12 steps toward reinventing yourself in 2011

January 12, 2011

SecondAct contributor Michelle V. Rafter covers business and workplace issues for a variety of national publications. She is based in Portland, Oregon. The views expressed are her own —

Reinventing yourself at midlife is no simple undertaking, especially if it involves switching careers. It takes equal parts planning, stamina and guts.

But everybody’s got to start somewhere. Here are a dozen first steps, based on advice from SecondAct interviews with authors and other experts on careers and midlife transitions.

1. Take it one step at a time. If a career overhaul seems too overwhelming to take in all at once, break it down into multiple steps to make it easier to accomplish. “Have your second act build on your first,” said Davia Temin, a women’s leadership expert and head of a New York City marketing consulting firm.

2. Test the waters. A midlife switch is a big deal, and you’ll want to try it on for size first. Do a reality check by taking a class, volunteering or signing up for an internship in a field you’re exploring, said Bruce Frankel, author of “What Should I Do With The Rest Of My Life? True Stories of Finding Success, Passion, and New Meaning in the Second Half of Life“. Remember, internships aren’t just for college students anymore.

3. Find a mentor. What better guide to a new career than a mentor, someone who’s already been there, done that? But there are right ways and wrong ways to approach a would-be mentor. The purpose of the relationship may be for the experienced party to share accumulated wisdom, but it’s not a one-way street. Be prepared to give as much as you get. If you’ve identified a possible candidate, don’t ask “Will you be my mentor?” Anything so direct is off-putting, Temin said. Invite a would-be mentor for coffee and see how it goes. Be genuine. If a bond forms, you can gradually turn more of the conversation to your career goals.

4. Start by moonlighting. Before you quit your day job, get a little something going on the side. If you plan to moonlight, schedule at least two hours a day to work on your new business, try to adjust your full-time job schedule to accommodate a sideline venture, and make sure that your family is onboard, advised Melinda F. Emerson, entrepreneur, author and SecondAct’s Careers Columnist.

5. Get your financial affairs in order. If you’re contemplating a switch that’ll take time, money or both, make sure you have sufficient financial resources to cover the mortgage, insurance, the kids’ tuition and other basics while you’re in transition. Emerson suggested looking for ways to cut monthly expenses and saving 20 to 30 percent of each paycheck.

6. Look forward, not back. If you’re trying to sell yourself to a prospective employer in a new field, don’t dwell on past positions — people don’t care. “It doesn’t make you more qualified; it makes you ask for a higher salary,” said Penelope Trunk, a careers expert, author and blogger at Brazen Careerist. Instead, highlight skills and accomplishments you gained from previous jobs, and be prepared to explain how they’d make you an asset in a new situation.

7. Think small. Your quest for success could mean downsizing, as in working for yourself. That’s been the career path of choice for many people in their 40s and 50s who lost corporate jobs in the recession. “In most cases it would be easier to start a small enterprise working from home to create some revenue stream than to find a full-time paying job,” said Art Koff, founder of RetiredBrains, an online community and job board.

8. Be true to yourself. Don’t force yourself to be something you’re not. Entrepreneurship is great, but it’s not for everyone. It may take some soul searching or consulting with a career counselor to figure out what you’re best suited for. “Don’t think you already know who you are,” said Natalie Caine, a Southern California counselor who helps parents with empty-nest syndrome and other midlife transitions. “Walk, write, chat with good friends who support you, and ask ‘Who am I now? Who am I willing to become? What spooks me, and what is easy for me?’ Get support. Ask for help. Weep and stand tall again. Passion wins over and over even when it goes dormant,” Caine said.

9. Don’t wait for a new job to start making a difference. You don’t need to switch careers, companies or even positions to be a game-changer, Trunk said. Don’t wait for permission; simply take the initiative by recognizing a problem situation and fixing it on the job or in your personal life.

10. Don’t overthink things. Sometimes the hardest part of making a change is overcoming your own fears. When in doubt, make that call or send the resume. In other words, “Just do it,” said Wally Pacholka, who traded in a career as an accountant to be a night sky photographer.

11. Fake it ’til you make it. As you delve deeper into a change, continue to be curious and playful. Another tip from Frankel: Stay confident about your abilities, even if you have to act the part until you really feel that way.

12. Check your progress. Keep regular dates with a journal — at least once a month — to take stock of what you’ve done to advance your dreams, Frankel said. “A self-reporting card helps us see that we are making progress even when it may feel we are at a standstill, and it helps us to refocus on our goals,” he said.

Related links:

Test Driving Your Dream Job

Making Peace With Money Problems

As First Boomers Turn 65, the Big Question: What’s Next


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Wow great tips..I like the point 11..Having fun, being very active would definitely increase our skill set..This would always keep our mind fresh and would stimulate more ideas in ourself..May this year brings success to everyone of us!

Posted by Sumitha | Report as abusive

[…] I have to agree that every step in my corporate career was definitely an evolution based on what I had been doing to some extent, and taking it to the next level. Fake it ’til you make it. As you delve deeper into a change, continue to be curious and playful. […]

Posted by Caution: Don’t Let April Fool’s Into Your Dream | 8 WOMEN DREAM | Report as abusive

Those 12 tips were great; these applied perfectly in my life. I do have some questions though. Your tip to “think small” could have some belittling effect don’t you think so? At least http://www.howtoreinventyourself.org/rei nventing-yourself/
said it would.

Posted by deanmail2012 | Report as abusive