Mid-career professionals who are thinking of changing career often say to me: ‘I really don’t want to have to start over.’ This is quite understandable given that they have invested time and money in their education, and built up solid work experience in a particular area.
I had that feeling myself in my late 20s. I had spent four years training to be a paper conservator. I had worked in a number of private and public institutions in the UK, Australia and America. I even did two weeks’ voluntary work in the State Archives of Sabah, Borneo…
But eventually I had to give it up. Paper conservation as a career wasn’t financially viable back in the UK. There had been a slump in jobs and any jobs that did exist were temporary contracts dotted around the country in places that I didn’t particularly want to live in anyway. I wanted to settle down and start earning a steadier income.
But that meant giving up on something that I had spent years training to do, and coming to terms with the fact that I was going to need to build up experience and skills in a new area.
As it turned out, it wasn’t an entirely new area after all. Unexpectedly, I had something from the past to draw upon.
When I left school, I trained to be a secretary and I worked as a junior secretary in an architectural firm (interestingly, one that did architectural conservation as a specialism…)
I gave up the secretarial work to do an art foundation course and that led to the degree in paper conservation. I thought I had given up secretarial/admin work for good….
But no. The fact that I had done that training and had that experience early in my career meant that I did, surprisingly, have something to offer that could help me move out of paper conservation and into university administration. Yes, I had to brush up on the latest software before applying for jobs, but I did manage to make the change.
Then, after 16.5 years in higher education, I switched again. This time to career coaching. Given that I had been doing admin relating to training and development for PhD students, and a significant part of that had involved organising careers events and career-related workshops, it wasn’t quite such a leap as it sounds.
What has been interesting to reflect upon is how, as soon as I became self-employed as a career coach, skills from earlier jobs came back into use again, in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. For example:
- learning HTML coding to build a website (used in my first uni admin job to re-build the department’s website; used again to build my first website as a career coach)
- doing initial consultations with clients to understand what they need help with (used in conservation; now used in my coaching practice)
- online accounts reconciliation (used in university administration; now used in the business side of my coaching practice)
- producing project proposals and costings (used in paper conservation; now used in coaching practice to provide info to clients)
- intercultural sensitivity (developed in overseas paper conservation jobs; now used to work with clients online around the world)
And in addition to the above, there is the broader experience of different sectors, different types of role, different countries, public sector employment versus private sector employment – all of which mean there is usually something in my experience that helps me connect with the clients I work with.
So although it may seem daunting to start over, try to keep in mind that NOTHING is wasted. Everything you have done – all the good experiences, all the not-so-good experiences – the skills, the knowledge – everything in your life so far adds together to make you the person you are now. You may need to take it apart and reconfigure it for the next stage in your career, but that is definitely feasible and something we can work on together.