As an executive coach, I am committed to helping professionals achieve success and satisfaction on their terms. I’ve worked with many talented individuals who have overcome significant obstacles to achieve their goals. So it’s always disheartening to me when someone has a professional goal or vision but shrugs it off, claiming that it’s too late.
In rare cases, it might be too late. If you’re 50 years old and dreaming of becoming an NBA all-star, that ship has likely sailed. But for most of us, our goals are much more attainable with the right attitude and level of effort.
For some people, having a dream that they write off due to age is a way of shirking responsibility. Instead of making the effort to make their goal a reality, they blame their age and continue to suffer in their less desirable job. In this scenario, it’s not their fault that they don’t have a more rewarding career. It’s simply too late to make the required changes.
The unfortunate effect of this belief is that you give up not only your dream but also your power. You’re a victim of external forces, which hold you hostage in an unfulfilling role. Is that how you want to live?
It’s important to be realistic about what’s possible but if you really want something, it’s also critical that you question your assumptions and limiting beliefs. If you’re thinking about making a career change but worry that you’re too old, consider the following:
1. What do you want to do?
One of the greatest forces against change is lack of clarity about what you actually want. Many professionals have created an ambiguous vision that allows them to fantasize about an escape from their current jobs. The vision lacks structure so taking action to achieve it is virtually impossible. But it serves the purpose of giving them something to think about when times are tough. Is that what you’re doing, or is there something more?
Before giving up on a dream, take time to clearly articulate what you would do if age and other factors were not an issue. Be as detailed as possible. Don’t stop until you can visualize yourself in that role.
Taking the time to clarify the vision can often make it feel more attainable. Once you’re clear about what you want to do, you can begin to recognize it in real settings, rather than simply imagining it in your mind. That makes it far easier to explore the possibilities and the changes you would need to make to successfully make a transition.
2. Why do you want to do it?
Once you’ve painted a clear picture of what you want to do, ask yourself why. What is it that motivates you to want to do this? Think deeply beyond the superficial reasons that tend to surface immediately.
Is this simply a mental escape from your current job or is it more than that? What would this type of work offer you that you’re not getting today?
Exploring your motivations for wanting a change can be very powerful. Not only does it help you to gauge your level of interest in making a change, it can also help you to recognize opportunities for change in your current situation. Perhaps the change you really want can be achieved by making some tweaks to your current role, or by taking on a new role in your company or industry. Many times we think we need to make dramatic changes to achieve our goals when small changes will have the same effect.
Be clear about what is driving you to make a change. And recognize that the vision you’ve outlined is likely only one way of achieving your goals. Are there other ways you can satisfy your need for change?
3. How badly do you want it?
Making a career change at any age isn’t easy. As you get older, though, it does tend to get more complicated. Complications aren’t a function of age but of life. As you get older, family and financial responsibilities make it more challenging to shift gears. Change is possible but it requires effort. The more badly you want something, the more likely you’ll be to commit to the process.
On a scale of 1-10, how badly do you want this? Is it something that you deeply desire? When you imagine yourself in the role, how does it make you feel?
If you’re like most people, you haven’t had an opportunity to truly think about these questions. Take some time to seriously reflect on them. Think also about another important question:
At the end of your life, which will you regret more: pursuing a more fulfilling career, regardless of the outcome, or remaining in your comfort zone, however miserable you may feel today?
If you can clearly articulate your goal, tap into your deeper motivations, and determine that you truly want to achieve it, don’t let age stand in your way. It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious and uncertain about how to proceed but you don’t have to go it alone. There are countless resources available to help you explore and execute this type of transition.
Most importantly, remember this. You can’t change your age but you can change your circumstances. You can either be over 50 with an unsatisfying job or over 50 with meaningful work.
This is a post on behalf of Job Action Day.