Mid-life Career Transition: What I Learned

This stage of my career transition is complete – I now have a job where I am at a comparable level in my career to where I was before getting downsized. I wanted to share some thoughts with my readers about what I have learned, and any advice I might have for others.

While Still Employed

  1. Live beneath your means. One reason I got through two years of transition relatively unscathed is that I had a healthy savings account and no debt other than my mortgage. Also, years ago when I bought my condo I decided I didn’t need a McMansion and I went for a modest place with a modest down payment and reasonable mortgage. That allowed me to live on a lot less income and still make all my payments.
  2. Don’t be complacent. You may have a good job now, but you’re one bad quarter or one merger away from being on the street. I’m not saying that to be negative, it’s just a reality. Keep networking, keep your eyes open, keep learning new skills, keep building your personal brand. That way you’ll be ready for whatever comes.
  3. If there are new developments in your field, make a point of learning about those new developments, even if your job doesn’t require it. Employers are looking for a perfect fit. One key technology that you lack can make a big difference in how employers perceive you. They don’t want to have to train you.

During a Transition

  1. No matter how much you want to rush into another job, take some time to assess where you are and where you want to be. If you’ve had dreams of things you’d like to try if you have the time, try them. No one wants to be downsized, but it can be a time of self-discovery that may set you on a delightful new path for your life.
  2. Use the resources available through the U.S. government, your state, county or city. They have a wealth of job search information, groups, training, and funding available for dislocated workers. I was able to get trained in several areas where I knew my skills were lacking.
  3. Get hooked into a couple of job search support groups. Many churches have them. I generally went to one group near home that I found encouraging and supportive, and another that was more focused in my career area where I got leads.
  4. Network, make cold calls, tell everyone you know that you’re looking for a job and keep telling them. You never know where the lead will come from that results in your next job.
  5. It may take one or more “soft landings” before you get to that job where you can finally say “I have landed.” They can be great opportunities to gain experience, learn about companies and just survive a rough patch. In my case that has usually been contract work, which I will write more about in a separate post. Especially for job hunters in their 50s, contract work can be a good way to get past some of the stereotypes hiring managers have about older workers and prove that you’ve still “got it.”
  6. Don’t despise the transition time. I’ll be honest, there were many times in my two year transition where I was discouraged, anxious, angry, and it wasn’t all that pleasant. However, I also had a chance to experiment, experience things ranging from freelance journalism to publishing a photography book, learning through formal and informal means, and getting way out of that rut I was in for too long at my last job. I also was reminded that I am a very strong and resourceful person, and I am proud of how I thrived during a very difficult time. I would not trade the past two years for a time of boring security inside a comfort zone that was starting to feel more like a cage.

About Pat Wolesky

I'm a renaissance woman in some ways. Professionally I do Web content management, knowledge management and communications. I also do watercolor painting, compose and perform music, do nature photography, and am the devoted slave to two cats and a moderator of the About.com Cats forum.
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