Mid-life career change surprises many workers, especially executives and professionals who have achieved success by careful planning. They are often accustomed to moving cautiously. “Should I plan to leave my job after a year?” they ask. “Can you give me a test that tells me where I belong in the world of work?”
Often they ask their career consultants, “How many interviews should I conduct this week? I want to explore one option at a time.”
But real career change doesn’t work that way. It’s messy. I often use an analogy from sports. Corporate career success is like pro football. Everyone’s reached a certain level of competence. You practice all the plays. You are rewarded for being where you’re suppose to be.
Career change is more like playground pick-up basketball. You met your teammates five minutes. You don’t have a playbook and you get rewarded for figuring out what’s going on and reacting quickly to novel situations.
When researchers began studying real career change (instead of rehashing what “everybody” knows) they discovered most career change happens by accident. You research a career in project management. Then you run into a classmate who just finished a degree in information science and realize you really want to work in a library. Or your part-time job – the one you took in desperation – turns out to be so much fun you embark on a whole new trajectory.
Career advisors have two functions. They keep you moving so serendipity is more likely to happen. And secondarily, they help you recognize signposts in your environment. They encourage you to investigate a new path because you don’t know what will be a pointless dead end and what will become an expressway to your dream.
Many of us miss signals that seem obvious to an outsider. A teacher says to a student, “You have a gift for writing creatively.” A business associate says, “You created a beautiful website for yourself. Can I pay you to design one for me?” A neighbor says, “You ought to consider making a career out of your talent.” And these conversations are forgotten half an hour later.
Sometimes the message should be heard as, “Keep this talent somewhere in your life, not necessarily as a profit center.” Nina gives pottery as Christmas presents, but she will not give up her lucrative day job in advertising. She realizes the need to market her wares would overwhelm her love of the clay.
True messages leave you feeling as if you’ve been hit on the head by a flying two-by-four. They reach your heart. They feel “right.” You hear them as invitations, not advice.
As you open your intuition and become focused on what you want, you’ll find yourself attracting more invitations. And one of them might take you to worlds you never dreamed of.