What I Discovered About a Career Change at 30

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Did you ever do one of those questionnaires at school where you answer around 200 questions and when processed you were provided with list of career options to which you are most suited. I think I was 12 years old when I completed mine and was told that my ideal jobs were either a kennel maid and a zoo keeper. I had no issue with these choices since I am an animal lover but living in Wakefield, there were certainly no zoos nearby and back then only one kennel business that I knew of. It's funny how throughout your teenage years, your potential future career was narrowed down through your responses to loaded questions and a set number of careers. Becoming a research chemist, probation officer and life coach was not on my list of potential.

During my school years, I wanted to be a police officer; I applied at 19 years old but didn't get in. 6 months later, I was starting my first ever full-time job as a laboratory assistant in Leeds. After studying for a chemistry degree at the same time as working, I never envisaged not remaining within this type of environment. I mean, I am from a generation whose parents remained in the same role throughout their entire working lives and I was brought up on the belief that if you got a good education, gained a good job, you would have one for life.

Even before I was made redundant, I was beginning to question whether I could do the job I had for the next 40 years. By the time I reached 30, I knew I had to change what I was doing. I wasn't interested in chemistry. For me, there was no future in it but what do you do when you are earning a decent income and have a mortgage? It was a big decision for me to make a career change at 30, but it was something I felt I had to make.

Is it any different for people today? There is still the pressure to decide what you want to do throughout your teenage years without even knowing what is out there in the world. For many, their first full time job is not really one by design but by default. By the time you have hit 30 and the realisation dawns on you that you are not enjoying the work and don't look forward to the future. By this point there might be children, a house, debt in the picture and whilst you wouldn't necessarily change any of these, they can hold you back from looking at different options.

I didn't have children when I decided to leave my job and go study psychology at Huddersfield University, but I realised I wasn't the only mature student on my course and there were people studying with me that did and still made the same choice I did. Here's what I discovered about a career change at 30:

Challenges and opportunities: Whether you are going off to retrain, return to studying or going into a different role, you'll be faced with a variety of challenges.

  • You'll either have no money or much less than you were getting before.
  • You'll be stepping out of your comfort zone into a totally new environment. Effectively you're the new kid on the block, only you have been working for the past 7-10 years and both your expectations and those of others sometimes get in the way.
  • Accepting your mindset needs to shift because you're starting over, taking a step sideways or more likely a step down.
  • The reaction from others when you are telling them what you are doing. Some people will just not understand.

On the flip side, there are many opportunities and positives.

  • If you choose to study or retrain, making a choice is empowering. You're not doing things by default, you are making a conscious choice to do something you are interested and invested in. Because of this, you'll take more from the experience which will benefit you further going forward.
  • Your network is going to get bigger and you'll connect with people with similar interests which you would not have met otherwise.
  • The scope for the development of your career is massive. You'll utilise strengths and experiences from your previous career and this will allow you to bring a totally different perspective and value to your new endeavours.
  • One thing that surprised me when I gave up an income to go to university to study was the amount of money I was wasting on things that were necessary. It made me appreciate more of what I had and was grateful for it. And because we didn't have as much money as before, we did activities which were free, such as spending more time outdoors and seeing much more of our local area.
  • Your relationships strengthen as you gain support from those around you and doing something you love has a positive impact on their lives as well.

In terms of your working life, and by working life I am thinking in terms of the traditional sense from leaving full time education to retirement age which currently is 68 years if you are 30 this year, you are roughly a fifth of the way through.

Or look at it this way by considering the diagram below (a brilliant concept by the SUMO guy, that's Shut Up, Move On , Paul McGee. If you haven't read any of his stuff, I'd highly recommend it.)

If each figure represents a day of the week, and each day represents a decade of your life, by the time you are looking to change your career at 30, you're currently at Wednesday evening, looking forward to Thursday morning. There is plenty of time to learn something new or switch careers, especially given most fun happens on a weekend.

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Don't let your career be defined by what a computer came up for you by what you responded to as a teenager or by falling into an occupation through default rather than by design. No matter what stage of life you are at, do something you love and enjoy.