midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the category “downscale”

15 Principles for Surviving and Executing a Career Transition

In two months I will complete a graduate degree in clinical mental health counseling that will have taken 5½ years to finish, enabling me to take final steps to executing a fairly drastic midlife career change from public relations. I had made a career change before, from journalism to public relations. Though still jarring, that transition was significantly more seamless than this one, requiring no additional education and using many of the same skills.

I have been seeking to derive more meaning and satisfaction from my career, as well as tCareerImagehe opportunity to self-direct my future, embrace an entrepreneurial spirit, contribute value to society and work flexibly, creatively, collaboratively and independently. I explored life-coaching, completing a series of training courses, but ultimately didn’t pursue it. But the idea of helping people with psychological, emotional and life challenges stuck with me.

It took me about three years of mulling the idea to apply to graduate school for counseling and another year after acceptance to enroll in my first class. Twenty-one classes and three internships later, I’m on the precipice of a career transition.

It hasn’t been easy. As I started my internships, I ran into a buzz saw at my PR job. It was miserable, and at the same time the best thing that could have happened. I couldn’t have done both well simultaneously, along with graduate classes. I would have burned out. I left my job, and the security blanket of a biweekly paycheck. That was 18 months ago. Since then, I’ve lived a much more itinerant, unpredictable and frugal existence, cobbling together temporary, seasonal and part-time jobs, and unpaid or low-paid internships.

In brief, these are 15 principles I’ve learned about making a significant career change, concepts that are valuable to consider while mulling a change or while bulldozing through the trenches:

  1. Long-Term Vision – A career transition won’t happen if you can’t envision a different future, if you are too overwhelmed by the daily grind and stressors to dream about a new life.
  2. Delay Gratification/Patience – Depending on how drastic the change and the amount of education and training required, the transition could be a long haul rather than a quick fix.
  3. Risk (Tolerance/Acceptance) – You will be giving up something known for something new, with no guarantee of breaking in, or even being proficient at or liking the new endeavor.
  4. Self-Knowledge – Become clear on what is most important to you, your values, how much risk you can tolerate, and how hard you are willing to work to make a change happen.
  5. Courage – You’ll have to be brave enough to take risks and step out of your comfort zone.
  6. Confidence/Self-Assuredness – Consider how you will handle other people in your life, including those closest to you and colleagues in your current occupation, questioning or casting aspersions on your decisions. How much would a wave of skepticism and criticism deter you or affect your thinking and beliefs?
  7. Identity – Leaving a profession, especially one you’ve worked at for years and in which you’ve achieved a certain level of expertise, status and success, can significantly alter how you identify yourself. Can your ego withstand such an identity loss, while building a new and different piece of your identity?
  8. Research/Network – It will be important to determine the costs and requirements (and barriers) to entry into a new profession, as well as occupational outlook, such as job growth and salary projections. Soak up all the information you can about your prospective new career while considering a transition and in the transitional phase by interviewing people in the field, networking with fellow career changers and professors, taking classes, attending conferences and reading industry journals.
  9. Commitment/Persistence – A half-hearted or uncertain effort will likely fail to result in lasting change, like my foray into coaching. The urge to give up may hit, especially early in the process. You’ll have to constantly re-evaluate your commitment, revisit why you embarked on the effort in the first place and resist inevitable doubts.
  10. Embrace Uncertainty/Unpredictability – Become comfortable with not knowing and embracing the journey as an adventure. View unpredictability as making life more exciting, stimulating and challenging. Here’s where faith and spirituality can come into play.
  11. Sacrifice – Be prepared to pay costs in terms of money, time, effort, perceived security and status (you may go from being expert to novice).
  12. Hustle/Scramble/Diversify – A career transition may not be seamless, moving directly from a job in one career to a job in another. There may be an intermediary period involving education, training, internships and the like. You may have to jump off the cliff during this period – leaving security behind – but with a parachute. You just won’t be able to be sure where you may drift or land along the way. You may have to be aggressive in patching together a living from various jobs that aren’t career jobs, but serve as a means to your end. You may have to call on skills you weren’t using in your current career, or adapt your skills to different positions that work within your new goals. For me, that meant working summers as a tennis teacher and applying writing and teaching skills as a university writing tutor.
  13. Flexibility – A flexible frame of mind complements the principles of identity and hustle. If you are not rigid in your identity, you can explore varied employment opportunities, living arrangements and lifestyles that can help you manage the transition. If you are open to a wide range of income-producing opportunities, you can minimize your reluctance to try new things – perhaps jobs you would have once considered beneath you — and ramp up your hustle to get them.
  14. Financial House – Your transition will be easier and less stressful if there is Order in the House, the Financial House. As much and as far ahead as possible, craft a financial plan for the transition. Build savings cushions and tuition accounts, if education is necessary. Consider becoming a minimalist in your lifestyle choices, to some degree. A transition likely will come with some financial pain, including possibly a precipitous income drop from your previous career once you start in a new occupation, but planning and frugality can mitigate the potential pitfalls.
  15. Negotiation – If you’re lucky, you’ll have a current employer who respects, or maybe even encourages and supports, your career-change endeavor (I wasn’t). If so, see how you can negotiate to get what you need – time, a flexible schedule, tuition assistance, remote work arrangement – while continuing to fulfill your employer’s needs. You may be able to hold onto your job and income much longer (I couldn’t), helping to bridge the transition.

 

 

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A Full Pension But Half a Life?

What is of more value to you: Your money or your time?

I had an interesting, offhand discussion about this with a classmate in my counseling graduate program. She is in the engineering field, working for a power company, is probably in her mid- to late-50s, and has three grown children. So she is aiming to be a career-changer later in life, similar to my path, going from journalism to public relations to counseling.

The difference between us is that, after grinding through the counseling program at a slow pace for four years, I am now trying to make a stronger commitment to serving my internships, completing my degree and making the transition. My classmate, also proceeding slowly at one course per semester, said she is considering working for five more years at her company so she can get a full pension instead of two-thirds or more of the pension’s value if she leaves sooner.

We talked only briefly, but since we are in a counseling program, we are accustomed to talking about life issues that really matter. Essentially, I asked her whether, if counseling truly was a passion for her, was it worth trading five more years of her life doing something she was not passionate about to have a somewhat higher income in retirement or old age? Or could she figure out how to make do with a smaller pension as a tradeoff for making a complete transition sooner and bringing more joy and inspiration to her life?

She studied my line of questioning for a moment and seemed to re-evaluate her priorities. She offered that she knew a man at her company who stayed long enough to collect a full pension. Problem was, within a year of retiring, he died.

None of us know how much time we have. It would seem a shame to have a full pension but half a life.

In the few moments we had before class, I suggested an option that might reduce my classmates’ perceived need for a larger pension: minimalism. I had just read a book, Everything That Remains, by Joshua Fields Millburn, espousing the benefits of living a minimalist life. Essentially, that means getting rid of everything that in your life that does not have real value, does not improve your life and is not needed, which could mean material possessions, unnecessary living space, services, relationships, jobs and other things we imagine we cannot live without, when we really can, and better. Instead of arranging your finances to fit your lifestyle – the one you think you need – you imagine and create the lifestyle that will make you happy, and adapt your finances to fit that.

How many of us could live a downscaled lifestyle and fill it with things that really make us happy and inspired, if we only really examined what that would mean and took actions to make it happen? How many of us live with more stress and anxiety because of all the things we need to maintain and hold onto even when we don’t really want them, much of the time out of fear, and then compound the stress by feeling the need to make enough money to maintain the things that don’t really make us happy and free?

I don’t know what my classmate will decide to do. But I’m at the point in my life where I would gladly exchange some degree of financial security for the risk and reward of pursuing a passion – or at least something close to it – and creating a life that I can truly say that I want, not one I feel obligated to soldier through out of some sense of being secure or safe, or doing what I believe society expects me to do.

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