Is It Too Late To Change Careers?

by | May 29, 2012 | Career Design | 60 comments

O ne of the most common fears I hear from those contemplating a change is that they’ve run out of time to do what they really want.

They see the distance between where they are today and where they’d like to go and tell themselves, “It’s too late for me.”

What’s interesting is this complaint is largely independent of age.

Athletes who came to their sport in high school think they can’t compete with those who started in elementary school. College grads feel shackled by their major. New parents focus on stability, then kick the can of their dreams down the road another 18 years. Retirees believe in the concept of a Third Chapter, but only as a minor pivot from their current expertise.

Many of you know I’m currently in a mental tug-of-war over the direction of my own career. How do I balance my interests in both entrepreneurship and writing? Are my goals mutually exclusive or can they support each other?

Most importantly, how much time do I need to spend writing to quell the anxiety inside me?

After a nudge from my mentor Jon Morrow, I picked up Stephen King’s book On Writing to help find some answers.

This isn’t your typical book on craft, although there are plenty of good tips for writing better. What struck me most was the warning King delivers to dreamers on page 76.

He’s talking about how he’s finally made the jump from doing industrial laundry to teaching English at a local college. At first glance, you’d think this would be step in the right direction for a writer.

If I ever came close to despairing about my future as a writer, it was then. I could see myself thirty years on […] with six or seven unfinished manuscripts which I would take out and tinker with from time to time. I’d lie to myself, telling myself there was still time, it wasn’t too late, there were novelists who didn’t get started until they were fifty, hell, even sixty.

I felt like Stephen King had just given me the Vulcan death grip.

I’m 40. It occurred to me that I’m dangerously close to the sad portrait of wanna-be writer he describes, except I don’t even have the six or seven unfinished manuscripts.

I knew I had to answer the question for myself: was it, in fact, too late for me?

Here are three reframes that helped me realize what a silly question that is, regardless of your age or situation, and how to finally put the issue to rest.

Remember when your dreams were small

When I first started sending work to journals for publication, I couldn’t imagine a bigger thrill than seeing one of my poems in print. A journal with buttons on the cover that looked like an elementary school project?  Hey, I was still published!

After that, the dream was a more respected journal. Then it was a book.

Pretty soon, my aspirations were outpacing my abilities.

When we change careers, we often fail to resize our expectations accordingly. Which is too bad, because it’s a sure set-up for disappointment.

If you’re feeling like it’s too late, maybe you just need to rethink what you need to be satisfied. The leap you need to make may not be as large as you think.

Remember what you’ve already accomplished

Nobody likes the idea of occupying the low position on the totem pole again. While it’s true you may have to take an entry-level position to get your foot into the door of a new career, you’re not really starting over.

No matter what two jobs you’re trying to bridge, I can almost guarantee you’ve picked up some transferable skills. These aren’t just feel-good, resume-stuffers either. A nurse who wants to become a website designer may have to learn coding, but she’s already lightyears ahead when it comes to thinking about the user’s navigation needs.

Just because HR tends to think narrowly doesn’t mean you have to.

Remember what brings you joy

Is your dream job only dreamy if you’re the celebrity, the winner, or the big cheese?

Then maybe it is too late for you.

I know it sounds harsh. But don’t attempt Everest if you don’t like climbing mountains. You’re asking for trouble.

But if you do like climbing mountains, it’s an activity worth doing, whether or not you have time to scale the world’s most notorious one.

What I realized is that I don’t have to worry about what happens with my writing over the next decade. I’m a writer, right now. I’m sitting at my desk, putting words together the best I can.

I hope I get better at it. I hope I publish a book that people can’t stop talking about. I hope I help people find the courage to do what they love, whether they’re 16 or 60.

But mostly, I hope I enjoy my work: today, tomorrow, with whatever time I have left.

Still struggling with this question? Tell me your situation in the comments below. For a select few, I’ll offer some suggestions on how to get started and feel good about it.