Change Career Or Play It Safe?


Should you launch yourself into a new career you’re passionate about which will require a return to school for a year, or is it wiser to play it safe and pursue a job you already have the skills with which to compete for? Got your answer? Do you pause in your assertion and change your point of view if you were say, 55 years old?

And so it was that yesterday afternoon I was engaged in a conversation for an hour and twenty minutes with just such a woman. She is unemployed and has an extensive background working in office administration. She and I were meeting to summarize her involvement in a two week intensive job finding program and our talk had circled around to looking forward and developing a plan for the immediate future. Last Friday, as she and the rest of the participants walked out of the room she had said, “You know what I really want to do; what I’ve always wanted to do, is be a ______________.”

Now I’ve intentionally left blank what she said next. The reason is that I wonder if it really matters for the purpose of this discussion. To really answer the question of whether or not pursuing a career which would involve a return to school at 55 is a good or poor idea, you need more information; well I know I do anyhow. Issues like her physical health, mental commitment, finances, family support, obligations, demands of the career in question etc. are all critical pieces to look at. Now there may be some that would say none of those matter at all; at 55 no one should return to school and take on debt because there’s only 10 or so years left to work as it is and returning to school for a year would mean there isn’t enough time to generate the income needed to justify the debt. Well, I’m not one of those people.

Quite frankly, I wasn’t going to make my opinion known to her one way or the other. No, I decided what I would do is take what she shared, add some thoughts to her thinking and then give it back to her for her to mull over. It’s her life after all, not mine. The most important contribution I did make was the pressing need to make a decision now and no longer put it off. After all, at 55 years old, if it’s not too late to invest in a new career, it will be soon.

You see she already laments the passage of time and the lack of action on her part to go for it. Those feelings of, ‘should I or shouldn’t I?’ have gone on far too long. What keeps pulling her in that direction is the passion and happiness that she envisions working in that position would bring out in her. What keeps her from seizing this opportunity with both hands are the day-to-day sensibilities that say, ‘be practical, play it safe.’ Ever been there? Known what you wanted; really wanted mind – but not had the courage to jump in because the obligations and responsibilities you have compete with your dreams?

It sounds like a cliché but we all look back at our life decisions from time to time. We wonder if we did the right thing, how life would have changed had we made a different decision. Like the winning the lottery, we wonder how our lives would have changed for the better or worse had we only had the courage to leap. Now because we made the decisions we did it doesn’t matter much in the one sense as we can’t change the past. In this case, a good analogy is like moving along a highway and having four exits to choose from to visit a town, and we’re on top of the fourth and last one. Do we turn off or keep driving straight ahead? (No U-turns allowed!)

You and I; we only get one shot at this life and time slips away with every day making it a precious commodity. As I pointed out to her (telling her what I knew she already knew), she either has to decide now to return to school, invest in herself and pursue her passion with everything she’s got, or go after her administrative job and find satisfaction in that. An office job working for an organization would be the most secure and sensible thing to do, and no one would probably question her decision. To pursue her passion, she’d raise more than a few eyebrows, be the oldest in the class at College, and upon graduation have to compete with younger, more energetic graduates for work.

One thing I did suggest to her that she hadn’t considered is the idea of defining a niche target audience matching her own demographic; appealing to folks her own age, marketing herself to meet their needs which she’d be seen to closely identify with. That, she found appealing.  I shared that whether ultimately successful or not, the decision itself to return to school and pursue her passion, (if she indeed makes this decision) was the right one for her at this time. In other words, if she doesn’t gain a career out of it but loves the learning process, she still wins.

Tell me if you will, about options you’ve had, and the decision-making process you went through.

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