Career Change? It’s Never Too Late

Direction sign for career changeA lot of people are thinking about changing careers. It started (I think) with the so-called ‘Great Resignation’. And it’s continued with the slowing of the economy, as people see their peers moving from one job to another, or leaving their field entirely. But when is it too late to make this kind of change?

It’s never too late

Stephen King is a household name, and rightly so. There are few households that don’t have at least one of his books kicking around. When he was 24, he was working as a janitor, and living in a trailer.

You can probably picture at least two or three of Vincent Van Gogh’s art works in your mind. When he was 27, he was failing as a missionary, and decided to go to art school.

When he was 30, Harrison Ford was working as a carpenter to make ends meet between acting gigs. It was a carpentry job in George Lucas’s office that led to him being cast as Han Solo. I’m pretty sure he didn’t need to swing a hammer again.

The late, great Stan Lee published his first major comic book when he was 38.

Samuel L. Jackson landed his first-ever movie role when he was 41.

Morgan Freeman got his first big role when he was 52.

Alan Rickman was working in graphic design when he was 42, and decided to pursue acting instead.

Imagine if any of these people had resigned themselves to just ‘keeping on keeping on’. How poorer a place the world would be without their talents.

It’s not just artists

Many years ago, I was working with a young professional who was enrolled in an MBA program. Unlike most of her fellow students, her undergrad wasn’t in business or technology. No, she had graduated from a nursing program.

It was sort of the ‘family business’. Her mother and grandmother had both been nurses. From a very young age, it was assumed that she would follow in their footsteps. And so, she did. Until she graduated, having realized through her residency that she wasn’t cut out to be a nurse. She decided to pursue business instead, with the goal of bringing her nursing background to healthcare administration.

There are a lot of people who wouldn’t have had the courage to do what she did.

When you’ve invested thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – of dollars in attaining a degree, it’s very difficult to walk away from that. Walking away means admitting that you’ve made a mistake. That you’ve wasted a lot of money. So the easier thing – what feels like the more sensible thing – is to stay on the path.

And that, my friend, is what’s known as a sunk cost fallacy.

Careers and the sunk cost fallacy

You may have spent a lot of time and money in attaining a diploma or degree. Or maybe you’ve invested a lot of time and effort in building a career in your field. That’s ‘sunk cost’, meaning that you can’t unspend the money, or take back the time. But that doesn’t mean that you’ve wasted it, either.

A career is a series of experiences. Everything you’ve learned expands your perspective, no matter what you shift that perspective to. And every thing you’ve done can be a building block for something else.

The student I mentioned earlier would likely end up as one of the only people in administration with a nursing degree. Who has better insight into the challenges that nurses face on the front lines every day, and to the patient experience?

Someone transitioning from sales would have in-depth knowledge about their customers’ challenges and needs. I can’t imagine a better preparation for a role in marketing.

A change of industry can be a big deal, too. Someone who’s worked in technology consulting would bring a lot to a leadership position in the non-profit or charitable sector. In that world, tech deficits are rampant, and there’s a dearth of understanding about how to tackle it.

Those are just a few examples. Rest assured: whatever you’ve studied, and whatever you’ve built through your career, those efforts are not wasted if you decide to make a left turn for something different.

Career changes: difficult but worth it

One last point for those considering a change of careers: it’s not often easy. The first challenge is deciding what change will be the right one for you. Then, researching and developing a network of companies and contacts in that new industry or new field of work. Creating a new resume and cover letter that speaks to your transferable skills is a challenge, one that in many cases is worth working on with a professional. And then finally, you’ve got to overcome the obstacle of recruiters and hiring managers that have a bias towards people coming from backgrounds that are very much the same as the job entails.

But for all the uphill climb, changing careers can be the best choice you’ll ever make. Consider how many working years you’ve got left before you retire. For each of the 50-odd weeks in those years, what’s the value of being truly happy in the work you’re doing, and looking forward to the week ahead every Sunday evening? Pursue that happiness. You’re worth it.


Photo by Peggy Sue Zinn on Unsplash