“Life is too short for this” is a phrase that a lot of people have used from time to time. As one approaches late-middle age, the sentence alters in meaning from a philosophical abstraction to a clarion call for action while there is still time. While the midlife crisis might be overplayed as a Hollywood trope, some arrive at the age of 50 and wonder about their careers, “Is there time to make a change?” Happily, the answer is yes if you follow a clear roadmap of reflection, goal determination, preparation and execution.
Here’s how to start a new career at 50.
Preparation for a career change at 50 or older is a matter of financial, psychological and cultural insight and planning. To begin, learn to reflect to articulate to yourself and others what you are all about. What drives you? What are you especially good at doing? What are you not as skilled at doing? At this stage of life and career, you should have a clear sense of these answers. Self-knowledge is important, and with proper reflection, you should be able to tell the story of your life with reference to clear narratives of success, disappointment, results and lessons learned.
By now, there will be clear themes in your work history that you can articulate to your advantage. To start, think about your personal “mission statements” and let that drive you. For example:
— “I have always excelled in situations when motivating a team to attain goals. I am competitive and will seek to win at almost any ethical cost.”
— “Working for a cause is important to me. I cannot divorce my efforts from the greater good no matter how hard I try.”
Ask people you trust about their perspective on your best attributes and contributions. Be as specific as possible. “I am good with people,” is not nearly as helpful as: “I have an uncanny ability to put clients at ease while I describe and explain complex procedures.”
Now that you can articulate who you are and how you best contribute, you must determine what you want to do. For most people changing careers at 50, this new goal includes some combination of doing a similar function in a different space, a different function in a similar space, or a different function in a new space. As a rule, the smoothest path is a different function in an existing space or a similar function in a different space.
This is not to say that one can’t change function and marketspace simultaneously, but that the degree of complexity is that much higher and the story of how you fit into that position may be harder to articulate. Goal determination is a matter of written and interpersonal research followed by risk and reward assessments. For example, one can and some do start medical school at age 50, but careful research into medical college admissions and career paths may reveal the tradeoffs of time invested for career enjoyment may not be worth the effort.
Goals will refine over time, but the 50-something career changer must have a clear set of objectives if they want to be successful. The goal needs to be specific, measurable, and actionable. “I want a sales job” is not a helpful goal. “I want to make a move into marketing management at a consumer product company,” is clearer and more defined. The goal will change in focus and clarity throughout the career change journey, but a clear definition is a key step.
Once you know yourself and what you seek, the next step is to prepare communications for others to help and refer you. A concise elevator pitch is a key tool in learning how to present yourself and tell your story for an opportunity. Tie the past to the future through the mechanism of your self-understanding and future goal.
In the example below, note the use of the personal narrative and career search goal as a bridge from the past to the future.
“I have enjoyed tremendous success as an operations manager. When I think back on the first part of my career, I notice that my biggest impact has been on counseling and supporting individual contributors. This is why I seek to transition into a senior human resources management role.”
At this point in your career and life, you know a lot of people. The next phase is to assess your social capital and determine a call plan for contacting these would-be allies. Ideally, you will meet with people you know professionally and personally to let them know what you seek and why. They in turn will pass you on to other people who will help you clarify your goals, sharpen your fit story and allow you to meet others. It is best for these meetings to be held in person, but video conference and telephone can be reasonable substitutes.
Aggressive and consistent networking is the most effective route to new opportunities. These steps can be taken before you leave your current position. Set a goal to meet two additional people each week for focused networking and be sure to offer help to others as you work toward your goal.
Go for It — Life Is Short!
Preparation is key but execution is essential. Many people spend their whole lives wondering what could have been. Daydreaming is not a plan, but insightful consideration, careful planning and relentless execution of a networking plan work marvels. Life is a one-way path from birth to death, but the roads you take on your career journey will change for the better if you follow these key steps.
More from U.S. News