Like so many others, the pandemic and lockdown period had me reevaluating… basically everything. Both my husband and I were very lucky in that we were in jobs that could be done remotely, and we spent many, many, many months working and parenting 24/7 together. Trying to juggle the whole working-and-parenting-without-childcare thing was as nightmare-ish for us as it was for everyone else. But we still felt, mostly, safe and grateful.
Once childcare reopened, I felt a shift. I was still working remotely, but my kids were once again in the safe and caring hands of our longtime provider. I had time. I had space. I had clarity. I enjoyed working remotely. I felt productive, both at work and beyond. Sure, I missed seeing my work people in person, but I felt a balance I had been seeking for years.
I’d always loved being active, and now I was able to easily fit it in daily. I was able to take care of simple household tasks in between meetings and projects. I was dropping my kids off a half an hour later and picking them up a half an hour earlier. More time for me, more time with them, same amount of time for work. Bliss.
Despite loving the work in higher education administration I had been doing for a decade and a half, I dreaded campus reopening and having to go back to the one-hour (each way!) commute, plus night and weekend events. I thought about how almost every facet of my life improved while working remotely. I became anxious, emotional, and confused. I was having a midlife crisis. Was what I thought I would be doing for the rest of my life not for me anymore? At least not right now? Was it time for a career change?
But what else could I do? What did I want to do? I knew I had transferable skills, but I had NO idea where to start. I consulted a few career coaches, made a lot of phone calls, and did a lot of deep internal inquisitions.
Now, having been at my new job — new career entirely, actually — for a year, I can reflect back and pull out a few of my most important insights and lessons from my midlife career change.
1. Trust your instincts
If you are feeling that inner “wiggle,” listen to it. As Glennon Doyle would say, listen to your knowing. Whatever you call it, it is smart. Even if it feels scary, if your instincts are telling you it’s time to look for something else, you owe it to yourself to at least explore it.
2. Get curious
Ask yourself questions, and answer honestly. What do you like about what you do now and where you’re doing it? What are you missing? What are your top priorities (and don’t apologize for them)? I had two main priorities: more flexibility and more money. My career coach helped me realize that while I could find work that was rewarding and fulfilling, I also could find purpose and fulfillment outside of work, which was a refreshing perspective. Luckily, I found something that hit all those points, but I was also able to separate my identity from my work for the first time, which was a huge shift for me.
3. Cultivate relationships
I am NOT good at networking. Networking for networking’s sake always feels fake and disingenuous. I built relationships over time through volunteering on committees, planning events, and getting to know people more authentically. When it came time to explore outside of my current field, I started messaging people — former students, friends, friends of friends. These were no-pressure conversations — just me asking questions about their work, how they got there, etc. It did lead to some referrals, which led to some interviews, but mostly I appreciated learning about different industries and fields of work.
4. Remember, you are capable
Job searching can be brutal. It’s a lot of work to prepare materials, complete applications, follow up, etc. And there are a lot of rejections. When you finally do get an offer and start a new role, there will be a learning curve. Remember that you were hired for a reason and you have a lot to contribute. When that imposter syndrome voice sneaks in, tell her to shush. You’ve got this.
5. Don’t seek greener grass
You may be seeking different grass, or perhaps a different climate altogether, but don’t go searching for a greener pasture. This mindset can set you up for failure. Every workplace, industry, and organization has its downsides. Your next step simply needs to meet your current needs. What you find may, in fact, be greener, or it could be AstroTurf. The first patch of land may not be the right patch of land, but don’t let that dissuade you.
6. Never say never
I never thought I would leave higher ed. I never even pictured a world where I could work remotely. You don’t know what you don’t know. I’ve also never said I won’t go back. Maybe it will feel right to me again down the line. Maybe this is a forever career for me. Maybe not. I am not closing any doors or writing off any options.
Listen. It is scary to say goodbye (or see you later?) to something you’ve called your life’s work and your passion for 15+ years. But if anything, I learned to bet on myself. I am not a natural risk taker, but this was a risk, and one that — even if it hadn’t panned out — felt like the right thing to do. A year into this new career path, there have been hard and stressful moments, but some amazing ones as well. I have no regrets, because I listened to that voice that told me to “take the leap” — and so, I did.