Who's leading your midlife career change dance...fear or confidence? And does career coaching help?

Rare, new midlife research suggests career coaching helps late career reinvention, but it takes time and involves a zig-zaggy dance between confidence and fear. 

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Career change is a growing area of interest, but I really struggle to find interesting research on career change...at our age!

So, when I happened upon a new piece of research with a tight focus on both career coaching and individuals in the second half of their careers, I couldn’t wait to get my get on the phone with Laura Walker. She conducted the research and she’s on a mission to change the way organisations value midlife talent. Read more about her at the end of this article but here are just a few of the study highlights.

Lots of midlifers I speak to for the first time tell me they’re not sure career re-design and reinvention is possible for them.

Lots of midlifers I speak to for the first time tell me they’re not sure career re-design and reinvention is possible for them.

Late career reinvention is...

After conducting interviews with midlifers who were engaged in coaching to support “late career reinvention”, Laura describes some of the common features of that change process: 

  • Late career reinvention is a messy process that involves many twists and turns including a significant occupational and psychological change. 

  • Late career reinvention is a process that can take somewhere between 3 and 8 years for those interviewed; and 

  • Late career reinvention is usually only recognised as “career reinvention” in hindsight meaning that the midlifers didn’t always start the coaching process with re-invention in mind.

Three elements of “late career re-invention”

Laura’s research found that late career reinvention involves three key elements: 

1. Discovering: Helping individuals to “get out of their own heads”

Helping an individual think more holistically about how they can become more of themselves and potentially improve the integration of their life and work.

Examples might include:

  • helping them to re-define their purpose;

  • helping to figure out who they are now and who they want to be in the future;

  • delving into practical issues around potential change;

  • understanding any limiting beliefs or unhelpful behaviours hindering change;

  • understanding risks such as family, identity or status;

  • re-defining success. 

2. Systemic readiness: Getting everyone and everything ready for change

Rather than just the individual’s willingness to change, these midlifers suggested that one of the most important elements of coaching during this stage was to make sure everyone around them was ready for the implications of the change.  

Interestingly, the research also suggested that often individuals needed to have experienced enough dissatisfaction to prompt the change. This aligns with my idea of the career change tipping point

3. A dynamic dance between fear and self-confidence

I love Laura’s idea here of career reinvention playing out as a dance between fear and self-confidence and it’s something I see play out in my work every day. 

This zig-zaggy, back and forth dance where fear leads and confidence follows and then they reverse seems to play out multiple times over the course of the career reinvention process. 

Laura suggests some of the fears that played out for the midlifers in her research included:

  • Fear of staying stuck forever;  

  • Fear of turning into their parents; 

  • Fear of not being able to pay the bills;  

  • Fear of not being good enough; 

  • Fear of feeling and showing vulnerability. 

But thankfully, confidence swanned in at various points to keep the show on the road!

In my experience, for change to occur, both fear and confidence play ongoing roles. 

On the edge of failure - an alternative suggestion

I recently listened to Seth Godin suggest that, rather than individuals feeling alive by working for their favourite charity or doing deeply worthy work, we feel alive by standing on the brink of failure and taking positive steps to make failure less likely.  He suggests this dance between failure and success could be the deep fulfillment that we are all seeking. 

I need to retreat to my introverted padded cell to think that one through but in the meantime...

Career change at our age isn’t often easy - it can be good to have a partner-in-design to help you through the fear and confidence dance.

Career change at our age isn’t often easy - it can be good to have a partner-in-design to help you through the fear and confidence dance.

Conclusions for you

If you’re still reading, you may be considering embarking on your own career reinvention or may have already made a start but became a little stuck.

So, here are some conclusions to add to your thought process: 

  • Be gentle with yourself, safe in the knowledge that reinvention is a longer game than you initially thought. 

  • Understand that it’s completely natural to swing between deep periods of fear and high confidence when reinventing your career.  Actually, both seem necessary partners for the reinvention process to take place.

  • Research in midlife careers is limited, so choosing a coach who specialises in the uniqueness of career re-design and reinvention at our age is advised.  

Finally, many of the participants in Laura’s research described their coach as “an unbiased, challenging supporter” alongside existing support from family, friends and colleagues. 

If you feel you and your career could benefit from an “unbiased, challenging supporter” or a partner-in-design, it’s worth seeking out someone who understands the idiosyncracies of career reinvention in midlife. 

Tired of thinking and ready to take action?

Click here to book in for a (free) 30min “Light at the end of my tunnel call” this week, where I guarantee to give you at least two personalised recommendations to kickstart your career reinvention.

Find out about Laura Walker, who led the research highlighted above: 


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