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Career Change Tools for the Mid-Life Woman

By Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D.

Guest Author, Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. shares her 14 steps to re-envisioning your work life.

Career transitions at midlife are very different from those we make in our twenties and thirties. The recognition of our mortality diminishes the importance of status, success, money and meeting the expectations of others. At midlife we tend to reflect on the gap between the reality of our lives and the dreams we once had. We want the second half of our lives to be meaningful because we won't get another chance.

Here's a 14-step plan to make your career transition manageable and help you re-envision the second half of your life:

1. Determine If It's Time for a Change

Are you bored by what you're doing now? Do you feel by your day? Do you feel unsatisfied even after you've accomplished something? Have you lost interest in things that used to excite you? Do you wake up dreading the day about to unfold? Are your talents being squandered?

Of course, a career change is not the only solution when you feel like this. Sometimes you can make changes in your current job to make it more satisfying and meaningful. But if you feel as if you're dragging yourself from one day to another, some kind of a change is probably necessary.

2. Write Your Mission Statement

Ideally, work is an expression of who we are. A meaningful and satisfying career meshes with our values, our talents and what is truly important to us.

Think of someone who is living the life you most envy. What is it about her life that you wish were part of yours? Write the eulogy you'd like someone to deliver for you. What contributions would they say you've made to the lives of others and to the world?

3. Inventory Your Accomplishments

This is often very difficult for those of us taught not to brag. But affirming your valuable experience and successes helps ground you in your strengths and remind you of what you do well. It serves as a compass and provides refueling for the journey ahead. Write down all you've accomplished in all of our life roles. What a resume!

4. Inventory Your Competencies

List everything you do well. Ask others to share their perceptions of your strengths. Don't restrict yourself to job tasks. If you're particularly good at convincing your partner to do things your way, that's evidence of your persuasive skills. Perhaps the big social event you organized showcases your leadership and organizational
skills. Are you an effective manager of your family's finances? Do people praise your analytical abilities?

5. Inventory Your Satisfactions

Just because you're good at something doesn't necessarily mean you find it satisfying. Do you get the greatest satisfaction from doing things that help others; from the process of working as a team with other people; from activities that produce tangible results?

6. Inventory Your Values

What matters most to you? Consider values like autonomy, altruism, creativity, power, financial gain, intellectual stimulation, leadership,affiliation, beauty, knowledge.

7. Make a List of the Things You Absolutely Love to Do

If money were not an issue, how would you spend your perfect day? Think of the physical settings you'd like to be in, the people you'd want to see and how you'd want to relate to them, the activities you'd engage in, the pace at which you'd move and whether you'd seek relaxation or excitement.

8. Gather Information

Once you have your list of accomplishments, competencies, values, and passions you can find careers that fit your personal description. Search the Internet. Read the classifieds. Review the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Most colleges and universities have career libraries filled with descriptions of careers you've never heard of.

At this point in the process, your goal is to create a list of options, not to find the one "right" career. Include every job that intrigues you, regardless of whether you have the required skills for it. This is a brainstorming session. You want to generate possibilities in a non-critical way.

9. Do Informational Interviews

Talk to people who do the kinds of work you've identified as interesting. Call your alumni association for names of people to whom you can talk.
Contact professional associations and ask your friends if they know anyone. Ask your potential interviewee if they'd be willing to spend some time with you, in a location of their choosing, discussing their work. Ask what it's like to do their job, what they love and hate about their work, how they landed where they are, what they wish they'd known before they started.

10. Narrow Your Focus

As you gather information, your focus will narrow naturally. When you're down to just a few possibilities, research for details. Try volunteering or taking a short-term, part-time position to see how your potential new career feels. Factor in how your life would change if you chose a particular career.

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