Radical Re-invention

A friend of mine, in the process of buying a house and moving across town, surprised me with her less than animated response to my call of congratulations.  I expected her to be excited, full of enthusiasm, dying to share all the details (especially when I finally dragged out a description of the granite counters and renovated master bath).  I thought it was fantastic that they were getting out of their rental and into their own home and I asked, ‘Aren’t you excited?’

Yes, my friend replied, sounding the opposite, but she was going to miss her old neighborhood, and especially the long-time connections and friendships she had there.  I supposed I sounded bemused – it was, after all an in-town move so connections need not be severed – and she pointed out something that I guess I take for granted; she said “You don’t mind change, it doesn’t bother you.”  She’s more rooted; I’m more willing to let the wind shift my direction.  I’m not extreme; I don’t seek out crazy adventures or life-threatening thrills.  But she’s right – change doesn’t bother me.

This characteristic has served me well throughout my life and it will make it possible for us to successfully transition to a completely different lifestyle if we end up making our move.  Flexibility, the ability to adjust to changed circumstances, the willingness to be open to big changes and embrace new things – all of these traits have come into play in the past few years and they will see us through the next few as well.

I think that people who make radical changes in their lives – whether in reaction to circumstances forced upon them, or by choice – probably share some of these qualities.  I’ve been reading about other people who have changed careers on a forum called Simple Living and have been struck by how many people seek out and thrive on change!  And some of them have made very BIG changes as in this example: “My cousin went from being a Jesuit novice to being an atomic physicist to being a professor to being a lawyer. He’s a pretty exceptional case though.”  I suspect, additionally, that this person is not a parent.

Some folks are plagued by boredom and change jobs frequently in an attempt to alleviate it, some work steadily in one profession until struck by a mid-life crisis, and some are propelled into a new career by external forces – divorce, death of a spouse, parenthood, or job loss.  Some people prepare methodically, following carefully planned steps including schooling, moving, and paying off debt, in order to realize a dream that has been nurtured for years.  Others just throw up their hands, sweep the papers off their desk, put their heads out the window and shout “Take this job…”!

Naturally, not all career changes are successful. I’ve seen post after post, website after website, urging people to ‘follow their passion’ and proclaiming that to be the necessary ingredient for success.  Find something you LOVE.  And that does seem to work for some.  NPR host Robin Young recently interviewed James Kunen, author of “Diary of a Company Man: Losing a Job, Finding a Life.”  Mr. Kunen’s career change was precipitated by the loss of his job as a ‘corporate communications guy’ when he was laid off as part of a move to “eliminate the bloat at corporate headquarters.”  Well that bites! 60 years old at the time, Mr. Kunen looked at what he had done in his life that had given him satisfaction and, after a period of transition, ended up teaching English to immigrants.  It wasn’t easy at first – he says he felt great while he was teaching these amazing people who have had so many challenges and tragedies in their lives, but then, when out on the pavement among all the suited professionals, the briefcase totting bankers, the lawyers cinching deals on their cell phones while striding through crowds, he felt his work was “so small”.  A friend pointed out that if he loved teaching and had problems with the sidewalk then it was his sidewalk attitude he needed to work on.  Isn’t it good to have friends who can give you that needed nudge in perspective?  This is a story that’s worth listening to – when Mr. Kunen says, “Your job has been downsized, but you haven’t – you are the same size,” you know that unemployed people all over are nodding in agreement.

But, contrary to the popular belief that “all you need is love” sometimes it really isn’t enough to make a successful career change.  Quitting a decently paying job as an accountant to become an artist won’t work for everyone.   If you aren’t forced to change careers, and are just thinking you might want to, there are a number of websites that have advice for you.  Mind you there are no magic formulas; all the steps take time and energy, some involve soul-searching, and others require substantial research or data collection.  Recommendations include assessing your skills, talking to career counselors, volunteering or taking unpaid internships in fields of interest, and investigating educational requirements of your proposed new job.

What do you like doing? What jobs exist that fit skills you have or could easily obtain?  How much training would you need and is it available and affordable?  Do you just want a new job, or is it a totally new career that you desire?  Do you need to support a family or are you just wanting something to fill empty retirement years? And I hate to cast a damper, but you should probably ask yourself, just how realistic is pursuing that dream at this time, in these circumstances, at this age? Making an effort to seriously tackle some of these questions could help you successfully transition into a new career.

Here are some Internet resources for anyone contemplating a career change (mid-life or not):

If you are footloose and fancy free and have a yearning for an adventure you might want to check out coolworks.com – a site that lists temporary “cool” jobs in interesting places.  For my readers out there who full time it in their RV, they even have a jobs category for you!

10 Steps to a Successful Career Change.  An article on About.com with general steps to making a career change – kind of basic/common sense and while briefly stated, the steps themselves are fairly demanding.

Career Overview: Midlife Career Changes.  Guide and resources.  Sort of a starting place with a lot of links to other places.  Includes information on jobs, education requirements, how to figure out what you want to do and what different jobs pay.  I enjoyed the ‘unconventional career tips’.

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Career Information.  Geared towards the young person who is trying to figure out what to do with his or her life, but kind of interesting to career changers as well.  My middle school daughter and I had lots of fun matching her current interests to actual jobs.

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Quarterly.  This is the BLS site that is more directed at adults with information on job outlooks and trends.  It includes a selection of articles on changing careers.

If you don’t have the slightest idea what you want to do, you just know it isn’t what you are doing now – Google free aptitude or personality tests and you’ll find a plethora of sites where you can fill out questionnaires that can help you answer that question. Good luck and pop over to our Facebook page to answer a question about career changes you have (or would) undertake!

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3 Responses to Radical Re-invention

  1. Linda says:

    I tried, but failed at a radical career change. When my second child came along, I left my cushy corporate job for self-employment. I purchased a franchise business that I thought would allow me the freedom to better balance work and family. But I failed miserably because I was not, and am not, a salesperson. Then, after a period of unemployment, I made a not-so-radical career change. More of a shift. Moved into an area that still benefitted from my prior education and experience but opened up new skill areas and turned out to be work I love still 8 years later! I’ve only recently caught back up money wise, but that’s OK.

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