I’ve had this conversation a few times with friends and family: when do you give up on your career? It’s a terrifying thing. You’ve invested years of your life and made countless sacrifices to get to a certain point, and suddenly one day you realize that you can’t keep going because:
- the job market in your career field has dried up or
- you need to move to a different town where your career isn’t in high demand or
- you just don’t want to stay in your current career path anymore.
I’ve been dealing with all three, and I have realized that the real issue may not be the economy or the state of my profession but just the fact that I don’t want to work in my field anymore. I’m energized by the idea of doing something different, and so I started sending off inquiries through my network and through company sites inquiring about the possibility of doing other kinds of work.
I’m sure the statistics that show that people will change careers at least three times (or whatever) during their working lives are common knowledge by now. I don’t think it’s strictly accurate. My sister-in-law – a doctor – will probably not change her career, nor will my other sister-in-law, a nurse. But I think it’s almost inevitable at this point that I’ll do something else between now and the day when I stop working. Bubelah will almost certainly do something different when she returns to work. I think even lifelong adherents to a single career path will dabble in other areas.
But the question is really this: is switching your career giving up? Or is it simply moving on? If you’ve devoted so much time and effort into obtaining the education and training and credentials and network and experience required for Job X, is dumping it in order to move on to Job Y part of the plan, or just an admission that the career path was hitting a dead end?
I don’t think of humans as static creatures. I am, in no small way, a completely different person today than I was 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago. The choices 20-year-old Steve made to study accounting seem like sepia-toned photos to 40-year-old Steve. They echo dimly in my memory, and I remember why I made those choices, but they are not my choices today. I have changed, and either because of the choices I made 20 years ago or despite them I am ready to move on.
It’s an odd feeling to hit middle age with no real direction professionally. If you’re good at what you do, but hate doing it, the idea of starting over is scary for only one reason – money. I am enough of an egoist to think that I’ll be successful at a new career, even at this (relatively) late stage in my life. Check back in a few years and you’ll see if I was or not, but one thing I’ve learned over the years is that I’ll regret not having tried far more than trying and failing.