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How to Face Your Fears and Change Careers Later in Life


One night while watching The Voice with her husband, Barbara Murphy-Shannon had an epiphany. All these people were following their dreams right in front of her, why wasn’t she? The message was loud and clear — she needed to make a change. 

At 56 years old, Murphy-Shannon had been working in the spa industry for over 25 years, but had been unhappy with her job for the past few. “I didn’t feel fulfilled and I wasn’t doing anything of significant importance,” she says. “I was bored and didn’t feel like I was making an impact.” 

Around this time Murphy-Shannon’s sister passed away unexpectedly and it really put things in perspective for her. “You get one life and I wasn’t living [mine] how I wanted,” she says. “I knew I needed to do something different, something that filled my heart. I wanted to help people, but I didn’t know what ‘it’ was.”

She kept her job, but started exploring her options and looking into going back to school. Eventually, a friend referred her to a life coach who offered her some career guidance and fortuitously introduced her to what would be her next career. The universe, she believed, provided her with the answer she had been seeking. “I was sold on life coaching, I knew I wanted to be one,” she says. 

She has since opened her own life-coaching business and will be getting her master’s degree in psychology this fall. Juggling full-time work with online classes is a struggle and making a major career change in her mid-fifties has been frightening, but she has tried to remain open-minded and patient with her journey. “It’s funny sometimes I’ll dismiss what I do and then surprise, I’ll bump into a woman who reads my blog and she’ll thank me,” says Murphy-Shannon. “[She’ll say] it’s inspiring and helps her get through the week. That’s when I know I’m on the right path.” 

If you’ve been thinking about making a profession change, we’ve asked Christian Eilers, a Career Expert at ResumeLab, to share some tips for navigating a career shift. 

Understand your reasons.

Really figuring out why you want to make a change is an important part of the process that shouldn’t be rushed. “Before you change course and make a perhaps irreversible decision, be fully aware of why you’re even thinking about it,” says Eilers. “Then, assess how valid those reasons are. You’ll chide yourself if you realize you’re quitting Industry A for Industry B just because Lisa was mean to you the other day. However, you’ll strengthen your resolve for the change when you reaffirm how important and necessary your reasons are.” Be honest with yourself, keep a journal, and perhaps find someone to explore the reasons with you before fully jumping in. 

Learn the (new) ropes.

Technology is constantly changing and the job-search protocol has likely changed since you landed your most recent job. “As an older member of the human species, you might remember not so long ago when potential employers were called from circled numbers in newspapers,” says Eilers. “These days, the full power of the internet is at your disposal, so it’s never been easier to change jobs or realign your life’s path with your passion.” 

The internet can be an intimidating place, but don’t let that stop you from you using it to your advantage. Many local libraries hold classes that will have you navigating Google, posting your resume on Linked-In, and applying for jobs on Indeed in no time! Just jump in, ask for help, and use the power of the World Wide Web to your advantage as you research your next steps. You can even find a great career coach who can help you with your next steps online.

Make a plan.

Once you have done some research, make a detailed plan that attacks all of the small details: 

  • What will your daily schedule look like? 
  • How will your income change? 
  • Will you need to cut costs somewhere in your life so that you can pursue your new career goals? 
  • Can you go back to school and keep your current job? 

Ask yourself all of the important questions and make a plan that will work for you. Then, commit and stick to it. Don’t go back to the “why” after you’ve made a plan. Keep your eye on the prize and be patient.

Don’t let age stop you.

“They say that the first person who’ll live to 150 years of age has already been born and walks (or crawls, most likely) among us,” says Eilers. “You can change jobs or go back to school after the age of 50 and still have a longer career in [your] new field.” 

If you are fortunate enough to find a career that is rewarding, fulfilling, and feeds your soul, you may even want to work for a longer period of time. Doing something you love can do wonders for your health (mental and physical). Don’t stay stuck or bored in a career because of age or lack of time. Switching careers won’t be easy, but it very well could be the best change you make in your life. 

Just do it.

Eilers final piece of advice? Just do it. “There is no better time than the present. Seize the day. Wake up and live. YOLO. Carpe diem. And all those clichés, because, really, why not?” 

Murphy-Shannon has now gained experience helping women through mid-life (or later) career changes. She has worked with women in the middle of their careers, empty nesters who have lost their identity now that the kids are gone, and retirees who want to make a difference in the world now that they have the time but are not sure how. “Most of the women I work with are me three years ago, so I totally understand their pain and wanting more,” she says. “We all come to crossroads at some point in life. It’s what we do next that matters. No one wants to look back on their life and have regrets.”

The next time you find yourself feeling discontent on your current path, think of the words of the great F. Scott Fitzgerald, “I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

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