Everyone should plan for a change in career. Statistically, you are likely to wish you could change. Financially, you are likely to be too scared to take action, unless you plan for change early, before you want to make a leap.
Today people start working when they are 22 and don't stop until they are 65 or older. It makes sense that the career you pick when you are a 22 will not be appropriate when you are 44. People change. Thank goodness, or else we would get bored being ourselves.
Many people are already aware of this problem: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 67% of American workers don't like their jobs. One look at the Amazon.com business books bestsellers list reveals the biggest career problem — at least for people who buy business books: Fear of changing careers. People get to a certain point in their life, somewhere between 35 and 55, and they want to switch careers, but it's too scary.
No one is immune from the desire to change career — even people who love their job. Maybe your heath will dictate change, maybe relocating for a spouse will. If you're still feeling smug that you will never stop loving your job, remember that the divorce rate is 50% and those people felt love at first, too.
So part of everyone's planning should entail leaving doors open for career change. And the biggest barrier to career change is money.
When you have worked in one field for a while, you become an expert, and your salary reflects that. When you want to change careers, you will likely take a cut in salary. Fine for someone who is in their twenties. But for a 35-year-old, who has kids and a mortgage, almost any salary cut is terrifying.
You need to do something to ensure that you are not terrified. Otherwise, career change will be out of the question. For most people this preparation means living way below your earning power starting immediately.
Phyllis Moen, professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, says that one of the most common barriers to changing career paths is having to pay a hefty mortgage. She says, “The one thing that people seem to equate with adulthood is buying a house. This is true for single people, too. In the past – for Boomer generation especially — advice was to buy the best house you can afford. But now it's an albatross.”
Another career trap is a job that entails very bad conditions for what people tell you will be only a limited period of time — associates at law firms, medical residents, consultants who travel nonstop are all examples of this sort of position. Be careful planning for the future by telling yourself you're “paying dues” now for more fulfillment down the road. If you pay dues for too long then switching careers means, in a way, paying dues for nothing, which is a large psychic cost to come to terms with.
Many people in very lucrative fields say: “I am going to earn so much money that I can save enough to switch careers.” This may be true, if you don't want to switch careers too early, and if you are realistic about how much money you have to save. However this level of self-discipline is rare; Richard Easterlin, professor of Economics at University of Southern California finds in his research that people are hard-wired to always want more money. For most people, saying, “I could live on a lot less money and be fine,” is like saying, “I could stop drinking any time I want.” Theoretically it should be easy, but in practice, it's not. So start doing it immediately to make sure you can.
The Baby Boomers had midlife crises because they were so frequently trapped in careers that felt wrong. The next generation has a chance to be visionaries with their careers so as to not repeat the Boomers' mistakes. Hopefully, twenty years from now, the bestsellers list on Amazon.om will be filled with books about a new career problem — one we could not have foreseen.