It doesn’t take algorithms to realize getting stuck in a career is easy and changing careers is really hard. You cringe at the thought of starting over, and the cringing gets worse the older you get. What if you want to switch careers at 30 and beyond? Good luck, because it’s hard. But it’s not impossible, and that’s the key differentiator you should never forget.
You’ve probably heard how people put a fear of public speaking above death. If this is in fact true, you’d better believe changing careers is right up there. Research on stress has shown that changing jobs kicks the brain into thinking you’re threatening its survival. In fact, the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory puts changing careers as one of the most 20 stressful things that happens in your life. Apparently, it’s right behind the death of a close friend. So taking this all into consideration, changing careers is literally a sliver of a hair less stressful than the death of a close friend, according to science.
All this said, it’s obvious that a decision to enter the depths of career switching scares the living shit out of people. It’s stressful for a multitude of reasons: the unknown factors of finances, whether or not you’ll enjoy it, whether you’ll regret it, whether it’s even worth the effort, and the list goes on. If you’re sitting there, tempted to switch careers at 30 and beyond, you probably feel like fainting. The hill is, by all intents and purposes, a steep climb.
But at some point, the misery of your current work takes hold and doesn’t let go. And like a boa constrictor, it tightens its grip on you, constricting your livelihood and happiness more and more as time goes on. It’s a terrible feeling.
Why is it a lot of people find themselves in the same career 20 years from now, then? Better yet, why did you end up in this crappy career in the first place? Life would be a hell of a lot easier if you got it right the first time. But that’s the funny part – life isn’t supposed to be easy.
A Brief History of Why You’re Stuck In The Wrong Career In The First Place
Every kindergarten teacher loves to ask her students the same question at the start of the school year:
“What do you want to be when you grow up Tommy/Jill/Susie/John?”
It’s endearing, because it lets your little pea-sized brains go wild. The world, as they say, is your oyster. There’s no judgement here, because you don’t know what the hell judgement looks like. You see all the coolest things out there and think they’d be awesome careers. Money, power, and comparison don’t enter the picture.
You hold onto your vision with little tiny hands throughout elementary school. Then middle school rolls around and you’re finally exposed to some of the toxicity in life. You start to get an idea that money can buy things, and there’s defined groups of kids who judge each other. Maybe your ideal career has changed since kindergarten, but who cares. You’re so far removed from having to worry about it, you don’t. High school rolls around and more toxicity has seeped into your pristine bubble through osmosis. You’ve learned what the art of comparison is, how to judge, and how to be a complete little shit.
More than likely, your “perfect” career has changed, but again…you aren’t too worried about it. You’re just worried about passing school, asking your parents for money, trying to rebel, and figuring out which college you want to get into. Eventually, you figure that last one out. You get an acceptance letter, and off you go.
Now begins the dirty introduction to how miserable careers start and how easy it is to get stuck in them.
Before your sophomore year of college ends, you have to declare a major. As much as you want to fill in “I have no idea”, you can’t. But really, you have no idea what the fuck you want to do. You’ve been too concerned about one of two things: partying and trying out 18 strains of low quality weed, or making good grades in the hopes your future looks bright.
Either way, you’ve taken a plethora of random classes but nothing really interests you. You wish you could just major in General Studies, but your school career counselor shakes their head side to side. Your second best option then is wishing you could major in something like Art History or Philosophy. Those classes seemed pretty cool, which just means you didn’t fall asleep during Professor Jones’s lecture. But your parents put an end to that, too. “Get something practical.” is the motto of every concerned parent who’s fronting your higher education.
“Get something practical” just means “get something that makes money.” Can’t blame your ‘rents. They hate to see their kid starving. And more than likely, they don’t want to be your personal bank.
So with all this in mind, you end up declaring a major in something which isn’t really that interesting to you, but satisfies your parents and the part of your brain that thinks practically through logic. You think you’ll figure it out at a later date. Hint: you really don’t.Once college ends, you’ve now got a degree in hand, five-figures (or even six figures) worth of debt, and no clue where to start your job search. The easiest thing you can do, of course, is start with what your major is, assuming you didn’t get something in the arts or humanities. Since, you know, that’s your best chance of getting hired. You figure no big deal, if you want to change careers, you’ve got plenty of time to figure things out.
Not so fast.
Why Trying To Switch Careers at 30 and Beyond Is So Hard
Fast forward a bit, and you finally land a job in your major post college (if you’re lucky). Now the fun begins.
Your mind tells you two things:
- It’s ok, I’ll scope this career thing out and decide if it’s for me.
- I’m now making money. I have debts I have to repay. I have social obligations. I need this job.
Here’s where things start getting tricky. Those two things your brain tells you? They’re in direct conflict with each other. On one hand, you want to determine if the job you have is the right one for you. Do you enjoy your coworkers? Do you enjoy the work? Do you want to shoot yourself sitting there? On the other hand, it’s a steady stream of income, and money’s flying out of your account at a record pace. Debt and useless crap like bar tabs will do that to you. Either way, you need to know that every two weeks, you don’t cry looking at your bank account.
Not too long after starting your post-college adult life career, you start flirting with the idea you’re not really happy where you are. The flirting turns to nagging, and it gets worse and worse as the years fly by. Then, by the time you hit 30 and exit denial, one thing yells at you: you’re not in a job you enjoy. More than likely, you’re not in a career you enjoy. And because of it, you’re unnecessarily suffering.
Simple math says there’s an easy solution: you switch careers at 30 and find something that you do enjoy. But as mentioned, life isn’t simple right? You don’t walk away from that awful career because you’re likely not equipped to make a smarter move. You didn’t have the knowledge you need to choose the right career in your 20’s, let alone your 30’s. It takes a lot of moving pieces: knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your values and goals, and much more. It’s a complicated equation, one which doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution.
In the meantime, your responsibilities increase. You might have a family/kids/a significant other to take care of. You have a car payment. You have a house mortgage. The wife says little Tom Jr. needs to attend private school, because the public school system is for peasants. This is life for a lot of people after 30.
Finally, you somewhat snap out of denial about your career and now you want to find one you enjoy. But you get stuck. You are stuck. You’ll more than likely stay stuck.
But are you? Is it worth it? Here’s some things you can do to help.
Your Guide To Switching Careers at 30
Know you’ll have to give some things up
First and most importantly, focus on the mental side of a switch. You need to have the right mental attitude towards your new game plan, or else you’ll demolish yourself before you ever get started.
Inevitably, a career switch at 30 (and up) will require you give some things up and make sacrifices. More than likely, part of it includes money, at least for the time being. If you’re coming from a career that paid well but you were miserable, you can’t expect to immediately jump into a career that pays well but provides extreme happiness from the get go.
But it can totally happen. Let’s say you’re unhappy as a high school teacher and you jump into software development and love it. Well, lucky you for winning life’s version of the lottery.
But more often than not this isn’t the case, so be prepared to make sacrifices in the name of the long term vision: your happiness.
Play into your strengths; don’t improve weaknesses
There’s a common view that you should focus on improving your weaknesses to help you become a better-rounded individual. Does the idea of being a salesperson make you light headed? Learn how to sell. Does the idea of public speaking make you want to cry? Get better at speaking in public.
While improving on some pain points can help you become a better individual, you’re just taking time away from working on your strengths. Think of two scenarios:
- You’ll go from being pretty damn good at X and awful at Y to being pretty damn good at X and decent at Y.
- On the flip side, if you focused on your strengths, you’d go from pretty damn good at X and awful at Y to amazing at X and awful at Y.
Which one do you think will benefit you more as you get older?
Your 20’s are gone, which means your huge open window to experiment isn’t as big as it once was when you were 21. It’s still wide open, but it’s just not what it was. By now, at your age, you know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. You want to spend the time to get better at what you’re good at, not what you’re bad at. Know what works and adjust accordingly.
Utilize some of the resources aimed at helping you find your strength. You may be able to find some decent free ones online. Here’s a couple: High5test and Truity’s Personal Strengths Inventory. There are also paid options available, and one of the best out there (and most well known) is the StrengthsFinder 2.0. It’s a book that includes a comprehensive quiz you take (you’re given a code upon purchase).
“Pay? Please.” If that’s your attitude, you should probably understand one thing: investing in your future pays dividends. You can’t categorize paying for your well-being and education the same as buying athleisure from Lululemon. One gets you ahead in life, the other just makes you look good. Both are important, but one takes higher priority to you hopefully.
Get your finances in order
Save, save, save. When you think you’ve saved enough, save a bit more. That’s not to say you should start dumpster diving for clothes in an effort to penny pinch. Look at it another way: be smart with your money if you know your career happiness is at an all time low. That means putting more aside as you realize you’re getting closer to wanting a change.
In an ironic twist, it’s when you’re the unhappiest that you tend to blow the most money in an effort to ward off that feeling of misery. You start buying a bunch of materialistic things for the temporary high, only to repeat the process when it dies out.
Make sure your finances are looking good; the last thing you want is to be in the midst of a switch and your funds dry out.
There’s plenty of apps that can help you track your finances these days to get you ahead of the curve. Here’s a good resource from The Balance which breaks out the eight best budgeting apps available into different categories like Best Overall, Best for Investors, and Best for Couples. If you’re clueless on your spending, now’s the time to get a grip on it and understand where money’s going and flowing.
Strategize your moves and leverage
It’s easy to get emotional about your crappy situation, especially on the days you’re completely burned out from your job. You’ve probably fantasized about quitting more times than you care to admit, and each time it gets closer and closer to becoming reality until one day you just pull the plug.
It may feel really, really, really damn good in the moment, especially in the few minutes after you walk out the door. But then as you get home, it hits you: now what?
You need some sort of a game plan so this doesn’t happen. The best move is always to have the next thing lined up before you quit your current one. That means being enrolled to study before you quit, or having a new job, or making money off a side hustle. But it isn’t always possible, especially when you get laid off before you’re ready. Even if it’s a blessing in disguise to be pushed out, plan ahead. Have some sort of action list to whip out should that happen.
If you’re married or in a relationship, you can use this to your advantage assuming your partner is on board. While having the responsibility of answering to someone else can sometimes make things more difficult, it can also be an incredible asset in your quest to strategize and leverage. If both parties are working and bringing in an income and you decide you want to switch careers when you’re older, you don’t have to worry about funds completely drying up in the short term.
The downside is you need your partner on board with your Life Master Plan 2.0 and this isn’t always the case. If you’re single, you’re allowed to do whatever the fuck you want which sounds really awesome in theory and can be. But the downside of that is watching your bank account dwindle down if you’re going back to school or there’s a gap in employment while you switch.
Network the shit out of life
If you’re thinking about attending networking events, stop. That’s the old school way of looking at networking, and it’s also the most depressing way.
Networking doesn’t mean going to these dreaded clusterfucks of boring conversations and two drink minimums. In today’s society, you can totally network the living shit out of things if you do it strategically. Scour LinkedIn, talk to friends about your desires, have them introduce you to new people, join fun groups that may be geared towards your interests, offer to take people out to coffee 1 on 1, and more. There’s plenty of ways to network and get the information you need without walking up to someone wearing a sticker name tag that says “HELLO My Name is Tom”.
Use a site and app like Meetup.com to give you an idea of the kinds of activities near you. If you already know what you’re looking for, you can more than likely Google “[activity] groups [city name]”. For instance, if the idea of running after a frisbee sounds fun and you’re in Seattle, you dig the sound of Ultimate Frisbee. Fire up Google, and type in “Ultimate Frisbee Seattle” or “Ultimate Frisbee groups Seattle” or even “Ultimate Frisbee events in Seattle”. Come on, this is Google. Figure it out.
Just make sure you’re not using an app like Meetup to search for anything with “networking” in the name.
Is Getting Unstuck and Changing Careers Hard?
Of course. If it was easy to realize you’re stuck and immediately switch careers at 30 and beyond, you’d be in the perfect career. And unfortunately for you, it isn’t the case.
People are generally pretty miserable, and a big part of it has to do with spending so much time doing crap you absolutely can’t stand. You know, the kind of stuff you’d easily give up to get flogged by 10 Samoan dudes with wet noodles in a sauna.
Wrong way to live.