midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the tag “career”

Sweating it out to the End

I was sitting in the sauna after a swim, trying to meditate (and lose a pound), when the thought hit me (a welcome thought, nevertheless showing I don’t know how to meditate): the only thing separating me from graduation with a clinical mental health counseling master’s degree was one more paper, the fourth chapter of a final project.

In the heat, I felt a surge of accomplishment, the dripping sweat an appropriate metaphor for the 5 ½-year graduate school and internship marathon. I reflected on all that had happened during that time – a broken leg requiring surgery and a year of

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These grads, including my son Daniel (left), are younger than me, but I’ll be celebrating the same experience soon.

recovery; turning 50; my mother dying; leaving a seven-year job under contentious and demoralizing circumstances; both of my kids leaving for college – and felt amazed I had arrived at this moment. I had nearly dropped out after the first of my 22 classes and three internships, the path seemed so complicated and daunting.

 

So other than giving myself a pat on the back for perseverance, what can my experience say about sweating it out for a goal at midlife that perhaps could resonate with others?

  • Personal growth and development keeps life interesting. I feel more alive and engaged with new challenges and goals to pursue, and restless when I feel stagnated and mired in routine.
  • It’s never too late to learn new things or set new goals. Changing careers is another matter entirely that involves issues of practicality, responsibility, risk and sacrifice. But those complexities shouldn’t preclude exploration.
  • Moving forward on faith can work out, and could be a necessity for progress. Sometimes pushing through doubts is the only way forward. I still don’t know how my whole counseling endeavor ultimately will work out, but I have faith that it will. Needing a guarantee on an outcome may preclude the journey.
  • Find a way. Don’t let something that seems too hard stop you, if you can creatively discover ways to make it work, even just one step at a time, especially if you believe you might live with regret for giving up on a goal or dream too easily. I feared living with regret, which helped propel me to continue grinding ahead. Sometimes “a way” may seem impossible, but perhaps as likely self-imposed limits make it seem so.
  • Pursuing something new, whether a hobby, pastime, education or career, can bring you into contact with a new community that can enrich your life. The people I’ve met through my graduate program have provided community, enhancing my life and helping me learn.

I’m sure hoping this new counseling gig works out. I entered the Loyola University-Maryland Pastoral Counseling program at age 48. Back then, I couldn’t imagine getting to the end, which has now arrived at age 54. I’m excited to see where it leads. At the least, it will open up a whole new range of opportunities and a greater chance to self-direct my career – possibly in the form of my own business and other entrepreneurial endeavors – as I head into its latter stages. I’m feeling now all the sweat I’ve poured into it has been worthwhile.

[In a serendipitous coincidence, my graduation is the same day as my daughter Rebecca’s graduation from the University of Maryland. Read about my decision of whose big day to attend.]

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.

 

 

(Not) A Chip off the Old Block

Academically, my son Daniel doesn’t take after me – except for the fact that we have each attended college. And in today’s increasingly specialized and technological economy and job market, I’d say that’s good for him.

As a freshman computer science major and bioinformatics minor, Daniel is taking a heavy dose of computer programming, biology, statistics and math. I predict he will separate DanAdam2_PotomacHallhimself from the masses who hold college degrees, which no longer guarantee entry into the professional world, by going the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) route and will find himself in demand in the job market. No post-college Parental Unit Domicile (PUD) basement-dwelling likely or necessary for him!

I, on the other hand, took an occasional math or science course three decades ago at my liberal arts college – only enough to meet the requirements to graduate – and overdosed on philosophy, history, political science, economics and English courses, emerging with a smorgasbord-style International Relations degree that led to nothing in particular.

But in that era, being a generalist with a broad liberal arts education could still work as a professional launching pad for many occupations. It’s not that it can’t work today, but it just appears harder.

Industries can be more selective in hiring graduates who more closely fit the profile for their jobs based on their degrees, internship experiences and technical and industry-specific knowledge. Those without more targeted, specialized and immediately marketable degrees will flood the “generalist” markets, like education, communications, sales, fundraising and social services, creating the immense competition that has left many college graduates on the sidelines.

While teaching tennis at an beach resort last summer in the midst of my career transition to counseling, I talked with a doctor at Minnesota’s renowned Mayo Clinic after a tennis clinic. His wife also was a physician. He had two kids in college, and explained his parenting philosophy about his kids’ college education. He did not take a laissez faire approach, like many parents who allow their kids to “find themselves” – or not – by experimenting and dabbling with a variety of subjects with no clear idea of where they were heading. Guessing and floundering, and possibly wasting time and money, was not acceptable, he emphasized. If his kids were going to attend college, he demanded that they have “skin in the game” and demonstrate a well-thought out plan outlining what they would study, and how their field of study would lead to a career path and jobs immediately after college, based on real-world economic and occupational data. Otherwise, the parental money pipeline would be disconnected.

It made sense to me. And immediately after my discussion with the doctor, I was struck by pangs of guilt: My daughter Rebecca was about to enter her senior year of college as a liberal arts major – sociology and French minor – and I had never really had that practical conversation with her about the real-world application of her college pursuits. I was the laissez faire parent!

That’s not necessarily a bad approach. There’s value in allowing your kids to make their own decisions, find their interests and passions on their own, and take responsibility for the outcomes. Parents foisting their own interests, desires and fears upon their kids to either force or influence them to take a certain path rarely works – at least not over the long haul – and typically ends in resentment. But I still felt remiss about possibly leaving Rebecca unprepared for a world that can be callous and crush souls.

So I called Rebecca that August day, knowing that merely mentioning the idea of developing a plan for her post-college life early in her senior year could ratchet up her stress level. She assured me that she was considering various ideas and researching careers, and that she wasn’t approaching her pending graduation flippantly.

That was enough for me. I could check off the Parental Duty box next to “Advise Child of Importance of College Choices.” I’ve never been a hard-ass parent. I have confidence Rebecca will find her way, just like I do with Daniel. And even though their career paths will be different, I’m glad both will be making their decisions based on what they want to do, not based on my ideas of what they should do or on pursuing a path based on fear that they won’t succeed. Because they will succeed if they have the desire and interest.

There are no strings attached to my investment in their college educations. I’ll guide where I can and when and if I’m asked. Otherwise, they’re on their own, and I know that’s the way they want it.

Is the Grass Greener?

I typically believe the grass is greener on the other side, just over the next hill. It may be self-delusional or wishful thinking, but it’s my nature, however torturous it can be, to believe there’s something better.

Such thinking can be the curse of people who are never satisfied with life and what they grassfield_greenerhave, always seeking, never arriving. Or it can be the motivation that leads to risk-taking, improvement and growth.

I have been seeking greener grass in my career through a marathon five-year journey, and now that I’m on the brink of making a transition from public relations to mental health counseling after what will be 22 graduate courses and two years of internships — and one collapsed full-time job along with its reliable income under all that weight — I am pretty confident that the fescue indeed will be brighter.

I also have been thinking that as I launch my new career in 2017 – which will include, ideally and ultimately, my own independent practice – that a new geographic location may offer greener pastures than the Baltimore-Washington megalopolis where I have been stationed for 28 years, business-, lifestyle-, scenery- and culture-wise.

My thinking is that the time to make a geographic change would coincide with my career transition, or at least relatively early in my new career, before becoming established in one place.

I also will be 54, far into midlife, by the time I graduate the counseling program. If I go somewhere else, I want to be young enough to become engaged in the fabric of the new community occupationally, socially, civically, recreationally and other ways, not just to live out retirement (which I don’t know if I will ever want to reach anyway).

I have already had people advise me against moving, telling me essentially that the grass is not greener, that the desire for something fresh and new is merely a cover for a compulsion to escape.

The idea of moving is complicated by several factors, primarily family concerns. Some factors I believe are manageable: I don’t have a big fear of change; the move wouldn’t necessarily be irreversible if it didn’t work out; I believe I could make new friends and keep old ones with some effort; I am confident I can earn a living and be successful starting a business, though research is needed.

But family, that is the hardest one to gauge. I’m a new empty-nester. Both of my kids are attending Maryland colleges. My daughter will graduate the same weekend I will in 2017. She may go to France to teach English; she may follow her boyfriend to an engineering job in Texas or beyond; or she may stay in Maryland. My son will have at least two years left. My extended family is small and scattered.

My wife’s family and her roots are in Maryland. She doesn’t want to leave. I understand. Many would argue that factor alone should kibosh the whole idea. And perhaps it will. Or perhaps there could be room for compromise and negotiation as events unfold and more is discovered.

There’s no doubt that the belief that the grass could be greener can complicate life and cause angst. But it’s also a belief that gives those prone to seeking an excitement about the unknown, about a new experience, about what could be around that next corner, over that next hill. Will it be emerald green, or drought-baked brown?

I Was a Journalist, Never Equating it with Being ‘Scum,’ ‘Low-life’ and ‘Disgraceful’

Donald Trump has called me a “phony,” “low-life,” “scum,” “corrupt,” “dishonest,” “disgraceful,” “disgusting,” “illegitimate,” a “horrible” person, a “terrible” person, and probably more. Those are just the insults I’ve heard him speak and seen in news reports.

The presidential candidate’s invectives are aimed at journalists – all journalists. He paints the entire profession with a broad brush, labeling it with a negative stereotype, just as he does other groups of people, like Mexican rapists and fame-hungry, lying women.

I was a journalist for 13 years after college, and hold a master’s degree in journalism. Though I am not employed as a journalist now, I am still a journalist and writer at heart. My second book, a nonfiction account of my run for political office, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics (a timely topic given the current abhorrent campaign!), is journalistic in nature, combined with memoir.

I was a reporter for the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, a chain of

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The blogger on the right, at basketball game early in my career as a Sarasota sportswriter

community newspapers and several trade publications. Trump is smearing a big part of my identity with his talk about corrupt media populated by nothing but cretins. Of course, to use a favorite Trump rejoinder, he’s WRONG!…WRONG!…WRONG!

 

The Orange Man and some – but certainly not all – of his supporters don’t know diddly about journalism, what it takes to be a good journalist, what stirs the heart and soul of a journalist, and what many journalists strive for in terms of ethics, honesty, fairness and truthfulness in performing their job.

Hey Trump and your band of merry men, how about taking a break from insult-hurling and baseless fear-mongering and watch Spotlight, the Academy Award-winning movie about Boston Globe journalists who won the Pulitzer Prize following their relentless pursuit of the child sexual abuse scandal and cover-up perpetrated by the Catholic Church leaders that extended to the top of the archdiocese and other powerful authorities? Who was the scum there? How many priests would still be shuffled along to a new church to find a new crop of boys to molest without the journalists’ intervention?

At the risk of sounding elitist, I don’t expect many of Trump’s supporters to understand – but merely to react to what they hear as gospel. It is common for some of Trump’s supporters to take up their leader’s cry at rallies and yell and point fingers at journalists and tell them, without ever having talked to them, that they are corrupt and they “suck.”

Reporters and editors, on the whole, are smart, intellectually curious, open-minded and highly educated. They enter journalism because they like debating ideas, considering different perspectives, thinking conceptually, abstractly and idealistically, learning new things and educating others through expression. It would be rare for a reporter to get a job without a college degree. Fact is, the biggest cohort of Trump supporters are whites without a college education. I imagine they are some of the ones shouting down journalists with boos and obscenities as their instigator grins deviously at the podium. No clue what being a journalist truly is about.

Do journalists have biases? Yes, they all do. Everyone does. Journalists are human. Are more progressives (likely Democrats) drawn to journalism than conservatives? Probably. The profession appeals to crusaders and people interested in speaking for those who may not have a voice. Are there media outlets, including newspapers, known for being conservative as well as progressive? Yes, certainly. By and large, the media outlets reflect the prevailing ideologies and sensibilities of their communities.

The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper, had endorsed Republicans for president for the past 126 years, until breaking tradition this year. What happened when the newspaper broke ranks? Reporters, editors and even door-to-door subscription salespeople were greeted with screams, vitriol and even death threats.

The paper’s president and publisher wrote in a emotional and defiant column: “What is the correct response, really, to this:

‘YOU’RE DEAD. WATCH YOUR BACK.

WE WILL BURN YOU DOWN.

YOU SHOULD BE PUT IN FRONT OF A FIRING SQUAD AS A TRAITOR.’

[No, not LIES! Check the primary source.]

I have known and worked with many reporters and editors. By and large, they are tough-minded, persistent, constantly digging, obsessed with facts and public records, concerned with accuracy and driven by creating positive change, righting wrongs, exposing the truth and holding the feet of those in power to the fire.

I know how I acted as a journalist. And I repudiate Trump’s characterization. I strived for fairness; I made the extra call, even when I knew it would be uncomfortable, in an effort to incorporate all sides and views; I was as thorough and persistent as I could be; I tried to treat all subjects I encountered with respect; I fretted about my words and their potential impact; I was ethical.

I also tried to make stories interesting and readable for an audience. Editors demanded it – good, compelling writing, flow, telling a story imbued with some emotion and passion — saying something, moving readers. This is another aspect of journalism about which Trump and his ilk have no concept. Journalists are not merely fact-reciters. I tended to fall into this trap as a journalist until good editors beat it out of me – the lazy, “He said, she said” type of story going back and forth between two sides. Instead, journalists become authorities and experts on the subjects they cover, and as they get to know their topics and sources in depth, their expertise comes through in their writing as they sift through the facts, perspectives and opinions. If a journalist knows something to be true by virtue of their reporting and facts pointing to a conclusion, it’s part of their job as writers to say it with authority and back it up while also presenting opposing or different views.

Earlier this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued an extraordinary warning about Trump’s threat to journalists everywhere and to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. In part, it reads:

“Guaranteeing the free flow of information to citizens through a robust, independent press is essential to American democracy. For more than 200 years this founding principle has protected journalists in the United States and inspired those around the world, including brave journalists facing violence, censorship, and government repression.

Donald Trump, through his words and actions as a candidate for president of the United States, has consistently betrayed First Amendment values…CPJ’s board of directors passed a resolution declaring Trump an unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists and to CPJ’s ability to advocate for press freedom around the world.”

There are plenty of reasons to recoil in disgust with Trump. His blasphemous tirade against journalists – members of one of the institutions that truly does make America great compared to other autocratic, oppressive nations, like Trump endlessly pronounces – hits home with me more than some others.

Ink-stained wretches, nigh “scum” and “low-lifes,” unite!

YOLO: Don’t Fear the Late Career Change

Good news for “older” workers seeking to change their careers and find more fulfilling work comes from the American Institute for Economic Research in a new study, New Careers for Older Workers:

  • Among workers ages 45-and-over who attempted a career change, 82 percent of late-in-career changers were considered successful.
  • The majority of successful career changers said that the change made them happier.
  • Many successful career changers saw an increase in income.
  • Possessing transferable skills is one of the most important factors in determining the success of a career change.

The majority of late-in-career changers reported that their stress levels declined, it did not take too long to find a job, and that they felt they were following a passion. An obstacle was pay cuts, but career-changers reported that after a period of hard work and persistence, their incomes rose.

The study concludes that a career change later in life is “a viable choice” for those seeking work in an occupation that uses their current skills, and that one determinant of success is gaining a realistic view of what the transition will entail and preparing for it. While the study can’t dispel the common perception that age discrimination in hiring exists, it does offer some evidence that some employers are open to hiring older workers.

I have changed careers once before – from journalism to public relations – which isn’t such a big leap. Like the study said, that change involved transferable skills. I made another career change that was prompted by market conditions, as did many career changers in the study. Consecutive public relations job layoffs motivated me to try a new career that I had contemplated before, and I entered a Baltimore teacher-training program for career-changers and non-educators. But I didn’t last long in that field, and jumped back to PR.

Now I’m halfway through a graduate program for counseling while continuing to work in PR. I am not sure where my program is going to lead, or if I will necessarily change careers again. It’s a journey of faith, and I’m enjoying the process, the learning and the people. If I were to change careers ultimately, my income level would surely drop. But I also think there would be potential for my income to exceed my current level if I switched fields, with hard work, certain choices and passion, as the study indicated.

My program is full of potential career-changers in their 40s or older. In the class on Group Theory I just completed, there are two engineers – including one who is going to retire from his position in two months when he graduates and embark on a totally different career path. There’s also an accountant, a nurse, a fashion designer, a financial professional, teachers and former military members. Every one of them seems happy and inspired that they are pursuing a new path. It’s invigorating. The passion and investment of self is palpable. Some feel called to what they are pursuing; all seem to feel a sense of liberation to be pursuing their sense of vision for themselves. For many, it is a deeply spiritual quest.

So for anyone who thinks it’s too late or that they have too much to lose or that a change would be doomed to failure and prove to be a big mistake, take a look at the results of this study that suggest otherwise.

And to feel a little younger at heart, consider the millennial, social media buzzword delivered by a student commencement speaker at my daughter’s high school graduation: YOLO, as in “You Only Live Once.”

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