Rethink your career: What to consider when your career spark dims

Are you ready for new challenges, a new focus in your career?

People in senior jobs who start to feel a sense of dissatisfaction with their careers can start to wonder if it’s time to take a leap into something different.

A single professional career will become increasingly unlikely at a time when many people expect to work into their 70s and 80s, but making the transition to another path takes thought and planning, according to experts in the field.

“There are many people who, in their 50s, find that they have lost their enthusiasm for their career,” says Joanna Maxwell, career adviser and author of the new book, Rethink Your Career

Joanna Maxwell, career adviser and author. Photo: Scarlett Vespa.“In many cases, these people will be financially secure and their family responsibilities will be dealt with, and they might have reached a senior position, but there will be a sense of dissatisfaction. They need new challenges, a new focus.”

Maxwell cites the case of a banking executive, Elaine, who, after leaving banking, found it difficult to come up with a strategy for a new career. This was despite having worked as a strategist.

After a period of reflection, Elaine established a consulting business, and makes a point of finding new challenges.

“I’m peeking out from that corporate wall, I’m jumping out from time to time, but when I can walk out and stand in front of it then I’ll know I’m home,” she says.

Why do you need a career change?

The first critical step is to understand why you feel you need a change. If the problem is the nature of the work itself, then a radical step into a new field might be an answer.

If the style of work is the issue, then moving into self-employment or a different sort of organisation that still requires your professional skills might be suitable.

“It’s a good idea to sit down and draw up a list of strengths,” says Maxwell. “That doesn’t mean qualifications, but the things you are good at. You might have very solid financial qualifications but when you think about it you might realise that interaction with people is really what makes you effective.

“If that is the case, where do you want to go with it? Take some time to ask yourself some questions, assess your financial position, and consider what is really important to you.”

The desire to do more

Suzanne Williams, a career and lifestyle coach who has advised many people looking at new career options, agrees.

“In my experience, the driver of change is often an internal desire to do more,” she says.

Williams sees people with a sense of looking for purposeful work and something that inspires them. They feel the need to contribute to something bigger, with more meaning and creativity.

“People that I see in this space have often worked very hard, with long hours in high-pressure corporate careers. They are looking for more balance in their life, so I see a trend towards more part-time or flexible working arrangements.”

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Should you move into the not-for-profit sector?

A common choice for finance professionals is the not-for-profit (NFP) sector, where they can use their expertise in a new context. Some even take board positions to use their abilities. Working with NFPs can meet the need to give back that many people feel as they get older.

Other people might decide to leave their profession entirely and follow a personal passion. It might be seeking to turn a hobby into a business, or starting up an enterprise. So-called “seniorpreneurs” are responsible for a significant number of new businesses, and their experience gives them a good chance of success.

“Some people reach their 50s and say that they do not know what their passion is,” says Maxwell. “Consider this: what did you last do when you lost track of the time? That can be a critical guide.”

She cites the case of real estate executive John, who found he was increasingly dissatisfied in his job. 

As the family breadwinner, he decided to stay with it but to also develop his passion for motorcycles, with a view towards establishing a motorcycle-touring group business in later years.

“I have never experienced getting up and being happy to go to work before,” he says. “Well, it won’t really be work then, will it?”

Taking a new career path

Whatever new path is taken, a good step can be to work with a professional adviser. Williams suggests that seeking help on a career change is not much different from a business owner seeking the expert advice of an accountant to manage their finances. 

“Many people don’t realise there are services to help with this kind of process,” she says. “Career coaches are also skilled at helping people to make changes in a lower-risk way so that the change process isn’t quite so confrontational.”  

Maxwell emphasises the importance of discussing options with family and friends. 

“There is a significant change of mindset required,” she says. “Many people, especially men, have a lot of their identity tied up in their work. So when you make a change you should ensure that there is support available.”

She says this is especially important for those who decide to go out on their own, which entails a very big change of social environment. 

Maxwell says, however, that making the change can give them a whole new outlook on life. 

“It can be very liberating.”

7 tips to rethink your career

  • Understand why you want a change: is it the job, the sector, or the type of work?
  • Take inventory of your strengths: what is it that brings you professional satisfaction?
  • Assess your position: what will be the practical impact of a career shift?
  • Decide what you want to do: what is your passion and can it be a business?
  • Discuss your options with a professional adviser
  • Draw up a timeline for changes: think about how long it will take to re-establish a new career 
  • A career change will have profound effects on your sense of identity: do you have adequate social support?
* Joanna Maxwell, Rethink Your Career In Your 40s, 50s and 60s, ABC Books, 296 pages, $33.

Read next: Considering a career change after 50?


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