longer, you’ll reach your ultimate goal.

Tell us! How do you survive working multiple jobs?

I told my dad that I was interested in self-help, personal development, and how it applies to career growth. I got a bit of a cold shoulder. Now of course, he’s supported the things I wanted to do with my life. But this cold shoulder was from lack of interest in the actual content (or application thereof).

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

“My future’s so bright I gotta…” etc etc etc

He had pretty much told me that he was fine with where he was at and wasn’t interested in any type of growth outside of his current career path. I think he said he wanted to successfully make it to his retirement so he could live on the castle foundation that he had built and that was good what would work best for him and his family.

I understand where he was coming from and maybe that is the best path since he’s a bit past the young age of 45. But if you’re only 45 years old, this is not the reality for you. You still have *plenty* of awesome decades to come and you need to have the motivation, the confidence, and the gumption to get there. Here are a couple of tips to help you out along the way.

#1. It’s Never Too Late

Even if you’re 61 and you plan to retire at 62, it’s never too late to do more. People are living to much older ages these days. And with the advancement in technology, medicine, and creature comforts, there’s really no excuse for shutting down that extra level of motivation and drive at that early of an age. Especially at 45 I mean come on, life is just getting good! For instance, look at Ray Croc of McDonald’s fame. He didn’t start out in creating his hamburger and real estate empire until he was over 50 years young. If you think 45 is too late, you are absolutely wrong. Colonel Sanders started even later – he sure wasn’t chicken.

#2. Keep Assets In Mind

Don’t just work on little bitty tasks to get to the next step. Don’t just go hum-drum through your career and position. When you’re doing hobbies and projects at work, do things that will help you build your assets. Assets are things that you keep for the rest of your life and they keep benefiting your life in some way from that point on.

Assets are not one-off tasks that benefit one person or one company and then there gone forever. These are the things that you create once and then they continue to show some type of return to you for the rest of your life. Whether your asset of choice is through books you’ve written, investment strategies that are working, or businesses you created, you have plenty of time to get something going. These are the things that you’ll be able to keep forever and then pass on to those you love.

#3 Financials and Retirement

Don’t trick yourself into thinking otherwise here as this is still a great age to get started on your investment and retirement planning. If you’re at 45 and you’re thinking that it’s too late to start a 401K or it’s too late to get interested in a safer aspect of the stock market, then you’re not thinking right. Probably you’re a little bit scared of the unknown and of the risks that are involved. I completely understand that given the recent financial events that have happened.

However, I’m here to let you know that it’s a lot riskier to get to an older age where it’s harder to get things done, without having the proper foundation in place. Risk is not a dirty word that you need to avoid all together. Walking down the street is risky. It’s all about *managing* your risks, not avoiding them. There’s plenty of help for you out there.

Forever Young – New Jobs Are Okay

The ripe young age of 45 years old is still a great age to change your career. As long as you know it’s never too late to change, you keep working on your assets, and you keep your retirement in mind, then you can up your confidence and keep your mind open! The future is there for you, if you’re willing to take it. Now get up and out there and see what’s available for someone with your skills and experience.

Do you find yourself sitting at your 9-to-5 job feeling like you’ll be stuck to that desk forever? There is hope for you, dear reader!

Some of the most successful people in the country didn’t start out on a career path anywhere close to that which eventually made them happy, rich or both. In fact, the average American changes jobs 10 to 15 times between the ages of 18 and 46, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. So no, you’re not alone if you’re unhappy with where you’re at.

To convince you that leaving your day job might just be the best thing you’ve ever done, we rounded up some of most inspirational career changes in recent history:

Walt Disney was a newspaper editor. Dreams didn’t always come true for Walt. The founder of The Walt Disney Company started out as a newspaper editor, but was apparently fired because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Ellen Degeneres was a paralegal and “oyster shucker.” Before being named Showtime’s Funniest Person in America in 1982, comedian and TV host Ellen Degeneres held these two much less glamorous jobs.

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Julia Child was a spy. The famed chef wasn’t cooking up delicious French cuisines until age 36. Before that, she worked as a CIA intelligence officer.

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Harrison Ford was a carpenter. After his performance in “American Graffiti,” Ford gave up acting for the financial stability of carpentry. That is, until George Lucas came calling about a little movie called “Star Wars.”

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Ken Jeong was a doctor. Best known as Mr. Chow from The Hangover, actor and comedian Ken Jeong first earned his MD from the University of North Carolina and began a physician practice. In 2007, after a string of stand-up jobs on the side, Jeong made his first feature film debut in Knocked Up as — what else? — a doctor.

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Elvis Costello was a computer programmer. The songwriter’s singing may have made him famous, but his genius was by no means limited to just music. Costello first spent his days in an office operating an IBM 360.

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Allen Ginsberg was a dishwasher. American beat poet Allen Ginsberg is best remembered for his bestselling poem, “Howl.” But before he found success through writing, Ginsberg held a variety of odd jobs, working as a spot welder, night porter and cargo ship worker.

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Andrea Bocelli was a lawyer. After graduating with a law degree from the University of Pisa, Andrea Bocelli worked as a defense attorney until the age of 34, when he left his job to sing full time.

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Sylvester Stallone was a deli-counter assistant and lion-cage cleaner. Before stepping into the boxing ring, actor Sylvester Stallone was earning $1.12 an hour at the Central Park Zoo, among some other not-so-glamorous jobs.

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Whoopi Goldberg put makeup on dead people. Before Whoopi’s big break in 1985, Goldberg worked at a funeral parlor applying makeup to the deceased.

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Brad Pitt was a limo driver. For strippers. Yep, Brad used to drive strippers to and from bachelor parties. Before this, he also dressed up as a giant chicken and stood outside of an “El Pollo Loco” restaurant waving to cars.

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Joy Behar was a high school english teacher. The host of “The View” and “The Joy Behar Show” wasn’t always the comedian we all love. In fact, Behar was a high school english teacher until the age of 40.

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses sold potato chips. The American folk artist didn’t even put paint to canvas until her 80s. For most of her life she worked on her farm in Virginia and practiced embroidery as a hobby. When her arthritis made it too difficult to hold a needle, she picked up a paint brush instead.

It usually hits people around the age of 33. The feeling they have achieved most of what they wanted to in their career, and yet they feel depressed at the prospect of another 30 years doing the same job.

So what should you do if you have decided it is time for a career change? ‘It’s very simple when you know what you want to do next, but for a lot of people it’s not that clear,’ says life coach Suzy Greaves. ‘People know they are in the wrong job, but they don’t know what they really want to do.’

An astonishing 80 per cent of us end up in the wrong job,’ says Greaves, who runs a coaching business called The Big Leap. ‘We finish school, and go through our twenties conforming to what other people want us to do. That’s often a solid career with a professional qualification. But most people aren’t maturing until their early twenties, and before that we tend to listen to other people’s opinions of what we should do with our lives, rather than our own.

‘We are encouraged to be successful, to go for money, status, the big car, the title, but when we get all that, we may not be happy. Often it hits people around 33, when they decide they have done it all in their career and they want to find fulfilment instead,’ she says.

Sounds like you? Then changing career could be the best decision you ever make, says David Thomas, chief executive of Crac, the Careers Research and Advisory Centre. ‘For most people, a major career change is a very positive experience and nearly always a success story. If you can find a role that you love, the change will be totally invigorating.’

Thomas has made two major career changes in his life, having originally been a teacher for 19 years. ‘People feel that they are ‘giving everything up’ if they leave a job they have worked at for years. In fact, they are often astonished that the skills they have acquired move with them from job to job. What’s important for you before you decide to move is to spend some time thinking about what you require from a job – in other words getting to know yourself better.’

He recommends you talk to someone you trust about your plans and ask their advice. If possible, choose someone who has made a major career change themselves – they will usually be happy to talk about it.

‘People are scared to make the move because they are frightened of failure,’ says Greaves. ‘But I ask people to imagine that if they were to be run over by a bus in five years’ time, what would they like to have done and to have left behind. A life coach won’t tell you what job you should be in or give any answers. Instead, he or she will ask tough questions and challenge you about what you want out of life.’

Freedom and flexibility make it all worthwhile

Changing your job doesn’t necessarily mean finding a new employer – it can also be the springboard to running your own business. That way, you organise your workload, escape the daily commute and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that the fruits of your work come directly to you.

Adrian Wanless, 35, runs a successful web design and development company in Birstwith, North Yorkshire. He set up last year after nearly 10 years as an IT contractor, and now runs the business from his home.

‘The best part of the job is the flexibility – being able to work when you want to, and avoiding the two hours commuting every day,’ he says.

‘I know that if I do overtime, it benefits my business directly. Running your own company also focuses your mind – if you mess around and don’t do any work, you don’t get paid. It’s as simple as that.’

He has found his niche building websites for small businesses, from hotels, guest-houses and holiday cottages to e-commerce sites for jewellers, venetian blind companies and firms selling crash helmets. ‘It’s the business which is too small for big web development organisations to be interested in,’ he says.

Since his wife Sarah, 29, commutes to Leeds every day, he tends to keep regular office hours to help the discipline of home-working.

The only downside, he says, is managing cashflow, since he may be dealing with lots of projects one month, and then fewer the next. ‘We have just moved house and the Halifax were great about sorting out the mortgage, but some building societies are so blinkered that they don’t really look at how you are developing the business. I explained to the Halifax that I had changed the focus of my business and that was why profits were initially down in the first year, but would start to improve as the company developed.’

Do it yourself: further reading

Establishing what you really want from life is essential if you intend a career change. You can explore and evaluate your key transferable skills with the help of specialist guides. David Thomas, chief executive of the Careers Research and Advisory Centre, recommends three books to help you make the change. All approach career change and choice from different angles and help define what you are looking for from your job.

Who moved my cheese?
By Spencer Johnson

Thomas says: ‘This is a book about how we react to change on a personal level. It’s a very short book, but most people find it very stimulating. It gets you thinking in a different way about your life. It’s not just about how you generate changes, but how you deal with change that happens to you.’

Who do you think you are?
By Nick Isbister

‘This is a self-analysis book and everyone I know who has used it said that it helped them understand their motivation. It will put you in the right direction for your new job. People often think about their weaknesses, but this book gets you to concentrate on your strengths and shows that if you do things that you are good at and that you enjoy then you will be at your most effective .’

What colour is your parachute?
By Richard Bolles

‘This is the best-known book about how to make a successful job change. I think it is worth investing a bit of time in reading a guide to help you work out how to go about that change and to know yourself better.’


Careers Research and Advisory Centre (Crac) 01223 460 277.

Suzy Greaves: The Big Leap Coach (0208 980 4435).

How to change careers successfully when it seems too late

When you’re considering changing careers, it’s helpful (not to mention inspiring) to see how others navigated those scary first steps, before starting down that path yourself.

These stories give you potential roadmaps to follow—successes and failures included—so that you can see possible routes for your own future.

From the nitty-gritty, like financial planning, to the bigger picture, such as adopting the mindset required to make such a gigantic move, these stories promise to provide the insight and motivation you need now.

1. This Career Changer Proves It’s Never Too Late to Start Back at the Bottom

You’re never too old to switch paths—this former Macy’s store manager took an entry-level job in publishing to start her writing career.

2. This Story About a Stranger Helping a Drive-Thru Worker Change Careers Will Make You Smile

You never know when you’ll catch a break: A chance encounter led this fast-food worker to an entirely new industry.

3. How This Career Changer Went From a Role in Finance to One in HR

From managing numbers, to working with people, this is the true story of a young woman who went from working at JPMorgan Chase to The Muse.

4. How I Went From a Career in Education to an Employed Software Engineer in 4 Months

When this former teacher realized that coding equaled problem-solving, she was hooked and figured out how to make her new career a reality.

5. How I Successfully Transitioned From Teaching Kindergarten to Working at Apple

Another teacher-to-tech career change, this person’s route led him to business school, and then onto a thriving marketing career.

6. I Started as a Paralegal, Now I’m a Front End Engineer—Here’s How I Did It

This is the story of two career changes: paralegal to communications, and them from communications to engineering—because sometimes it takes time to figure out what you’re meant to be doing.

7. How I Changed Careers From Sports to Sales

Here’s the story behind a golf-tournament director turned account manager; very often the non-linear path is the most rewarding.

8. I Changed My Career Path Without Leaving My Company

Quitting isn’t your only option when it comes to finding a role you love: Transferring to a position in a different department is totally possible.

9. How I Successfully Landed a Job in a Totally Unrelated Field

Leaving a doctorate program to move in with her parents proved to be a hard, but worthwhile decision when this woman sought to forge a new path as a marketing assistant.