How A Mid-Life Career Change Becomes A Success Story
How to Change Professions in Mid-Life
Have you been contemplating changing jobs? Starting a new career? Beginning again in a brand new profession? Have you been trying to persuade yourself, "I'm too old...nobody will hire me now"? or "I can't change jobs. This is all I know how to do, even thought I hate it!" Maybe you've been laid off from your job of 25 years and find yourself in the unemployment line. If that's the case, you definitely need to read on. Please. With the economy the way it is now, it may be your only alternative. Whatever your reason for considering the big 'C' (change), I want to encourage you to ponder this a moment: Why do you have self-defeating thoughts? Feeling 'beat down' by corporate ridicule? Ah, I know....you've been in this job for so long, it's stable, and you don't want to leave your comfort zone! I have one bold statement for you: It's never too late to start over. So how do I know this? Because I'm a prime example. I'm not going to pretend that I'm the "expert" in finding the right profession. But there's one thing we never forget - our own experience. Since I don't have the statistics, economic book brain or solution to all problems, at least I can share what I did when facing this life-changing decision. Maybe it will inspire you to take a second look.
It all started in 1991 while I was sitting in the office of the mobile home sales lot where I worked. I looked out the window. The lot was half empty, we'd lost our financing on used homes and I was the only employee left. I couldn't believe things had gotten this bad. What was I going to do? I was sustaining the business with cash sales only. I knew I was going to have to do something. But what?
All my life I was interested in the psychology, counseling and helping others. It intrigued me to no end! I envied those individuals who had a job where they could reach out and make a real difference in someone's life. When I came in contact with someone in the social service profession, I would ask "How did you get this job? What did you have to do to work in this field?" And the answer was always the same: "I went to school and got a degree. And I did volunteer work".
The mere thought of going to school turned my stomach. Oh no! They'd make me take Algebra!! I barely got out of High School, and I mean high school because that's all I did back then was stay high. So, I made a decision. I was going to go to college if it killed me! I tried to talk myself out of it making statements like, "I'm just not smart enough". Blah blah blah, you know the routine. Then I left my sales job at the mobile home lot and went to new home construction sales where I experienced work-place harassment and an abusive manager. I stayed 6 months and left with severe stomach pains.
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The Leap of Faith
It didn't take me long to find a part-time job as a leasing agent. At the same time, I took the placement tests for the local community college. Darn! I passed them all! Even the math!!! Now I'd HAVE to go to college. Here I was, 34 years old with 2 kids at home and I was going to college. Now I'd have to do it. Besides, my family was encouraging me 100%. Better yet, there were many options available for financial aid. I'm not going to go into it, but you must investigate ALL avenues. The help is there, it's up to you to get it.
So my first day of school was scary. But I made myself do it. Then I forced myself to take another class, then another. Soon it was time to take the dreaded TASP test. Don't ask me what it stands for, I only know I had to pass this test before I could go forward in college. Well, I passed the Language, English, and Writing with flying colors. I failed the Math section, but only by 3 points. So I had to enroll in a non-credit math course to teach me what I forgot in high school in the 70's. I retook the Math section of the test later and passed.
In the meantime, I inquired and was accepted into a special degree program at the college. The great part about it was that I wouldn't have to take Algebra! It wasn't required for the degree, only college math, thank God! But the best part was this: I could use my former work experience and apply towards up to 24 semester hours of lower and upper division credits! But it didn't come easy. The course was grueling. I was required to write a detailed, concise history of my former job (mobile home sales) in a specific format. I wrote every day, went to my part-time job and continued with duties at home. To top it off, I got a divorce during this time, became clinically depressed and suicidal, but continued to work on my portfolio with tears streaming down my cheeks. But I did it! I finished the portfolio and was awarded the full 24 hour credits!
It wasn't over yet. I needed 126 college credits for my Bachelors degree. I was only part-way there. I ended up losing my job as a leasing agent, so I applied for food stamps and got them. Soon after, I landed a full time job with a major retail brick supplier. It was a great job with excellent benefits. They had an education assistance program that helped me pay for school, one class at a time, year after year. I became complacent in the job because it was stable. I was in a comfort zone, but beginning to dread going to work. Did I really want to stand behind a counter the rest of my life and say, " How can I help you?" to patrons? No!! I'd lost sight of my goal!
By this time, I'd remarried and started another life. My kids were grown and on their own. After one of MANY long discussions with my husband, I made the decision to leave the job in order to complete my degree requirements within the next year. I only had 6 classes left to take. And I was becoming more and more aggravated on the job due to several problems in the office. I knew I had to make a move, step out in faith, and jump into new territory. I resigned my position with the company after 9 years. I hated to leave, but I knew I wasn't going to reach my true career goals as long as I stayed there.
It was tough. I took a full load of classes and found a part-time job teaching horseback riding lessons. Let me tell you, that was one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had. Didn't pay hardly anything, but it was worth every bit of the tedious shoveling, saddling and grooming involved. During this time, I finally completed my classes!
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Well, here I was. Finally. Had my degree in my hand and couldn't get a job in my field! You've got to remember, I'd worked sales and customer service for over 25 years. I had no formal "experience" in social services. Or did I? What else could you call my past job history? Believe me, if I didn't know how to talk to and read people by that time, something was definitely wrong! Now I had to convince potential employers that I was, in fact, qualified for the job! So I learned to develop a "Functional Resume" (see example below) that focused on my school studies and skills in my selected field instead of relying on the basic "Chronological Resume" which only listed my past jobs and experience. Then I participated in some volunteer work for Red Cross (during the Katrina disaster) and the Domestic Violence Prevention Center. Finally, 11 months after getting my degree in Behavioral Science, I landed a job at the local Mental Health Center! They listened to me and believed that I could do the job. I've been there ever since.
Since the day I began working in my new occupation, I've had the opportunity to work in 3 different positions within the organization. Each title has taught me new and different things about my field. I've finally reached my career goals. I've never regretted one minute of the arduous studying I endured for 13 years trying to complete my Bachelors degree. Not once.
What will you do?
If you've been contemplating changing careers, maybe my story will motivate you. I only know that sometimes we are forced into challenging what we believe is impossible. For those who are facing unemployment right now, I would encourage you to think about what you always loved to do. What really interests you most? What did you enjoy doing as a child? Is there some field that you hold expert knowledge but never considered following through just because it seemed unreachable? Not to mention college.....financial aid is available. The colleges and universities want you to go back to school. That's why exploring the financial aid department is crucial if you're serious about going back to school. For a lot of us, college is the gateway for a new career. Especially when we're faced with the life-changing decision to stay put or take the leap of faith. I hope my story will inspire you to consider the possibilities.
Other Suggested Reading:
- Example of Functional Resume: For Career Change.
What type resume do you use when you are changing professions? A Functional Resume: easy to use, step by step Functional Resume guide for anyone who wants employers to notice their transferable skills when changing careers.
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