A midlife career change can feel subversive – like you’re somehow rewriting the rules. By the time you’ve hit the ‘comfortable’ stage in life and work in your 30s and 40s, you’re often expected to be on the fast-track towards senior management. Jumping ship on everything you’ve known can feel flighty or suspect, and can even be accompanied by raised eyebrows. However, it’s worth challenging this perception, as a midlife career transition might be one of the best moves you ever make.
So, when is the best time to switch careers midlife? We look at this and other reasons why it could be the right decision for you, and help to normalize a midlife career change.
When to switch careers midlife
Changing careers in your 30s or 40s can be a great time to do so. Perhaps your values have changed and you want to try something new, or you’re just not happy where you are. In your 30s and 40s, you might find that you have enough experience under your belt to keep you afloat, and the grit to make it happen. One of the benefits of being in these decades of life is that you’re not a wide-eyed youngster, but neither are you jaded and cynical.
In a society where many people feel tied to their jobs on the basis of money, status or convenience, we like to question this. Under a microscope, these perks are only worth it so long as what you’re doing makes you happy. If not, they can simply be things that are holding you back or keeping you stuck somewhere you don’t want to be.
Don't wed yourself to a career for stability
You can be ‘stable’ in a job but miserable and unfulfilled. Equally, you can have a future full of unknowns, but with ideas that fire you up and actually give you some drive in life.
On top of this, stability is a fallacy. In a lesson many learnt during the pandemic, jobs are never really fully secure. A useful thing to do in an uncertain climate is to stay sharp and reactive – something that happens naturally when you pivot careers. It’s not an uncommon reality to find people feeling unhappy in their jobs, yet sticking them out for decades. It’s important to take a step back and question whether it’s worth it for you, or whether you’d benefit more from a midlife career change.
Changing careers is massively freeing and energizing
When you’re on the brink of a major career break or change, often the advice that comes up is to prepare. Do your homework. Research. Speak to other people who’ve done the same thing. This is valuable advice, but also bear in mind that preparation can’t ever quite fully compare to the reality and lived experience of being in the thick of things.
A great way to learn about a midlife career pivot is by throwing yourself headfirst into it and learning on the ground. If you’re spending fair chunks of time resisting making the transition, it’s worth putting in some thought into what it is that’s holding you back.
A challenging part of changing careers is when you’re undecided, or trying to second-guess the decision that you’ve already made. Your mind can embark on a spiral of “what ifs?”, desperately trying to figure out if you’ve made the ‘right’ decision. Yet, there isn’t ultimately one beyond what feels good and true to you at a given time. Making a decision to change jobs at 30 or 40 can create a more positive frame of mind, too. It’s massively freeing and energizing to make a choice based on personal desires and needs.
A midlife career change requires self-belief
When we lean into the notion that there’s ‘no going back’, it can create a high-stakes, high pressure scenario that can lead to us freezing. The reality is far more prosaic and there are always options in life. If you go from a full-time position to a freelance career, it’s perfectly possible to switch back if the decision doesn’t pan out.
Granted, you might not get your exact job back – but, there’s a reason why you wanted to leave it in the first place. Your doing so can set off a chain reaction of decisions that will change and develop you in various ways, no matter what happens. Nothing, really, is a waste of time or money. You’re always learning in some way or another, and that’s so much better than being stagnant.
However, the really scary part of a midlife career change and taking that first, giddy plunge into the unknown is something you are already more than capable of. It’s a move that requires self-belief and determination: qualities that, like muscles, only get cranked into action when the situation demands it.
Changing careers makes our work lives feel more intentional
Changing careers isn’t flaky, it’s smart. We live in an era of near constant change. We can become bored and stagnant when we don’t question things and create conscious choices to continue down a path or find a new one. Changing careers is a chance to press reset, dust off your skills and stay relevant in a landscape that demands that you adapt in order to thrive.
While there’s nothing wrong with staying in the same place for a while; there’s equally nothing inherently right about it either. By reframing everything as a choice and opting out of a mindset that risky career moves are bad, our work lives can feel more intentional. Pivoting career in your 30s and 40s can light up your skills on a level that’s almost unparalleled. Few choices are as motivating, or carry a sharper learning curve.
It's you who will lay out the rules of how to live your life
Perhaps the most important part of a midlife career change is the mistakes you’ll make along the way. This could be strategic errors, or those that come through new experiences. They could mean you end up losing money, confidence or a combination of the two — the only guarantee is that they will happen. Yet, no matter what, these missteps can help you develop and grow in a way that could not have occurred if you hadn’t taken a risk to begin with.
While there can be a tendency to frame lives around what we can and can’t do, we don’t have to follow them. Because, really, it’s you who will lay out the rules of how you live your life. And it’s surprising how everything adapts when you go in with enough conviction. If you want to work from home, or four days a week, or even from a nomadic haven like Chiang Mai in Thailand: do it. Try it out. Make it happen. Change starts when you do. So instead of thinking about what you ‘can’t’ do, shift the focus to what you want to do – and let life adapt to follow.
Considering breaking the mould? Join Flash Pack today to meet other like-minded people on adventures in their 30s and 40s.
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