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Time for Career Change:
How to Read the Signs and Set a New Schedule

by David C. Borchard, Ed.D. NCC

Quincy, now in his late forties, has been self-employed for four years as a "maker of fine furniture." Although he discusses his work in rather flat and measured terms, the passion he feels for it comes through his twinkling eyes and in his carefully imprinted signature on a crafted piece of furniture.

"I want my work to welcome people into it--it has to be beautiful but also functional," he says. "I've been fortunate," he adds, "that, while I'm not wealthy, I've had paying customers from my first day in business."

To reach this place in his career Quincy had to make an extremely difficult decision a few years back: whether to stay with a relatively secure position as an executive with a Fortune 500 corporation or to pursue his passion: the fine art of furniture craftsmanship. "It was a giant risk," he confides. He knew he'd need additional training and had no idea whether or not he could make a living in this new career.

Quincy's wife helped him though the security--versus--passion dilemma. They sold their comfortable home in northern Virginia and moved to Boston. Once there, Quincy completed a two-year course at the North Bennett Street School, which he says is to furniture-making what the Julliard is to music. With accolades earned for his new skills, he set up shop in a country home he and his wife purchased in New Hampshire.


Indicators that it's Time for Career Change

  • Your work specialty is being rapidly overtaken by new technologies.
  • You're working harder but enjoying it less, or getting further behind.
  • You're feeling stuck in your job with little chance for advancement.
  • You're feeling that life is passing you by while you're passively watching.
  • Others doing work similar to yours are receiving "job redundancy" notices.
  • You're feeling bored at work and are hanging on for the security and benefits.
  • You've begun questioning the value and meaning of your job, your work, or your life.



Create a New Mindset

Conventional wisdom of the industrial era called for completing your education or job training and getting hired by a large organization. Thereafter you were to perform assigned functions dutifully, work your way up the organizational ladder, and hang in there for about 40 years until retirement. But the era of life-long engagements with single employers is over. We've come to the end of the line for one-time job training and for chugging our way along linear corporate tracks.

In developing our careers, we're now faced with sobering new realities. For one thing, according to Charles Handy (The Age of Unreason), less than half of the U.S. workforce will have "proper" full-time jobs in organizations by the year 2000. Apparently, the rest of us will be self-employed or working in part-time situations. Employment growth will continue to be in small and medium sized companies--few of which offer job security or career ladders. By the year 2000, according to a recent McKinsey study, 80 percent of all jobs in America will require a high degree of cerebral skills; and at least half of these will require advanced educational qualifications. The implications of this study are that 35 percent of today's workforce should now be in the process of career retraining.

In this new reality, career responsibility has shifted from an organizational prerogative to an individual imperative. We must face up to the fact that we're in a new career ballgame: In order to be successful players, we have to throw away our outmoded career beliefs and replace them with winning strategies attitudes for the new game.


You're Never Too Old

Pursuing a career that uses your own unique talents is becoming a necessity rather than a luxury. In doing this, we must give up the false mindsets about education and age. The adage about old dogs not learning new tricks simply does not apply.

One recent morning a career counselor at a major university found himself with a 90-year-old client who wanted assistance with a decision he was facing. It seems that he had just obtained a master's degree in computer science and was struggling with the dilemma of whether or not to go directly for his doctorate--or to go out and get a job.



Re-career through Self-Assessment

Trying to figure out how to navigate your way though the new employment market can seem overwhelming. You might conclude that you should learn and prepare for virtually everything to maintain employment viability. That, in fact, is the suggestion of some experts, but it simply isn't feasible for anyone attempting to live a reasonably balanced life. A more creative approach to today's employment challenges is to settle on a career direction that suits your unique potentials.

The best place to begin re-careering in the information era may be with ourselves. To counter the anxieties and stresses of the new age, more of us need to discover and pursue our passions. And more and more people are deciding on that route (see the following table for a few examples).

Re-careering Examples



Retraining vehicle

College administrator


Seminary training

Catholic priest


Graduate school

Executive secretary

Public administrator

College education

Auto mechanic


Community college


Preservation architect

Graduate education

School system pupil personnel worker

Corporate creativity trainer/consultant

Creativity workshops

Aerospace engineer


Graduate school

Naval officer

Career counselor

Graduate school

College career counselor

Vice president for marketing, out- placement firm

Information interviewing plus training seminars.

Government bureaucrat

Yard and garden writer/TV. personality

Self-study via computer network access

Corporate office manager

Interior decorator

Community college plus furniture store training


Message therapist

Massage training institute

Administrative support

Conference coordinator

Networking, self-marketing, mentoring

English professor

Computer sales

Networking plus college computer courses

Corporate financial analyst

Community fine arts center fund raiser

Volunteer work plus courses to learn fund-raising language


Like Quincy, some people are choosing to recareer because they are bored with unsatisfying jobs. Others, who have had their work classified as redundant by organizations in crisis, are using their "forced retirements" as opportunities to seek more personally rewarding careers.

Designing passion-based careers may require some assistance for those of us not accustomed to thinking this way. A growing number of useful books address that subject, including Jacqueline McMakin's Working From the Heart, Marsha Sinetar's Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow, and the writer's co-authored book Your Career: Choices & Changes (7th edition).

{Career counseling is another way of helping to define our unique gifts and new career directions. Counseling services are available at most community colleges, adult education centers, and human resource development units within organizations.

Study the Future

A favorite saying among futurists is that the future will never be the same. The past, at least the historical job market, is no longer prologue to the future. So, you might ask, why concern yourself with such a nebulous endeavor into uncertainty? Becoming knowledgeable about the future is important for two reasons: first, it's where you'll be spending the rest of your life; second, it's also the only time frame you can control.

While the future is uncertain, your future is not unpredictable! In career development, you can create your future. The caveat is that it must be done within the context of informed reason. If we limit our future scope to the next five to ten years (a reasonable career planning time frame), we can make some intelligent speculations about the world in which we will be working.

Start by familiarizing yourself with forces that are shaping the future. These include evolving trends in science and technology, educational reform, corporate re-engineering, global economics and politics, pollution control efforts, medical research, health insurance and poverty reforms, spiritual renewal, new management paradigms, demographic shifts, and space-age communications and transportation.

Next, identify those forces that are particularly interesting to you. Then, imagine how your talents and personal passions might play a key role in world of tomorrow.

Generate A Realistic Ten Year Vision

Mind power is becoming the key to successful living and working. Every human creation began in the minds of people--as a vision of what might be. Your passion-based future bubbles up from a powerful personal vision. That vision puts you in touch with heartfelt aspirations, connects inner passions with outer world possibilities, and generates and directs strong motivation.

A useful strategy here is to envision your new career directions in a ten-year time frame that matches accurate information about yourself with future trends. While there is no formula for how to best generate a clear vision for your career future, the process is facilitated by relaxation.

Generating vision, like making fine wine, takes some brewing and careful attention. Preparation involves assembling your prized ingredients--answers to questions like what do I want more and less of in my future, what are my strengths and how can I capitalize on them, what produces a sense of self-satisfaction. Then you need undisturbed quiet to let things ferment.

Ideas will pop into mind mysteriously and rarely on command. Because vision emanates from the unconscious, your thoughts and images may be fleeting. Don't forget to have pen and paper available to keep them from evaporating!

Career Redirection Information Resources

  • Adult education bulletins
  • Career counselors
  • Community college counseling centers
  • Community career centers
  • Internet and computer access programs and Web sites such as:

  • Organizational human resource development offices.
  • Public library assistants
  • Information interviewing with people doing interesting things.
  • College catalogs
  • Trade and professional agencies (and their journals)
  • Yellow pages



Make It Happen

"I feel like the globe is shrinking," says, Beth who is the Export Manager for Pemiquid Canoe company. "Recently I was at a major trade show in Munich, Germany," she continues, "when five of my business associates from Finland, Germany, Holland, England and Yugoslavia all showed up at the same time. I didn't know whether to say guten Tag, bonjour, hello, or dobry den."

Beth has been with Pemiquid Canoe company for five years and export manager for the past four. During this period the company's export business has expanded so dramatically that it now accounts for a significant portion of its business. This amazing growth has come about in no small measure through the company's good sense in appointing this dynamic 46-year-old woman as their export manager.

Beth joined the company as an administrative assistant to the sales manager. In her first year on the job her boss left. Since no one was performing his functions, Beth decided to assist in any way that she could. One day, going through the mail piling up on the sales manager's desk, she came across a letter from a man in Finland who indicated he wanted to sell Pemiquid canoes.

On her own initiative, Beth elected to write him back, on her own initiative, indicating the company's interest. This response produced an opportunity that was to completely transform her own career and, in the process, transport Pemiquid into the global economy.

Beth agreed to help her new contact create a distribution outlet to sell Pemiquid canoes in Finland. She did so even though that wasn't her job, she had no authority to negotiate such a deal, and she hadn't any knowledge of how to go about setting up such a venture.

In reminiscing about this she recalls that "the company was delighted to learn about my agreement. The problem was that neither I nor anyone else at the company knew anything about establishing an overseas franchise." Fortunately, luck stepped in. She came across a brochure advertising a three-day conference on how to establish an export business. "I showed this to the right people," she says, "and ended up going to the event."

Following the conference, Beth helped create Pemiquid's first overseas business venture, starting with her contact in Finland. That was so successful that the company created a new job just for her: Export Manager. Two years later Pemiquid's overseas business had tripled with expansion of sales in Europe and the Middle-East.

Recently Beth has begun nurturing new contacts in places like Singapore, China, and South Africa. To keep pace with this growth and to enhance her global sales expertise, Beth constantly upgrades her skills by attending foreign trade programs and by studying other languages.

Beth attributes her success to a combination of fortuitous circumstances and her willingness to take risks, assume greater responsibility, and learn new things. These may well be three of the primary ingredients needed for taking charge of our own careers and capitalizing on the opportunities that new circumstances and changing conditions present.


In 20 years of career counseling experience, I've observed a positive relationship between career rejuvenation and quality of life. It's no coincidence that Quincy and Beth are happier and more energized since making effective changes.

Both Quincy and Beth make no bones about the fact that achieving renewed vigor through career change did not come easily. One of the most difficult aspects of their transitions was in letting go of old, familiar structures, visualizing and taking advantage of new opportunities. Quincy admits he could not have done it without a very supportive, working wife. Beth is convinced that mental attitude makes all the difference in what one does, or does not do, with opportunities.

**Note: This is a modified and updated version of an article originally published in the Fall 1994 issue of NEXT magazine, published by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

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