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The Payoff

No one can predict where a career journey will lead you or how it might change your life. Especially for those in midlife and beyond, changing careers can transform an existence. Actively sought out or not, a professional upheaval can reshape your world in myriad ways, taking you on a roller coaster ride of self-discovery. But amid the chaos, one thing becomes clear: pursuing your professional dreams can create an impact with outward ripples that are both positive and profound for you and everyone around you. And pursuing a career change just might deliver you to a place where reality finally dovetails with those dreams.

Mercedes Pellet is now living her fantasy. “Wonderful things have happened as a result of my career change,” she says. “By making a difference in the lives of animals, I feel as though I have accomplished something significant.”

After early careers as a restaurant manager and a telecom-industry executive, Samuel Greengard reinvented himself as a freelance writer specializing in career and workplace issues. He has contributed to many print and online publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, MSNBC.com, and Wired.

A Reinvention Checklist

Four strategies for taking your career dreams from fantasy to fulfillment

1. Recognize your reasons for making a switch You may be tired of your line of work and need something that provides greater stimulation and challenges. Or, you may be looking for social interaction or personal reward. For instance, some older individuals take work at a local retailer in order to meet people and stay connected. Others become substitute teachers so they can give back to the community.

2. Calculate your commitment Do you want to work full-time or part-time? Do you want to job-share or telecommute at least part of the time? Does seasonal or cyclical work strike your fancy? A new line of work may mean starting out at the bottom—can you deal with that? It’s best to know before you advance to Go.

3. Consider a hobby or a passion More than a few successful careers and new businesses have been born out of a love for collectibles, animals, or something seemingly obscure that didn’t have an apparent real-world application. Sewing is Linda Reardon’s passion. She started her own embroidering business at age 56 after getting laid off from a bank, where she had worked in the information technology field for more than 14 years. Today, Letters by Linda has helped the enterprising Birmingham, Alabama, resident reinvent herself and earn a good income.

4. Acknowledge your limitations You may be great at arranging flowers but wilt when coping with customers. You may talk to the animals but have little patience for walking a pack of rambunctious canines. It’s important to follow your heart, but pay attention to your head: establish that a career will work—by conducting a self-assessment or using career counseling—before you pull the plug on a current job and move forward. It’s also vital to take ownership of your career and life plans. Resist the temptation to conform to others’ expectations. Blaze your own trail. —S.G.

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