6 Things I Learned By Changing Jobs At Midlife

by Sarah Beckham
Originally Published: 

Even with the primitive job-hunting technology of the time (Paper resumes? Adorable!), changing jobs in our 20s was a lot easier than it is now. We were less encumbered, more willing to explore and had less to lose then.

Now, we have more obligations. We worry that the whole “too experienced” thing will put off employers if we’re starting down a different path. And what if it’s the wrong path? And why don’t we have things all figured out by now anyway? And—God, forbid—what if an interviewer asks us what we think about Periscope?

Been there, done that, thought those obsessive late-night thoughts, came through it all and have the new business cards and updated LinkedIn profile to prove it. I shifted out of a long career in newspapers, took a brief detour into university communications and ended up as a happy (well, as happy as we curmudgeonly ex-journalists get) freelance writer and editor. Here’s what helped me along the way. I hope it can take some of the time and stress out of your own career shift.

1. Getting to Know Myself Again

I had gotten so stressed out that I lost touch with who I really was when I wasn’t busy all the time. It’s easy to start ignoring the little joyful impulses and nudges from your soul toward what you should be doing because all the stuff you have to get done every day drowns them out. But I realized that I needed those nudges in my job search; I wanted to be moving toward something new, not just away from what I didn’t want. That meant learning to pay attention again to the stuff that lights me up. Even when I was too tired to get a full-on glow going, each little spark—an article that caught my eye, an afternoon that flew by because I was doing something I loved—helped me find my direction.

2. Shutting Off the Negative Talk

Fear can really grab hold of you when you’re thinking about a job change. Are you familiar with the greatest hits of negative self-talk: “I Only Know This One Industry,” “I Don’t Know What I Have to Offer Anymore” and “It’s Too Late to Do Something New”? I played them on repeat in my head.

One thing that helped me shake off that kind of negative thinking was becoming a mentor. Through American Corporate Partners, I started mentoring a young Navy veteran who’s an aspiring journalist (my former field). He’s a joy, and working with him makes me focus on what I do know and how it can help others.

3. Networking Without the Cheesiness

During a career shift, you have to network. This is hard for us Gen-Xers. It can make us feel like we’ve sold out—like Reality Bites-era Ethan Hawke is going to show up and look at us with wounded, disappointed eyes. But you can network in a way that’s not soul-killing. I finally started to “get” networking with help from books by a couple of fellow Austinites: Patti DeNucci’s The Intentional Networker and Thom Singer’s Some Assembly Required. Like mentoring, authentic relationship-based networking reminded me how much I do have to offer others.

4. Learning the New Rules

Maybe your career timeline has been like mine: a lot of job-hopping in your 20s and then settling down for a while with the same employer. My job search a couple of years ago was my first since 1999, when I used such cutting-edge tools as AOL. I had to get the lay of the land before I started sending resumes again. If you’re job-hunting yourself, you’re totally welcome to all the articles I saved for reference.

5. Committing the Time

It took me a long time to realize that a job change doesn’t just happen and that I’d have to sink some serious time into it. I hated admitting that some other things, like my housekeeping standards, would just have to give. But they did, and everyone survived.

6. Forgetting About Perfection

This was me as a job hunter: Hey, that sounds like a cool job! Maybe I’ll…oh, but wait. There’s this one thing that sounds kind of sucky. Forget it.

Because I was nervous about making a change, I’d get hung up on small things—say, having to dress up more in a new job—and turn them into deal breakers.

There’s no job without some sucky parts. But they’re a lot more bearable when the big things about a job are in line with your likes, dislikes and priorities. If you’re making a job change, think about what qualifies as a big deal for you and what’s really just a minor annoyance that you and your future awesome coworkers can gripe about together.

Happy (job) hunting!

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