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Midlife career change presents challenge and opportunity

A career in health care, for many, begins in midlife when values start to change, and the desire to make a difference becomes important. But, as two allied health professionals share, it's not without its challenges.

Conny Weyrich transitioned from a career in marketing to art therapy in her forties after studying a master's in creative arts therapies.

"The desire to align my work more strongly with my values got increasingly important to me as I got older, and I also felt my priorities and values changed slightly as I approached midlife.

"I'm incorporating my own experience into my work now as one of my areas of expertise is to support people in exploring what 'meaningful work' means for them."

A variety of factors prompted the decision to pursue a new career, said Ms Weyrich.
"It was a combination of changing priorities in my value and belief system and changes in the industry I previously worked in.

"Ultimately, this led to reflections not untypical for anyone entering midlife: what felt most meaningful to me, how could I to bring this into my work life, how did I want to navigate inevitable values conflicts.

"I believe as we grow older, it becomes easier to differentiate between values that are deeply resonant within ourselves versus values we might have 'inherited' as part of our upbringing.

"It made me re-define success and evaluate which of my talents and skills I wanted to be at the heart of my work."

A career change is energising and rewarding, but not without its challenges. The financial commitment, starting again and building a reputation in a new field was difficult, said Ms Weyrich.

"It certainly requires a mindset of being comfortable with being a beginner again, taking on an entry-level or a trainee role, for example, being able to adapt one's lifestyle to an entry-level salary.

"I was aware that a large proportion of practitioners in my field work in private practice.

"I had to be prepared to build a business after graduating, which requires perseverance and a financial foundation that can support this."

There was also an impact on relationships, said Ms Weyrich, as her network had less relevance and people were less interested in her new field. At the same time, a new network takes time to develop.

"I realised how some relationships were purely built on the common denominator of an employer, company or industry and my decision to change careers naturally made certain connections fade away.

"We're made to believe that success means linear progress, and it took considerable mindset work and self-coaching to accept that my journey wasn't linear at all.

"Naturally, this liminal space also comes with very polarising emotions, a mix of excitement about new opportunities, the sadness and some nostalgia of what I left behind and a sense of alienation or not fully belonging while traversing from one field of work to the other."

The key to a successful career change includes having the financial means to support the move, a strong support network, seeking professional career coaching, a good self-care routine and taking stock of transferable skills, according to Ms Weyrich.

"It's important to value and communicate your skills and experience from the previous career. It is often something that makes you unique in the new field of work.

"Be open to experimenting, especially if the change involves starting your own business. There will be some trial and error."

Dietician Jeanette Kimszal also made a career transition later in life, leaving the field of advertising to pursue dietetics. A move that was motivated by a desire to improve her own health.

Ms Kimszal said the biggest challenge of making a significant career change was facing the unknown.

"You don't know what the future holds in the new career.

"You don't know what challenges you may face or what other obstacles you will have. However, thinking positively and visualising what you want to happen will help to curb that fear."

It's important to do your research before you commit to changing career, said Ms Kimszal.

"Talk to people in that industry to see what it is about and if it is for you. See if you can shadow or volunteer to get a feel for what the daily tasks are.

"Think about the tasks you enjoy. Passion is a driving force to keep you motivated, but you also have to have joy in the tasks and want to do them without effort."

"I love having so many options in this field. There is also the flexibility that was not there in my previous position."

For those transitioning out of health care and into a new field, it's equally challenging, but achievable according to career coach Jo Morrison.

It's important to think about transferrable skills. What do you do now that could benefit companies outside of the health care space?

"As a health care provider, you probably do these things naturally most days as just 'part of the job', but they are skills that all businesses should value.

"Almost all roles need excellent customer or client service and care. Your ability to make people comfortable is unique, especially as you seek to understand problems with compassion and kindness."

Negotiation skills
"Think about how you interact with colleagues. You are networking and building relationships that deliver the best patient care. If you've ever managed 'difficult' patients or co-workers, then you have valuable negotiation skills."

Building trust and rapport
"You explain health-related issues to people from all walks of life and their families. Trust building is an asset in any role. People who are going through challenges often take it out on those trying to help them. Health professionals get patients on-side, working as a team and setting boundaries."

Organised and a natural problem-solver
"You are used to sticking to a schedule, planning, problem-solving and multi-tasking."

These are just a few of many skills that health care professionals can transfer to a new career based on their unique work history, said Ms Morrison.

"The way you talk about your skillset will be the way others view it. So be positive, confident and honest.

"Have suitable examples and stories to share about your experiences in health care and be ready to relate those to the role you are going for.

"You can get help with this by doing a rehearsal interview with a coach or mentor."

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.