3 ways to tackle the fear of changing your career

Each month, Marci Alboher, a Vice President of Encore.org—a nonprofit that helps people find meaningful careers in their second half of life—will share ideas and strategies for experienced job seekers. This is an excerpt from her book, The Encore Career Handbook.

Photo credit: Kara Allyson, Creative Commons/Flickr
Photo credit: Kara Allyson, Creative Commons/Flickr

For most people, career transitions are intensely unsettling. So it’s important to get comfortable with feelings of uncertainty – and to develop techniques to get you through any rough patches.

You might have a free block of time to jump feet first into a transition. That’s great. But if you’re working full time in a job you’re not planning or able to leave for a while, exploring something new can occur alongside the familiar.

Either way, you will no doubt hit a time when you are neither fully invested in what you have been doing nor fully involved in what you hope will be a new kind of work. When you’re in that in-between nowhere space, expect to feel uneasy or even anxious. Reactions of others may rile you. How will you introduce yourself when you meet someone new? How long can you hang onto your former title as a way of explaining who you are? What do you do with your time – when only so much of it can be consumed by reinvention.

Making the transition to a new career

After 27 years, Betsy Werley left a corporate career in banking without a plan for what would come next. “There was a period when there was nothing going on and I didn’t know where I was going, and I remember walking down the street and looking at all these other people and feeling so envious because they all seemed like they had somewhere to go,” she said.

Werley survived her transition and is now the executive director of the Transition Network, a national nonprofit that helps women over 50 face a wide variety of transitions together. Hard to miss the irony there!

In his classic book, Transitions, William Bridges defines the stages of transition that accompany all sorts of big life shifts – marriage, divorce, a job change, a birth of a child, a loss of someone you love, or even an inner change like a spiritual awakening or adjustment in self-image. In each instance, Bridges identifies a process that needs to happen. “First there is an ending, then a beginning, and an important empty or fallow time in between,” he writes.

That time is an important part of the process. Here are some ways to navigate the transition:

  • Make time: You’ll want to set aside some time for thinking, planning, and reflecting. It can be part of a weekend, an evening, a long walk, or a coffee date. It can even be a full-on vacation or sabbatical.
  • Find a sounding board: Talk to a friend whose opinions you always trust, a mentor or colleague who has a great sense of your potential, even a spiritual leader you turn to in times of confusion.
  • Join a group or take a class: The number of organizations focused on helping people through career transitions is growing. Check out the map here for a current listing of local organizations. If you don’t see your town listed there, check local community colleges, community centers, faith organizations, Rotary clubs and other service organizations, women’s or men’s groups, alumni associations, and libraries. Consider even starting your own encore transition group.

The key to any transition is finding support. Are you in the midst of your own transition? Let us know how it’s going (and check out the free Encore Transition Group Guide). Please comment below!

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Marci Alboher is a Vice President of Encore.org, a nonprofit making it easier for millions of people to move into encore careers. She is the author of the newly released Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life (Workman 2013).
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    • Ms. Fressia Cerna
    • March 7, 2013

    I was browsing through the internet looking for places to “look” for jobs and found this.
    This morning I woke up very sad and unsettle because yesterday evening I read the number 123 rejection letter received in the last year. This doesn’t account for the 1036 CV I’ve sent to job posts during same period.
    I am almost 58 years old, 20+ years of field experience in the International Development field, hold a Master’s degree in International Development from Rutgers University NJ USA, and I’m a former Fulbright scholar for my Master’s studies. I also have other academic achievements. But must important I have strong experience in management of programmes and projects and cross cutting expertise in the several areas of public policy, social development, gender and inclusion, population issues, CSO strengthening and capacity building, and some other areas in the field.
    My question is why is it so difficult to find a fulfilling, rewarding job? I worked for the UN in my country for 15 years and retired at 53 for personal reasons. But after that, I have not been able to find my place again. What do you recommend?
    Many thanks in advance

      • Ella
      • March 19, 2013

      Dear Ms. Cerna,
      You state that you “have not been able to find [your] place again,” in combination with the statement that you have sent 1036 CV’s and have gotten over a hundred rejections, which made me wonder… Do you know what your place is? Are there really 1036 “right places” for you?

      When used for hunting, buckshot doesn’t kill large game, just maims it/ renders meat inedible. However, a single, right-size slug will take down the animal. Similar, too, for your CV’s and applications. An application/ CV and cover letter developed with laser-like focus on why you are perfect for the job that is perfect for you, with similar laser-like focus on research and follow-up, has a better chance of hitting the target than an application, CV, and cover-letter developed with the purpose of getting you any/every job that you’re qualified for.

      I would recommend that you start with a very detailed self-assessment of your strengths, and also a detailed self-evaluation of the times at work when you were most successful, happy, productive etc. Try to figure out what were the common aspects to those times. In addition to job titles and duties, consider organizational culture (see http://idealistcareers.org/should-you-take-that-job-tips-for-examining-organizational-culture-and-fit/)
      Then, apply that knowledge to finding the types of positions/ employers which can offer you similar. Apply 100% of your effort toward developing your leads in that area- making calls to network contacts you already have and attending networking events are most effective (remember thought that you aren’t there because of what they can do for you, but what you can do for them!) Researching the field for organizations experiencing new growth or funding new initiatives is another good way to identify where the openings might be. Additionally, in organizations where growth has been stalled due to a problem, there is an opening to solve that problem!
      If there is an organization you’ve always admired and you feel like you have talents to contribute… give it a try! Sometimes the organization doesn’t know what it’s missing and therefore doesn’t have an ‘opening’ but you might be able to raise their awareness and provide the missing linkage in their systems, especially because you are already aware of what they do and how they operate.

      Is that a good start?

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