Founder of Midlife Unstuck
Describe your career path in two or three sentences including any twist or turns ending with where you are now.
My first career lasted almost 20 years. I was a headhunter recruiting board directors for commercial business in the UK and Australia. Towards the last few years of that first career, I began to feel under-challenged, under-satisfied and under-fulfilled with the work that had previously felt very enjoyable.
With zero Plan B, I became so enamoured by the idea of doing something different, I chose the only idea in my head and that was to indulge my broad interest in psychology by signing up to a MSc in psychology full time and leaving my headhunting career behind. Eighteen months later, I woke up from the most stressful period of my life, after 16 exams, 16 assignments and a six-month long dissertation plus being a full time mother — I was absolutely exhausted.
I then decided I needed a better Plan B and that changing career shouldn’t be this hard. I then made it my mission to learn how individuals of my generation, so those in their 40s and 50s, can best change careers successfully. And I did lots of research and came up with my current business which is called Midlife Unstuck. I help mid-lifers to redesign their future work to find more enjoyment and satisfaction.
What decision / experience proved to be the most helpful to your career?
When I had no idea of my Plan B (after spending a large chunk of my life savings on going back to university), I had an epiphany moment where I stopped trying to answer the “What am I going to do with the rest of my career?” question and started learning what my uber strengths were – I call these my Superpowers.
By Superpowers I mean, the very personal, very specific abilities that make me feel amazing when I use them. The aptitudes that I could use all day without feeling drained. The unique skills that I can’t stop using because they feel so deeply satisfying.
It then became clear that the question I needed to work through was “How do I design a way to get paid to use my Superpowers every day?” It changed it from a very emotional decision to an educational question and made the whole thing easier for me.
Where or to whom did you look for inspiration when thinking about making a career change?
I had no idea the world was filled with so much information at my fingertips. I started with Ted Talks getting inspired by individuals who love their work so much that they want to talk on stage about it. Then I used the skills my MSc taught me, namely how to search the globe for answers on the psychology research behind happy work. Then I went onto Amazon to find general books about the psychology of career change. Then, I listened to podcasts about career change. And then podcasts about setting up a business, and finally podcasts to learn about running a successful business.
What advice would you give your 20 year old self knowing what you do now?
I would tell myself to take a gap year after university and work your way around the world interviewing every single older person you meet who has a career to figure out how they got there, what they like about it and what they don’t like about it. Then I would spend lots of time trying out various jobs and only then would I make a decision about my career. I fell into my first career, like so many people I didn’t choose it, it chose me. I was so delighted to have a graduate programme after graduation that I didn’t put any thought into, until many years later, to consider if it was the right career for me.
What do you think the biggest challenge people face making a career re-entry or re-invention later in life?
Ageism is an issue especially if people are trying to find a full-time job within a corporate environment. And also low confidence, mainly due to lack of deep self-understanding. When you know your Superpowers, the “what do I do with the rest of my career?” problem changes from an fear-based problem into a figureoutable problem.
What do you think the opportunities are for people wanting to work in their 50s and 60s and beyond.
Creating and building portfolio careers – using some technical skills gained in life (a few days per week), mixed with volunteering in industries you are interested in working within in future, leading to fun paid projects and creating something that has value to others. Lots of different things, it’s not just one career, I don’t think people in their 50s and 60s should be focusing on finding that one perfect job.
What is your top tip for people thinking of re-inventing their careers?
- Get uber clear on your uber strengths – your Superpowers.
- Get uber clear on the problems that you want to focus your valuable time and energy on.
- Design an experimental plan to mix the two.
- Keep analysing and refining it for the rest of your life.
Favourite book to read, website to browse or podcast to listen to while drinking coffee?
If you don’t mind I’d like to recommend my book – I interviewed 100 people who changed careers in their 40s, 50s or 60s to understand the patterns and turned it into the book and it is called X Change: How to Torch your Work Treadmill. It’s a little book of midlife career hope that includes 20 stories of individuals I’ve interviewed who designed MUCH more happiness into their careers at our age. I’d also recommend the podcast How to Fail by Elizabeth Day. It features marvellous interviews with famous people who believe that their failures were key to their success.