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Even so, recareering is not for the faint of heart. It can entail difficult and potentially life-altering decisions that prompt an overhaul of your lifestyle or living standard. It can affect family members and friends. What’s more, a new career may generate a great deal of internal stress—especially in the early stages. “An older person must overcome fears and obstacles that aren’t necessarily part of the experience for someone younger,” says Lori Davila, an Atlanta career coach who works with clients all over the world. Plus, many older workers find they miss the seniority and respect they built up at a previous job. And a career change later in life may lead to financial problems. Taking a 10 percent cut in salary at age 30 is vastly different from taking a 50 percent cut at age 50. It’s essential to acknowledge these issues upfront and devise a plan to deal with them before embarking on a career change.

Mull Your Motives

Another motivator: You may be experiencing “passion drift.” According to Sarah Edwards, coauthor of Changing Directions Without Losing Your Way (Tarcher, 2001), “a lot happens at midlife. Our thoughts, interests, and goals change—and we may find that we’ve strayed from the things that once made us feel content and brought a sense of value into our lives.”

A nurse, for example, may excel in his role and receive a promotion or two. Then one day he wakes up to find he’s no longer healing the sick—his original passion—but managing other nurses’ schedules and drowning beneath piles of paperwork. Or a traffic engineer who always relished troubleshooting problems in the field realizes she’s become a desk jockey mired in project management. Like them, you may feel that you want change, but you remain uncertain about which new field of endeavor you want to pursue.

Running toward something, by contrast, is all about striving to reach a defined goal—whether it’s going back to school to earn a master’s degree to become a teacher or saving the money needed to open a boxing gym. Taking the time to figure out the motivation for what you really want to do with the rest of your life—or at least the next stage of it—and setting realistic goals can mean the difference between rewards and roadblocks. Ask yourself: Do I really need to change careers at this point in my life? How will this new work make me happier? Am I ready to tackle the challenge of reinventing myself? Without some genuine introspection, you’re apt to follow the same patterns (or make the same fundamental choices) over and over again. The scenery may change, but the feeling of déjà vu continues.

Examine Your Values

Once you decide why you’re going for a career change, you have to pin down some coordinates and then determine which direction you’re going to go. These three questions might help you get a handle on your career ambitions and start you moving toward that goal.

What are your objectives? Figure out what’s drawing you to a particular career path, beyond just the money. Do you want to help others? Do you enjoy solving problems? Do you want to influence the social fabric or change public policy? Leave a legacy? Knowing what your objectives are is an important start to the process.

What are your core values? Each of us has internalized a unique set of values. These shape how we feel about work and career issues and typically center on traits such as independence, creativity, responsibility, security, and honesty. Decide which ones are the most essential to you.

Are your objectives and values in sync with the job or career you’ve chosen? If they’re not, you’re likely to feel discouraged, disaffected, and perhaps even depressed. On the other hand, when the two are in accord, you’ll be able to raise your performance to a higher level and achieve the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment you’ve been looking for all your life.

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