Career change is inevitable, so plan for it

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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 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 will be filled with books about a new career problem — one we could not have foreseen.

8 replies
  1. Timothy
    Timothy says:

    You have done a great job an identifying the issues that prevent people from chagning careers. The key is teaching the next generation to plan ahead.

    From my experience the recent college business graduates feel entitled to positions that they are not qualified for. Young MBA grads especially due to their professors telling them that as an MBA they are qualified for management. In most professions new people still need to “pay their dues”. But they also need to avail themselves of opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills. Some employers provide continuing education benefits and others have volunteer opportunities that can continue to develop people for broader, or different, responsibilities.

  2. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    Help! I am so frustrated. I teach Title Reading 1st and 2nd grades and have been at the same school for my entire teaching career-8+ years. I feel trapped and do not feel like my school system will let me grow professionally. I am doing a terrific job however they have cut my help and I have 80 students/10 classes with 5 pages of paperwork per head. I am tired and the environment at my school is such that the moral is very low as well as the system in which I teach. My family lives in this area. I love it here except for my job. The perks are hard to leave-kids, vacation. Please help me. I am not sure what to ask so ANY help is appreciated!! I am also 35, not married, no children and I just sold my condo to downsize and pay off debt. My car just went kapooie unexpectedly. Help:)

  3. Your Career Advisor
    Your Career Advisor says:

    Kathryn, I see some options assuming you want to stay in elementary education.

    1. Look for a teaching position in a nearby district. I don’t know where you currently live, but in my part of the world there are easily 20 school districts within 45 minutes of my home.

    2. Look for a similar position in a private school. Many of these schools are smaller than the public schools and they provide more support for their staff, and frequently better pay and benefits.

    3. Look for a different position within your current district. From my experience the support you get is directly related to the quality of the leadership in your building. A principal that is truly working to improve the educational process will take steps to make the teachers jobs easier.

    I have educators in my family and I am truly amazed that they can be committed to their calling in spite of the pay and working conditions. We, as citizens of this country, should feel blessed that there are people like you who are willing to take on this important responsibility.

  4. Nina
    Nina says:


    My name is Nina. I would like to know how much risk I am taking if I get into the hospitality industry? I currently work for the City as a Correspondence Specialist. Although, it’s a job, but I am not particulary satisfied. About two years ago, I registered for a 8 week class in the travel industry. Once the class was over I received a certificate. Although, I have not pursued anything as of yet, but I am interested in working for a hotel.

    I have worked for the same company for about 5 years now. I was promoted to my current job about a year ago from a clerical position I had. To add, three of those years I was a temp. So I only have two full years as an City employee. I am 35, no children, not in any significant relationship at this time.

    Is the risk worth it? What are your thoughts about the industry?

    * * * *

    I don’t see the huge risk. Take a job in the industry. If you don’t like it, try something else. If you only stay a few months, just leave the job off your resume. Most people between the ages 18 and 32 are changing jobs every two years. You can do that, too. You don’t need to have found a great career yet. Keep looking.


  5. Home Business Coach
    Home Business Coach says:

    Great Article. I especially would like to comment on :::The next generation has a chance to be visionaries with their careers so as to not repeat the Boomers' mistakes.

    This is so true. Seems the baby boomer’s were a generation with an end date at work. Many put of their interests and other callings, figuring they would do it in retirement. Most retire on 40-60 percent of what was already difficult. Following your passion is the number one way to create a life you can be proud of living and truly happy.

    I talk with a number of baby boomers who want more money and desire freedom. In other words a way to generate an income using skills they already possess without a commitment or schedule.

    I really enjoy working with baby boomers. In general they are responsible,driven and willing to go after what they want. Especially once they are recieving that pension check every month they worked so hard for.

  6. silly
    silly says:

    i’m in my mid 30s. and qualified in my field. i had wanted to do law when i was young, and well, the college grades were not sufficient to enter public universities. so, it has be a long unfulfilled dream.
    had to opportunity to work in europe for the last couple of years. the slower pace of work, and the money, allows me to do a distance learning law degree. and of course also paid of my mortgage. so, financially, it be ok for taking 2 years off, to complete the degree, chambering,etc. But the fear of starting from the bottom again is so real.
    should i take this leap. i have to let the university know in 10 days time, so that they amend the record, and move me to a full degree course, requiring me to do a few more papers.
    or otherwise, i would have just complete it next may, and my business card will have a few added alphabet.
    what if i dun do well as a lawyer? completing all the necessary training, would mean that i’ll probably start at the age of 40. competing against people in the twenties, do you think it make sense?
    it has been roller coaster in the mind for the last few months. one day thinking i’ll be a surveyor, one day thinking i want to be a lawyer

  7. Vinay
    Vinay says:

    I am now 33 year old. working as a sales professional. not satisfied with job. want to change my domain. not having good salary. Looking for networking job. is it risky to make change in career. please suggest I am very scared.

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