career change 40s

How to choose a career coach (even if you’re not sure you need one yet.) 

When you’re feeling stuck in a career, industry or job that no longer fits, a career coach can be the life-line that helps you identify and evaluate possible new directions. 

Even though career coaching is not the norm yet for senior professionals - at least not in Europe - it’s definitely a growth market. If you were to do a google search for a career coach in your city, you will have tonnes of options.

If you do a google search for “career coach” in your city, you’ll be overwhelmed with choice but without a personal recommendation, it’s difficult to find a career coach that suits you and your specific requirements.

If you do a google search for “career coach” in your city, you’ll be overwhelmed with choice but without a personal recommendation, it’s difficult to find a career coach that suits you and your specific requirements.

But how do you find one that works for you? 

There are low barriers to entry in the murky world of coaching so anyone can give it a go.  Some are amazingly talented and some are...not.

When I went through my own mid-career crisis some years ago, I might have bitten off your arm for the telephone number of a career coach who came highly recommended.  

But as I felt so ashamed of my successful but increasingly unhappy career, I didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t ask anyone for help so I missed out on a great opportunity to make my career change less painful, less expensive, less stressful and far speedier. 

I reckon a decent career coach could have saved me at very least £20,000 in career change costs so I’ve put some thought into a few recommendations to help you go about selecting the best career coach for you and your personal situation.

My top tips on how to choose a career coach: 

Choose a career coach who is EXCELLENT at doing one thing - working with one particular style of person, one particular career problem or opportunity. It takes confidence to specialise.

Choose a career coach who is EXCELLENT at doing one thing - working with one particular style of person, one particular career problem or opportunity. It takes confidence to specialise.

  • Does your specific problem sit within their specialist niche?

You wouldn't choose a builder for your Grade II listed building if they’d only worked on new builds, would you? 

Choose someone who is REALLY good at doing one thing, or working with one particular style of person, problem or opportunity.

It’s my strong opinion that a great career coach must have chosen a niche  - otherwise you might be paying them to learn on the job!

Examples of specific niches:

  • Industry - intimate experience of the idiosyncrasies of the industry you are interested in or want to continue to progress within could be very useful.

  • Level - early, mid-career, executive level positions all have requirements that are different which impact coaching niches.

  • Situation - if you can assess the specific problem that is making you feel career stuck as coach with specific situational experience can be very helpful. Examples include cultural acclimatisation after entering a new country, returning to work after maternity leave, entering new industries, setting up a first business, enhanced leadership techniques, managing different styles of teams, entering new levels of seniority or specific skills like persuasion or emotional intelligence.

For instance, I specialise in working with individuals in their 40s and 50s who feel stuck in their successful but unfulfilling careers and want to consciously design more satisfaction into their future work.  That’s a very tight niche that fits my experience, knowledge and passions.

  • I don’t know a thing about the problems or psychology of millennials so that’s definitely not my niche. 

  • I’m not experienced at coaching individuals on their way up the corporate ladder so neither is that my niche.

  • I’d never be chosen to coach teams towards high performance…you get the gist!

Full disclosure:  I have worked with very advanced 30 somethings who felt stuck in a career that doesn’t fit but the characteristics of their problem and my ability to help them solve them are matched perfectly…and I try not to discriminate against the young!

A career coach who doesn’t appear to really enjoy their work is a worry. But a career coach who is 100% joyful in their work might not be attractive either.

A career coach who doesn’t appear to really enjoy their work is a worry. But a career coach who is 100% joyful in their work might not be attractive either.

  •  Do they walk the walk?

Beware the stress and anxiety coach who looks stressed and anxious. Or the money mindset coach who drives a 14 year old banger. 

Do some research to figure out if they are taking their own medicine.  Are they practising what they preach? 

It won’t take long.

A 10 minute whizz around their website, watching their videos on social media, reading their blog etc should give you the feeling that they are walking the walk but are being honest about their failings as humans.

Perfection doesn’t exist.

As an example, I tell potential clients that on average, I use a combination of my Superpowers 60-70% of each day. Not 100%, I hear you ask?

I also tell them that if I wasn’t a solopreneur, I’d have outsourced my super weaknesses a long time ago to allow me to use my Superpowers 90% of each day.

But, I love being my own boss and before I outsource anything like marketing, PR, admin or book-keeping, I do it myself for a while so that I understand what good (and bad!) look like. This helps me then select someone much better than me to do it. 

But 60-70% of fulfilling work every day is not bad for a career satisfaction designer, eh? 

  • Do you like them enough to be regularly vulnerable in front of them?

Any decent career coach offers some form of check-me-out call which is a two-way process. 

It’s highly likely that if you feel career stuck that you will need to be openly vulnerable - as it’s the only way you’ll be able to see things from a different angle and begin to figure out potential next steps. 

By asking and answering questions in a short telephone call, you’ll be able to test how sensitive they will be to your situation, to get examples of similar individuals they’ve worked with and to figure out if their style works with yours.

In case you’re wondering, I call my “check-me-out“ call “The Light at the end of my the tunnel” call.  I do lots of these each week and only one or two will end up working with me.

Why? Because it’s got to be the right fit for both of us.

It really bugs me when coaches don’t put their prices on their website - time is precious. I think it’s best to give potential clients the information they need to decide whether you offer good value for them, or not.

It really bugs me when coaches don’t put their prices on their website - time is precious. I think it’s best to give potential clients the information they need to decide whether you offer good value for them, or not.

  • Do they offer value for money...for you personally?

When you’re hiring a decorator do you let them charge by the day? I did it once and was astounded by the cost in the end. And I wasn’t happy with the outcome. I didn’t need to learn that lesson twice.

Of course, coaching is much more complex than slapping a bit of Farrow & Ball chalk paint onto a wall - it’s difficult to quantify benefits at the out-set. 

Instead, I really like it when the coach does the thinking for you and openly offers a range of packages with different outcomes and processes listed so that it’s possible to clearly see how each might benefit you.  

Then you can decide if it’s good value for your personal situation...or not.  

I also really like it when coaches who give access to their prices on their website (as I do). It feels like a huge commitment to pick up the phone to ask a coach what they charge. Don’t you think? 

I’ve personally never charged by the hour as it feels like I’m charging individuals more for moving slowly through the change process. That makes me feel a bit...itchy. 

Choose a career coach with a personality that matches yours. I’m direct but kind, action-driven, energising, self-deprecating but you-appreciating, but mostly I like to laugh.

Choose a career coach with a personality that matches yours. I’m direct but kind, action-driven, energising, self-deprecating but you-appreciating, but mostly I like to laugh.

  • Do they have a sense of humour?

This one might be just me…

But, If I’m going to be working with someone for several hours a month for 6 months on my Big Re-think programme, it’s just more fun if we have a laugh every now and then. 

I used to be a bereavement volunteer for an amazing charity called CRUSE and my time with them reaffirmed for me the idea that grief and humour are located right beside each other.

In the beginning, it always astounded me how much laughter (and tears) our sessions were filled with until it became the norm. Just because you might be talking about some painful stuff with your career coach, doesn’t mean that it always needs to be serious. 

Or maybe that’s just me? 

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. 

Dance fear confidence.jpg

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: 

 https://midlifecareers.co.uk/best-insight/ 


Other related articles:







The one thing I lacked (that would have shaved years & at least £20000 off my career change costs)

5 years ago, I first noticed a slow, dripping tap of career dissatisfaction. But it took me years to figure out the one thing I lacked to enable me to fix it - and save lots of money and painful, wasted energy at the same time.

If I’d invested time and energy (or paid someone to help me) in this one thing, I could have turned off my slow, dripping tap of career dissatisfaction years earlier.

If I’d invested time and energy (or paid someone to help me) in this one thing, I could have turned off my slow, dripping tap of career dissatisfaction years earlier.

The dripping tap numbed my wins and my losses. 

Flattened my fun. 

And coloured my days slightly grey.  

But I shoved the fear of big change around next year’s corner. 

A prison of my own making

The career I’d gifted 20 years of my youth to, had morphed into a prison of my own making. From this prison, my window of opportunity felt like it was shrinking the closer I aged towards 50.

I’d worked hard. And saved hard. Maybe even enough for a great escape - but not without a plan. 

Plan A was definitely fading.

To be frank, so was I. 

Another year passed but no plan magically materialised. Because I still had no idea where to start. 

Escaping from my self-made, comfortable career prison took me about 4 years but it shouldn’t have.

Escaping from my self-made, comfortable career prison took me about 4 years but it shouldn’t have.

A leap that nearly broke me

When the dripping tap switched to full flow, I jumped from Plan A without a parachute, of any colour. And crash-landed at university, trying to master psychology. 

Far from a soft landing, it was the hardest year of my life!

Not kidding.

The wrinkles on my brain and my face slowed my learning. 

I donated every ounce of energy to getting great marks - all the time believing I was on the brink of failure. I did well and felt proud, for two minutes, before the fog of reality returned. 

I STILL had no Plan B to go forth with.

And STILL didn’t know how to start one. 

I STILL didn’t know anyone who had one - or one that excited them.

STILL didn’t know where to start figuring out what I’d be good at, or (whisper) maybe even great at. 

I STILL didn’t know how to get paid to do work that I might love.

But mostly, I STARTED to wonder if I might look back on my career with regret asking “What if?

The unusual question that changed everything

Then, I whispered to myself a tough question: 

“How am I going to live a life, with the freedom to do work that makes me feel great AND work that matters so much I get invited onto BBC1 Desert Island Discs?

That’s how I knew I still had hope

I just needed my Plan B. A bloody great one! 

Big B.jpg

So I put my newfound research skills to the test and scoured the globe to learn everything possible about career change.

And created a methodology to design bespoke Plan Bs Plan Bs for individuals, like me, who’ve got plenty left in the tank and don’t want to waste another minute wondering.  Plan Bs designed around personality and unique talents, combined with lifestyle and freedom desires.

And I implemented my own Plan B - doing work that’s fun and that matters.

Incase you’re wondering, I’m quite a way off being invited onto Desert Island Discs! BUT I’m a heck of a lot closer than I was 5 years ago.

2 years ago.

Yesterday. 

Check out my “Where to Start” guide to career change at your age and talk to me about designing your Plan B

 









The first emotion you need to embrace to begin your career change (even if it hurts like hell!)

In this article, you’ll discover the emotion that has the power to keep you stuck forever (when you avoid or numb it) or drive you towards freedom through action (when you embrace it).

To admit this emotion to your friends and family can hurt like hell at first!

To admit this emotion to your friends and family can hurt like hell at first!

I’ve conducted some very niche career change research. Over 100 people who describe themselves as happier after re-designing their work have kindly allowed me to dig around their change stories.

Every single one of them, no matter what their career was before or after they made changes, experienced one emotion at the beginning of their journey that freed them to do work that made them happier.

Which emotion?  

  • Bravery?  Not always

  • Fear of taking risk? Not always.

  • Anger at feeling stuck? Not always.

  • Anxiety around change? Not always.

  • Worry around potential failure? Not always.

  • Status anxiety? Not always.

So, come on, which emotion did all 100 experience at the beginning of their change?

They all experienced enough vulnerability to say to themselves:

“I am stuck somewhere I don’t want to be and I don’t know what to do about it!”


Then, here’s what happened:

Firstly, by acknowledging their vulnerability in this way, they freed themselves to review their situation from a different angle.

Then they swapped their emotional problem for a knowledge problem - which is a heck of a lot easier to solve!

How others actioned their new knowledge problem rather than hiding their vulnerability:

Each of the 100 successful career changers acknowledged that their vulnerable position and then began solving their knowledge problem in 100 different ways. Here are just of few of them:

  • David initiated a quiet conversation with a trusted HR Director colleague who offered some valuable advice.

  • Ges got in touch with a local career coach for the first time in his life, in his 50s.

  • Kate researched how difficult it might be to actually make her own gin

  • Liz signed up for a bread-baking course to try something new

  • Lindsay began to research an industry that she loved - the wine industry

  • Elizabeth took a break from work to travel and re-evaluate life goals

  • Clare started to draw again after a big gap to see if her talent came back to her

  • Andrea used her redundancy pay-out to create her 6 month writing experiment

  • Charlotte visited trade fairs to get to know a new potential clients at weekends

  • Duncan down-sized to save up enough to buy a company

All of these activities were only possible after these successful career changers embraced their vulnerable positions in a way that allowed them to take action.

Instead of staying stuck doing work that wasn’t making them happy…

They chose to embrace their vulnerability to allow them to move forward.

They chose to:

  1. Stop complaining about work that didn’t fit.

  2. Cease feeling powerless or trapped.

  3. Take little steps to feel a little more control of their work lives.

  4. Learn something new to fill in the blanks of their knowledge problem.

  5. To give something new a try.

Actioning vulnerability means doing something that moves you from the “I don’t know what to do about it” situation to knowing a little more. And then a little bit more. And then, you guessed it, a little bit more.

Any downsides to acknowledging your vulnerability?

LI Hurt like hell.png

Of course!

It can take time.  

It certainly takes effort.  

It leads to action.

It requires a great deal of personal honesty

And (this is a biggie) if you’re the kind of person who always has the answers - it can hurt like hell to say to your partner, children or friends “I’m somewhere I don’t want to be and I don’t know what to do about it”.

BUT…

If you follow up that earlier statement with “so I’m going to do some research to figure it out” you may not actually burst into flames!

You might even become the envy of your friends and inspire change in them.

But who cares what other people think?

There is so much proof in psychological research that embracing your vulnerability can release a whole different range of emotions - happiness, freedom and maybe even joy.

Even if you did burst into flames, might it be worth it to experience work that released those emotions?

If you’re interested in the topic of vulnerability - check out Brene Brown’s Ted Talk.

Your first step?

If you’re getting close to deciding to show a little vulnerability by admitting that “You’re somewhere you don’t want to be and don’t know what to do about it” why not jump on a Light at the end of my tunnel call with me?  

In a 30min phone call,  I guarantee (whether you decide to work with me or not) to give you two personalised recommendations to set you on your way. Oh, and...it’s free!

What have you got to lose?

If you are ready to take your first step to receive two personalised recommendations - click the link/image to book in for a 30min “light at the end of my tunnel call” this week.

If you are ready to take your first step to receive two personalised recommendations - click the link/image to book in for a 30min “light at the end of my tunnel call” this week.

Attitude to money impacts career freedom. A true story and lessons learned.

Our attitude to money and financial considerations have a huge influence on our ability to change career or to design our work differently to how we've designed it in the past.

In this guest article by the lovely Sue Marshall, she tells her story of career change with a focus on how her attitude to money had the ability to both keep her stuck and set her free.

Sue Marshall - a career re-design story with a focus on attitude to money.

Sue Marshall - a career re-design story with a focus on attitude to money.

My historical attitude to money

I’ve never really been focused on making money. It just wasn’t that interesting to me.

I’ve always been motivated by working with people that inspire me and doing a job that excites and challenges me.

I felt that I was incredibly lucky to be able to get paid for working incredibly hard, doing work I enjoy.   

That’s not to say I’m financially unaware – I’ve always maintained a tight grip on household expenses to ensure that the basics are covered. But let’s just say I just didn’t have a very extensive financial vision!  

I knew I wanted to be mortgage free by 50 but that was about it.

Neither my husband nor I come from money, so – once we’d covered the bases, we were pretty blasé about spending.

We both had final salary pension schemes and a ‘survival’ fund of a year or so, so we felt quite virtuous.

Until, that is, things changed. The gap from the point our funds ran out and normal retirement date became gradually more terrifying.  

Gap jump.jpg

Mind the Gap…

When you know something’s not quite right you can bury your head in the sand, or you can make something different happen.

I was worn out.

All that working incredibly hard had taken its toll.

So, I became an ostrich. I continued to work stupidly hard because I had no ‘off switch’ – but my heart was no longer in it.

On the odd occasion I did lift my head and ask myself, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ I remembered The Gap, thought: ‘you’ve just got to keep on going!’ and carried on.   

The Fear

I’ve never felt fear like it.

It was paralysing.

I just kept telling myself to set it aside and keep on powering through. I knew I was hurting myself but I couldn’t stop.

The Moment of Clarity

Clarity rear view mirror.jpg

After a very busy week, I went to see my personal trainer full of aches and pains to see if she could help me loosen up. She sent me to see my doctor.

After a lengthy series of blood tests, examinations and scans I was diagnosed with stress, anxiety and appendicitis.  

An appendectomy followed.

As I was coming around, I remember being delighted that I didn’t have to do anything remotely useful for weeks: that was so not me!

It was right then that I realised something had to give.

Reaching out when opportunity comes knocking

My lucky star hadn’t completely deserted me: whilst I was convalescing, I received an offer to cash in my final salary pension scheme.

A friend recommended a financial advisor who helped me work through that idea and I went ahead: yes, I would lose money on the deal, but it would allow us flexibility over the next 10 years or so.

It probably took a good five months or so to really understand our financial position and our options – my financial advisor became my best friend! If you don’t have one, I suggest you find one, or be prepared to learn about pensions, tax, investments….

Knowledge was the key to reducing my fear

Looking back, I can see that the fact that I didn’t understand our financial position at all was keeping me in that state of fear.

When I learned that I could move my final salary pension to somewhere more flexible...the fear reduced enough to allow me to start to really track our spending!  

Knowledge about career financials

What I discovered

I discovered that WE COULD MANAGE!

Yes, it was a big shock to understand how much we spent on birthdays, Christmas, food and drink. Also, the ‘hidden’ costs of kids who we thought had left home!  

But the biggest discovery was that we could balance things.

And we also have a financial model we can play tunes on:

  • What if the stock market tanks?

  • How much CAN we spend?

  • What if my husband retires this year, next year, at 65?

  • Can we survive if my business makes a loss this year, next year?

  • When will the money run out if we spend x, y or z annually?

We now have a lovely warm feeling about every penny that we bring in because we can now see how it will help us live a little differently.

What I learned that may be useful for others in similar situations

  • Although it’s terrifying at the beginning, becoming more aware of financial patterns, spending and the potential impact of decisions actually reduces the fear

  • Understanding your run-rate/cash-burn is super important so you know how long your savings and investments will last and how/when/if you can access your pension.

  • Go looking for the gaps: the more uncomfortable, the more important it will be for you to address them.

  • For those with partners: initiating dialogues with your other half is important! This one is a bit embarrassing: my grip on the family finances was pretty well total, so the fear was all mine as well. The knowledge and the fear are now shared and everything is so much easier now we make joint decisions.

  • We’ve been transparent throughout with our kids. They have both benefited from the experience – our daughter (25) works, lives and SAVES in London and our son (22) is now fully accountable for his finances in his final year at Uni. (I can’t tell you what a relief that is!)

What I know for sure:

  • Knowledge about our finances gave me my power back.  It allowed me to understand that we have many more viable options than I thought we did. My husband and I have conversations with a deeper understanding of our financial position.  For instance, if one of us wants to retire sooner than we had planned we can talk through the impact and make decisions together. We now know how different our lives could look under a variety of circumstances.

  • We now collaborate in financial decisions more than ever and we’ve happily curtailed our spending in all sorts of ways.  We even tell one another before we buy clothes now! Our decisions are linked in a way that they haven’t been in the past.

Off button.jpg

Changes in me

  • Whilst I wouldn’t wish that period of my life on anybody, in many ways it’s been a gift.  I’m back to being me – and I look after myself these days: I haven’t got to please people or dilute myself to fit in. Financial knowledge has been key to reducing my fear, allowing me to be objective and helping me make decisions that ultimately freed me.

  • I’ve also changed my money mindset: I value it more and have respect for the opportunities it can open up. I’m more grateful for the things I have, and my ability to pause to consider what I really want has increased.  

  • I’m still working on the ‘off switch’ but I’m more able to stop and smell the roses and appreciate things like a walk in the woods rather than delivering to deadlines which are self-imposed these days.

But most importantly, I’m back doing work that I love in a way that feels like me!














What if your first career is the wrong one?

A true story highlighting the potential risks of staying in a career that doesn’t suit for too long.

The words are those of the individual but I have anonymised for their privacy.

What age were you when you decided your forever career? This is one of my daughters aged 11 - it’s hard to imagine her deciding her future at this age. (Lucia)

What age were you when you decided your forever career? This is one of my daughters aged 11 - it’s hard to imagine her deciding her future at this age. (Lucia)

The Beginning and an End

From the age of 12 I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, so I never thought to look at any other careers. 

My father had a small regional legal firm where I did my training contract. Whilst it might sound easy working in a family firm, it was far from it.  I found myself thrown in at the deep end. At the age of 22, on the very first day of my training contract, I found myself in court bringing a case against a fully-fledged barrister.  It was a far cry from being molly-coddled.  After I qualified, I moved to a Top30 regional firm which was a big jump and rather daunting.

Over a two year period I was very ill, at one stage in bed for a whole month. I was ultimately diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME)

Over a two year period I was very ill, at one stage in bed for a whole month. I was ultimately diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME)

While I was doing my training contract I became very ill. Doctors initially thought it was just a bad virus but it continued for so long, I was tested for everything.  I was ultimately diagnosed with ME(CFS) - for which there was (and is still) no cure.  Over a two-year period when I was very ill at one stage in bed for a whole month, I was placed on lots of new drug trials. 

Somehow, I lurched to the end of my training contract and qualified as a lawyer and moved to a much bigger firm.  In hindsight, it was probably too much of a leap and it really took it out of me. 

I’ve always been ambitious and hard-working, and I loved the subject matter but as my legal career progressed, there was an increasing a focus on maximising time and billings. Every minute was billable and it went against the grain.

At the age of 29, after falling seriously again and under-going endless brain, heart and lung function tests, I received a second diagnosis of ME – Chronic fatigue syndrome.  I was devastated!   My body had been running on adrenalin and my GP told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t stop working immediately I would be in hospital before the week was out.

I decided that was the end of my career as a solicitor.

In Tricky In-Between

I arranged a 6-month sabbatical during which time, I became even more seriously ill and ended up resigning. I didn’t work again for 4 years. 

I’d burned out doing work that didn’t suit me but my drive and hard-working personality had kept me going.  I pushed myself to achieve way too much, too soon in my first career.  I used to work to live but that way of working meant that putting myself under pressure was the norm.

I was in my early 30s and all my friends were getting promotions, getting engaged, getting married, having kids and none of that was possible for me. At that time, getting out of bed in the morning was all I could aim for some days.  

I’d never considered any other career other than being a solicitor, ever.  But I made the decision that when I would go back to work, if I could go back to work, I would definitely not be a solicitor.

I’d burned out doing work that didn't suit me but my drive and hard-working personality had kept me going.

I’d burned out doing work that didn't suit me but my drive and hard-working personality had kept me going.

I met with a coach and she asked me questions to help shift my brain from searching for something I could do to pay the bills to what I might really like to do. That was a big mental shift.  She helped me return to an idea from years ago about helping people through divorce without being a lawyer.

Divorce is a topic that most people don’t want to think about.  As I was creating a service that didn’t exist when I started, I needed to get my message out there. 

So, I got some Visaprint business cards printed and headed off to my first local networking meeting.  The first person I met when I nervously introduced myself wouldn’t accept my business card and scoffed at my title.  That knocked my confidence, but I battled on and met some fabulous people who have since helped me in my business so much.   It paid to persevere.

My parents divorced when I was a solicitor.   My mum was a smart women but needed some extra support through the divorce process.  I realised I was explaining things in a way she could understand easily.  I bridged the gap that her solicitor couldn’t fill.  Mum told me afterwards that she wouldn’t have been able to cope if I hadn’t been by her side.  I did that very naturally and it didn’t drain me.  

Solicitors can only help with legal advice and that frustrated me in my other career.  People in divorce need help on finances, emotions, house, children, practical considerations and just an unbiased ear to listen.  I knew based on my experience with my mum that I could offer that.

The New Beginning

I’d never seen myself as self-employed and couldn’t identify with being an entrepreneur. Stability and security were a big part of my personality.

The coach actually found me my first client and told me that I would receive a call tomorrow – a lady who needed help with her divorce.  

With no business card, no website, absolutely nothing,  we spoke on the phone and agreed to meet for coffee. She needed help with the financial disclosure information needed for her divorce but didn’t really know where to start. When I offered to come to her house and help her through it, she burst into tears and gladly accepted my offer. I felt a sense of sheer relief that there was a way I could help people without spending years re-training.  

I felt that I still had skills that others would find helpful and felt reassurance that I still could be useful. 

I learned that I had no office skills as I’d always had a secretary. I had to learn a great deal about myself and learn new skills that would help me to be able to do something different.

I started courses on how to start a new business and began slowly to learn new skills like networking. I also did some training in coaching. I’m not a business person…I wasn’t a business person but I started very slowly.  I loved that I didn’t need capital to set up this business. There were no barriers.

I know I’ve done the right thing every morning. It’s lovely! I get lots of really lovely pieces of feedback from my clients that prove to me that I’m making a positive difference to people going through a difficult time.  That might sound nambie pambie but I’m confident that I will keep doing this for a very long time.  

I received the most wonderful email from one of my clients years ago that said ‘Not all superheros wear capes!’ which I have kept in a special place.

“Not all Super Heroes wear capes” : special feedback received from a grateful client.

I’m surprised by how much I love being a business owner.  I just love the autonomy. The freedom to decide when and how I work.  

I love that I built my own model in an industry that didn’t even exist when I started.  And that I can do business however I feel.  

Self-care wasn’t part of my journey but believe me it is now! I’m not perfect at it but I totally understand its importance for every aspect of life.  We just don’t prioritise it enough and it has knock-on impacts.  My mantra is ‘Be kind to yourself - emotionally, physically and mentally’. If we don’t put on our own oxygen masks first we can’t help others.

I regret that there was no real career coaching available when I was in my teens.  Although I was fixed on being a solicitor I should have looked at other areas.  Areas that might have worked with my personality and talents.

If I had to go through it again, I’d ask for help earlier.  

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Changing career in midlife is just a series of experiments...easier said than done!

I'd have paid good money to be doing this rather than conducting my scary experiment - was it worth it?

I'd have paid good money to be doing this rather than conducting my scary experiment - was it worth it?

As you might expect, given my career choice, I have designed my business around one of my unique strengths which also gives me joy – helping people through a proven career un-sticking process specifically on a one-to-one basis.   The one-to-one element was no accident.  Not only does that format play to my strengths - I’m scared witless of presenting to groups!   But, I had hit a problem in my business… 

In October and November, I was fully booked with one-to-one clients fulfilling my mission to “eradicate unnecessary career unhappiness - one mid-lifer at a time”.   BUT, I realised that even if that situation were to continue forever, I was going to be 90 years old before I make a decent dent in the raft of mid-life professionals in UK who are seriously career stuck.  

So, I decided to conduct an experiment to test an idea – not an easy idea for me.  Not an idea that would allow me to stay in my comfort zone.  In fact, it was an idea that every bone in my body was resistant to – presenting my ideas on how to un-stick your career to a group. 

The test question: Would it be possible to teach a small group the basics of unsticking their careers in 2hrs in front of people they don’t know?

I asked for help from someone whose superpower means she can take embryonic ideas and make them real - Rebecca Moody.    Rebecca kindly helped me design a group workshop idea into an experiment from which attendees would walk away with both an understanding of the secret to career happiness and some practical tools to help them kick-start a DIY unsticking process.  

So, one evening a few weeks ago in the Zoo Café near Godalming (the funkiest commuter Café I have ever seen) Rebecca and I co-hosted the first MidlifeUnstuck “Unstick my Career” workshop.

How scared I felt conducting this experiment: 

As I bombed down the A3 the second after the babysitter arrived, I looked and felt like a loonie coaching myself aloud that this experiment was “brave not stupid” whilst almost vomiting into my lap with nerves and fighting back the “What the hell am I doing?” feelings seeping out of every pore.  I was undoubtedly afraid, feeling totally exposed and decidedly vulnerable.  This was very different to presenting to groups in my old career – everything I would be presenting would be my ideas, my research and my programmes.  Amongst other fatalistic mantras and plentiful swearing, this is the type of self-chat that was going on in my car:

  • “Why the hell did I agree to this when I knew I get nervous speaking in front of groups?”

  • “What if I couldn’t communicate my knowledge and ideas?”

  • “What if my introverted self - who prefers one-to-one communication - doesn’t allow me to speak in straight lines?”

  • “What if I didn’t look like a career change expert after years studying and working to try to become one?”

  • “What if I am publicly exposed as a fraud?”

  • “What if everyone cancelled at the last minute?”

  • “What if they were all horrible people (or other such less gentile words)?”

  • “What if they all stand up, walk out and ask for their money back?”

Essentially, I was party to endless fearful conversations led by my own brain, trying to get me to turn around, let the babysitter go home early and do something less scary instead (see sofa photo above).    It was bloody hard to keep driving towards (what I perceived to be) imminent failure.

Did I turn the car around and head back to my comfy sofa? 

Only in my dreams.  The shame of not doing what I ask my clients to do on a daily basis would have crushed me.  I did exactly what I advise all of my clients to do…I took one step outside of my comfort zone and analysed what happened.  

 

Incase you were wondering...this is what I look like pretending to be brave...

Incase you were wondering...this is what I look like pretending to be brave...

  • I stepped out of the car after doing my 2 minute power pose (from Amy Cuddy's tedtalk) in the surprisingly gigantic commuter train station in the middle of nowhere. Still alive.

  • I walked in the door of the Zoo Cafe. Still alive.

  • I pretended Rebecca my co-host and co-owner of the Zoo Café that my nerves were excitement. Still alive.

  • I noted Rebecca’s eye for design which had transformed the venue from funky commuter café offering trademarked Cups of Awesome to sparkly, inviting, candle-lit group cave. I smiled. Still very much alive. I might even breathed!

  • I said “Hello” to the first smiley, lovely career-stuck individual. Not only alive but I could feel my shoulders relax to half-mast.

  • I nearly bear-hugged that poor lady simply for turning up but when I got close, I could sense a little of her own personal nerves. I breathed. It was going to be ok. I had not thrown myself to the Lions. This was an experiment not a death sentence.

 

The “Experiment and analysis” phase is something I talk a great deal about with clients who are a fair way down the un-sticking path.  There often isn’t a big leap from one career to another but lots of testing of mini-ideas and noting how the world reacts.  That evening, I re-lived all the feelings I had had when I first started the business and crikey it was painful...very far from comfy.    These experiments and tests are outside our comfort zones…but that’s kind of the point. 

If you’re not stuck, you don’t need to try anything different.  BUT, I was vividly re-learning how trying something different can be bloody scary. 

As more people joined us and had a little glass of something awesome to take the edge off the cold evening, I kept breathing and “braved up”.  The experiment had begun.

Here’s what happened in my group experiment:

  • 6 absolutely wonderful, successful career mid-lifers walked through the doors. They hailed from music, media, advertising, IT and banking industries. They had totally different disciplines, different family situations, different health situations, different reasons for feeling stuck and different fears of being stuck forever. But they had something in common: they were all, by their own admissions, “stuck”.

  • After introductions, I talked a little about what being “career stuck” looks like from my research and then I dug even deeper and exposed myself as someone who had been horribly stuck three few years ago. I talked about my own brand of focused-grumpy at work and stressy-distracted at home for years and told them about the day when enough was enough.

  • We then discussed the very simple key to short-term career happiness – and some of the complexity behind that idea.

  • We then worked in pairs to discuss the top three things that stop mid-lifers taking control of their careers and top three things that mid-lifers feel when they do regain control.

  • I presented some of the findings from my upcoming mini book “Dare to Hope” which tells how it actually feels for a selection of midlife career changers before and after they changed their careers (sign up to my newsletter and I’ll send it to you when it’s finished).

  • We also uncovered the secret to longer term, sustainable career happiness.

  • Then we did a mini-super powers session which resulted in everyone leaving knowing how to find their own brilliance but needing time alone to think quietly.

  • Finally we ran through my Beginners Guide to Mid-life Career Change” (which you can download from my website).

So what? Here’s how one scary, vomit-inducing experiment has changed my business:

  • I am planning a whole range of these introductions to the “Secrets to career happiness/Career re-design” workshops across the Surrey in 2018 with a similar format. (Get in contact with me if you’d like to co-host one in your locality)

  • Based on feedback, I’m toying with the idea of breaking my programmes up into modules and offering each of these as group sessions.

  • I’ve pressed “go” on an idea I have been working on for a while - The design of my first ever 5 day MidlifeUnstuck Transformation Programme in Bordeaux. It is specifically aimed at mid-lifers who are stuck but need to get away from it all to think clearly and would enjoy long country walks, exercise classes on site and healthy food in luxurious surroundings. This is a collaboration with the marvellous bespoke retreat company Pure Retreats. The first two retreats of 2018 have already sold out there are spaces left for March. Check it out here

Test question result: Was it possible to teach a small group the basics of unsticking their careers in 2hrs in front of people they don't know?  

Yes.  My programmes last between 3-6 months so it would have been impossible to un-stick those individuals fully but I hadn't set the experiment up to fail.  What was possible was for me to connect with a larger group of people in their 40s and 50s in order to share insights on re-designing their careers and for them to learn the basics on how to start the in-sticking process at home.  I tried to cover a great deal in one short session and the openness to learning and interest in how to get started from the attendees blew me away.  For confidentiality reasons, I cannot name these brave, curious individuals who had had enough of banging their heads against brick walls.  But I am delighted that they came. 

Some of them, I hope, will go on to choose a coach to help them on a one-to-one basis.  Others may join some of the future group sessions and move forward over time.  Others may sit down over the following few weeks and work through the beginners guide to pinpoint what it is they want, what it is they are great at and what changes they could make to impact their career enjoyment positively. 

I don’t believe there are any other options because once you know there is a possible way out, you can’t choose to stay stuck any longer.

For me, this was a very worthwhile experiment that has had a profound impact on me and my business.  Whilst I was undoubtedly afraid, many good things have come from the experience. 

Was the experiment slick, perfectly presented and did everyone walk off in a cloud of career happiness?  Of course not, but it was priced accordingly.  That said, I changed the world more than if I had stayed at home on my comfy sofa that night! 

Dare to hope 3d cover.png

Dare to Hope is my new mini-book which has be carved out from my research interviews with 50+ interviews with successful mid-life career changers.  To get it emailed directly to you, sign up to my newsletter and it’ll be with you as soon as it is ready.