Considering a Career Change? Consider This

You’ve defined yourself professionally one way all this time, and now you want to change. The good news is, you’re in great company: According to one study, more than half of working adults in their 40s wanted to switch careers. The bad news? You probably have more on your plate than ever. Here’s how to make the whole career pivot prospect a little less daunting.

By Heather Hansen


What I learned about pivoting (are you getting tired of this word yet?)

Recently, I was at a Women in Podcasting festival, and everywhere I turned the conversations were about career pivots. Many of the women had podcasts devoted to the topic. One host spoke of the woman who pivoted from C-suite member to beekeeper. Another focused on the woman who left corporate work to be a stay at home mom, and then started her own eight-figure health and wellness company. There were so many pivots that I felt dizzy by the end of the day. But the dizziness was worth it, coming as it did with so many inspiring stories and lessons of those who had successfully achieved a new career at 40. 

I once read that Lee Iacocca, the famous automobile executive, said that in order to be successful you have to replant yourself every few years. This image speaks to me as in my 40s, as I myself have begun to look for a new pot.  

I’ve been a trial lawyer for over 20 years, a partner at the same firm where I started my law career as a clerk in law school. Not too surprisingly if you read the stats, I reached a point where I was ready to try something new. Keynote speaking, writing, podcasting, and television work were all on my list. But I didn’t know where to start. So, I just began, and I’ve gradually made some pretty big professional transitions over the past few years. In the spirit of passing forward what I learned at the festival, here’s what I’ve discovered about switching careers midlife over the last few years:

Ask yourself what you’ll do, not what you’ll be

People trained to be lawyers like me look for evidence, and there is proof that this works.  A recent study showed that as children approach middle school, their confidence in their potential to “be scientists” drops significantly. This is especially true for girls, minorities, and those of lower socioeconomic status. However, they didn’t lose confidence or interest in their ability to “do science.” Using the word do rather than be has implications for educators, but also for career shifters. I was lucky, I knew what I wanted to do, but if you’re just itching for change and don’t know where to start, try asking yourself what you want to do more of at this phase of your life. 

Creep, don't leap

They say leap and the net will appear. But if you are the breadwinner, or just afraid of leaping, this seems way too scary. I chose to creep. Rather than completely replanting myself, I kept my condo and my job in Philadelphia. But I slowly started spending more time in NYC. I rented a tiny little apartment. I made more and more friends. I began transplanting myself one creeping vine at a time, so when it came time to make the full move from Philadelphia to Manhattan it didn’t feel like such a big change. 

Find a network

If you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with, find people who will support the new endeavors you’re adding to your life. In many ways, creeping is even harder than leaping. It takes a lot of faith. When you have a strong support system — ideally one that includes others in similar situations — even the worst days will be just a little bit better. 

Give yourself time and money

You can’t creep forever, and at some point, if the new endeavor isn’t working you may have to accept that it’s a hobby and not a new career (nothing wrong with a new hobby). I gave myself a certain amount of money that I was willing to spend to get my speaking career off the ground, and when that money is gone that’s it. The business has to be supporting itself, or it isn’t a business. I also gave myself a certain amount of time. There is a date by which I will have to decide which pot to make home and stay there. At least that’s what I tell myself. But let’s be honest. At that point, I might just leap. 

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