Changing career in your thirties

This is going to be a really personal post, it’s a bit of a life update but I expect I’m not the only person who has felt similar feelings to me and that’s why I’m talking about it.

I was going to name this post ‘In Pursuit of the Dream job’ but then Phil pointed out that that doesn’t exist and it may not necessarily help to think that way. I have never known what I wanted to do career wise. I went to every school and university careers fair, I took two sciences and two arts A-levels to keep my options open, I did a History degree because everyone told me that would have transferable skills and would be an ideal degree for almost any job. Yet, years later I have still no clue about what I want to do. For such a long time, whenever I’ve been asked about work at a party or meeting new people it was the conversation topic that I didn’t really want to talk about. It was the part of my life that I feel I didn’t focus on because I didn’t know how to.

Recently I decided to be brave/stupid/insane and hand in my notice at my current job without having another one lined up, and perhaps more worryingly, without having any idea about what my next move would be. I’m not sure if I’m thinking more clearly than I have ever done before, or if it’s the opposite. I oscillate between the two on a daily basis. There was nothing wrong with my job, everyone is lovely and many people would enjoy my role but I knew deep down that it wasn’t right for me. Everything felt like a struggle, like I was fighting my own nature and forcing myself to be someone I wasn’t. I think that sometimes you get so good at a role you fall into that a sense of happiness follows, other times you crumble. For me, it was the latter. I have always been a big worrier (very high on the neurotic scale – when I told my friends that fact, they were like, ‘tell me something I don’t know!’). That worry has developed into anxiety, bouts of insomnia, unhappiness and stress. I’ve had CBT in the past to help and unfortunately not really found it effective.

However whilst I was travelling I felt so free, happy and could be myself for the first time in ages. I had so much time to think and I felt so positive about the future. Sadly, once I returned home I felt right back to where I was before. The main difference pre and post travelling is that I feel armed with a greater awareness of myself, and how I feel when I’m not constantly feeling anxious. The extended break gave me time to think about who I am, what I’m good at, what I like doing and I guess find peace with being myself rather than trying to be someone I’m not. That doesn’t mean I want to give up on improving weaker areas, but it means I want to focus on what I enjoy and am passionate about, rather than constantly hoping that I’ll change or if I try hard enough I’ll be better at x, y, z. I’m thirty one, and this is how I am. It’s like hoping I’d wake up and be 5 ft 8… it’s not happening.

I expect I’m not the only person who feels this way, especially at my age. When I was younger I saw 30 as the age where I’d be the person I want to be and life would be great and of course that’s setting yourself up for complete failure. However, certainly it made me start questioning priorities and areas of my life in more detail, and it all feels very scary, I’d be lying if it doesn’t. My family aren’t sure what to make of it and whilst I know they will always support me their first reaction when I told them I had quit was ‘when are you getting a new job, have you started applying for anything else?’ That is undoubtedly the sensible reaction and yes, some of this can seem a bit ‘away with the fairies’, so here’s the practical things I’m doing to help me find out what I want to do.

Speak to a careers coach:

I remember doing tests and speaking to coaches back at school, but it has been quite enlightening doing it again now when you’re an adult and you’ve developed skills and positive and negative experiences of the working world. Interestingly, my coach says this is generally the age where people come to her. So far I’ve done countless personality tests, exercises and had to ask my friends and family for feedback which felt a bit uncomfortable but made me realise how well everyone knows me and I have found what has been said surprisingly useful.

My sessions with my coach are intense, believe it or not talking about yourself in that much detail is quite hard work. At the moment a blank slate feels scary and the amount of options almost feels like a limiting factor for a very indecisive person who gets overwhelmed in the confectionery aisle in the supermarket! A coach isn’t there to tell you what to do but they’re there to help you learn more about yourself and in my case hopefully instil more confidence into me. I’m still quite early on into it but I’d recommend it already.

Spend time on yourself:

I find this really hard, I say yes to almost everything and always try to be the best friend, colleague, family member, wife I can be because I hate letting people down. I always try to do everything, see everyone and I’m lucky to have people who want to see me but I think sometimes saying yes to everything has a detrimental effect on my own well being. Finding a new career means devoting time to exploring options, finding time to think (harder than you think it’ll be!) and I’m learning that I need to say yes to things I do want to do and not feel like I have to say yes to others. I don’t think I’ll ever be the sort of person to pass up on a party because I’m sitting at home thinking but I do know that I need to give this new career malarkey the best chance of working.

Be brave and think longer term:

Making these kinds of decisions is hard. There’s no sugar coating. You’ll have friends, family members, colleagues who won’t understand you. You’ll have to turn down holidays, you’ll have to be careful with money. In the short term I expect my life to be a shit and scary. It has always been easier to stick with the status quo rather than try something new. In five years time I hope I’ll be happier for it.

Find a hobby you enjoy doing:

This isn’t specifically about jobs per se but more about finding pursuits that make you happy. For me, blogging is my chance to learn new skills and help me discover who I am but it could be anything from sport to music.

If any of my heart on sleeve ramble has struck a chord then please get in touch, I’m more than happy to share my experiences in more detail. Or if anyone has gone through something similar and has any advice for me I’d love to hear it. I’m shit scared about what the future holds but some of the feedback I’ve received from friends was that I was braver than I give myself credit for and maybe this is an example of that.

8 Comments

  1. Alix Huk Watson
    January 29, 2017 / 12:39 pm

    So spot on Ali. Good luck xx

    • alison.jackson
      January 29, 2017 / 4:10 pm

      Thanks love, hope you’re well xx

  2. Bev
    January 29, 2017 / 8:25 pm

    I think this blog shows great courage and strength of character-perhaps more than you realise as does taking this bold step. I wish you lots of luck in your search.

    • alison.jackson
      January 29, 2017 / 8:39 pm

      Thank you Mum, I love you xx

  3. Charlotte Blumenfeld
    January 29, 2017 / 9:04 pm

    Excellent Ali! I’ve often thought the same thing. I don’t hate my job I just feel like I’m not fulfilling whatever it is I could be, and no idea how to get there. Work in progress. All the best xx

    • alison.jackson
      February 21, 2017 / 6:35 pm

      Hi Charlotte, so sorry it has taken me a while to reply, I’m not used to getting comments on here :). I think it’s natural for many of us to start questioning what we’re doing with our lives once we’ve been working for a while (and we turn 30). As long as you don’t hate it then there’s no reason to change or maybe it’s just something to think about every so often when you have a bit of time to stand back and gain perspective. For me who knows whether it’ll be a big change or maybe it’ll be a similar industry but with a different focus but I’m just trying to keep an open mind and not get too scared about the prospect of being unemployed for a while while I figure things out! I hope you and your family are ok (I saw your news on Facebook, I’m so sorry to hear that) and all the best to you too xx

  4. Adrienne
    February 23, 2017 / 1:06 pm

    You are certainly not alone! And this is a 50-something speaking… You’ve articulated so well the story of my life. I wasn’t as brave as you. I’ve finally accepted that my work is just a means of funding the part of my life that I do enjoy – my social/cultural life. but that’s not really the answer – so I wish you every success in your exploration. You certainly have been bold – and I love your website and the honesty with which you write. Skills to continue honing, methinks – you never know where they might lead you. Good luck!

  5. Donna
    June 12, 2017 / 7:44 am

    Absolutely love this, I’m in exactly the same position, only I hit it when I reached 40! I’ve spent the last 2 years looking, researching, attending open days etc trying to find my “thing” and I’m still searching…….
    I’m also in a job which I feel is sucking the soul out of me and truly never felt so bored 😐
    I think everyone around me thinks I’ve gone crazy as everybody else seems perfectly at ease being in the “rat race” yet I can’t wait to blast out of it!
    Keep going and good luck 😉

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