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Less Drama, More Purpose: When your midlife career change is more of a pivot than a leap

By on September 15, 2017

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

February 2017 — Journal Entry

I’ve been getting that weird feeling again. The one I get when things are going to change…

Several times throughout my life, I have felt an odd vacancy open up somewhere above my heart that has inevitably signaled an eventual shift.

One time in particular had to do with a change in my job. I had been serving (i.e. every nonprofit job description EVER) at a pregnancy center as the director of development and communications. After two years, I physically sensed God urging me to stay alert–but also to wait patiently–for a new opportunity.

A month or so later, I received a call from a friend. She told me about a position that had opened up at a local college. This news fit so perfectly into that hollow part of my chest that I knew this was the change I had anticipated–and needed. I got the job at the college and worked there for eight years.

Now, I can question whether this intuitive tingle happens simply out of a desire for change that then enables me to recognize and more boldly take the next step. Or I can believe–which I do–that God is tapping me on the chest, like a loving but no nonsense coach while I stand there in my too-big-for-me jersey, and saying, “You. Get ready to go in.”

We’ll see if I’m discerning this current prodding correctly, or if I’m just making crap up as I get older.

I don’t know what that change might be. It could be a new job or a new city or a new-to-me-previously-owned, four-door Jeep Wrangler (fingers crossed).

June 2017

As usual, my more seasonal client work for my writing and editing business slows down. I’m reaching out to prospects, scouring job boards, and applying for a part-time, minimum-wage job at the local greenhouse, because it’s my happy place and maybe I should go back to school for horticulture and just write cute stories for my someday-grandchildren.

My sweet friend, who has been one of my guardian angels in connecting me with work in the past few years, sends me a link and and message: “I know you’re not looking for full-time work, but…”

Oh, no. The “but…” is followed by the punctuation you use when a character falls off a cliff. 

I love and respect my friend and probably owe her some kind of finder’s fee for the business leads she continually pushes my way, so I check out the posting. Plus, I committed to 2017 being the Year of Being Shepherded, which has meant being open to going where God leads.

After clicking the job post link–which includes something about books and publishing and senior developmental editor and dream job in the url–I face a few mixed feelings:

The job is with a publishing house in Chicago. God so loves to challenge my “would never”s. “Er, remember, Lord, how every single time I drive into Chicago and out of Chicago and near Chicago and think about driving to Chicago, my blood pressure goes up, and I emphatically declare, “I would never in a bazillion years make this commute every day!”? The travel time and the potential loss of my current flexible schedule at first seem like a step backward…until I eventually check my attitude by committing to using the drive time to talk with God and seriously cultivate thankfulness (except maybe for cab drivers).

I have to discern God’s will and decide whether or not to obey. I submit the spiffy resume I designed on Canva–the ability to do so implying I may be under 45 years old–and I will pray the prayer my husband says is not scriptural but will make me feel good anyway. “God, don’t let me get an offer unless you want me to take the job.” God’s acceptance of such a prayer would conveniently eliminate the need for me to discern whether my desires align with His and to step out in faith…but maybe not to wake up at 4:30 a.m. every day. 

It may mean I failed. Taking a full-time job would mean winding down the writing and editing business I have been building for five years–the business that gives me autonomy, flexibility, a patio office, and heart failure every quarter when I have to pay estimated taxes. Would going back to work for a company rather than my Current Grumpy Boss count as failure? Giving up? Or worse, CHANGE?

I’m putting a dream on hold. Going into business for myself was part of a grander plan that would help my husband and I realize our dream of moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Chicago is the opposite of the mountains. The goal we have had for our second-half-of-life careers has been to continue being productive and adding value in the evolving workplace–just with a better view. 

I will be on the other side of words. Editing books puts me on the other side of words and across the table from people living out my childhood dream to be an author. Editors work diligently behind the scenes. Their names are in 9-point font, like a medical warning, on the copyright page. On the other hand, I would be on the other side of words. I would gain an insider’s view of an industry full of people who love books and a publishing house full of people who love books and Jesus. And books about Jesus. 

I apply, interview, and happily accept an offer.

This new position has involved some big changes to my daily life and to the work I do. And while leaving my full-time job to launch my business felt like a leap, I’ve begun to see this transition as more of a pivot.

I hike often, and one of my favorite things to do on a trail is to go off of it, to take the less-traveled path bordered by tall grasses and crisscrossed with tree roots. Doing that always quickens my heartbeat, challenges my sense of direction, and fills me with wonder. I draw from what I already know about these forest preserves while being open to what I’ll discover, about the world around me, about God, and about myself.

The same goes for career changes.

In her intriguing article “Quit Your Job, A midlife career shift can be good for cognition, well-being, and even longevity,” Barbara Bradley Hagerty explains that “a mid-career professional has created enough of a biography to know herself—where she excels and where she flails, what she enjoys and what she dreads—and her insights should guide her next phase.”

She adds, “You should change your career within the boundaries of your innate traits and talents.”

I’ve told people that this job came out of nowhere, and that’s true in some ways. But it didn’t take long after accepting the position before I began to recall some life occurrences that were all starting to fit together.

…my love of working one-on-one with young writers as a college writing professor… of editing company case studies to communicate value to customers… of ghostwriting blogs for business leaders to highlight their innovative thinking…

Even further back, there was that assignment in the 6th grade to research what kind of jobs fit my interest in writing, and I discovered an industry called publishing. And, there was always my deep, deep love of books. The feel of the pages, the scent of fresh ink, the standing on the precipice of a new world.

But unlike a favorite book, a midlife career change doesn’t always end with a neat and satisfying denouement. The unfolding plot can be hard, and in the end, career shifts usually end up being “less dramatic” than the ones we may daydream about, according to Hagerty.

(So much for becoming an organic farmer…for now.)

But drama isn’t the key to happiness; purpose is, she says.

Only one-third of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are engaged by their work,” Hagerty writes, but research shows that having a sense of purpose in whatever work you choose is a predictor of “mental and physical robustness.”

As I initially considered the pros and cons of accepting the job offer, my husband pointed out the purpose he recognized as inherent in the editing of Christian non-fiction: “You will be helping shape books that change people’s lives.”

(He also tells people I sit in a corner and read books all day. Where does he get that crazy idea?)

Publishing has this romantic ring to it. Like you work in New York City and your desk is piled high with the manuscripts of hopeful writers (my words have been in those piles).

In reality, I am sitting in my cubicle in Chicago with one manuscript from a hopeful, first-time author on my laptop.

Maybe not dramatic, but it is purposeful and engaging and where God has brought me (safely along the Dan Ryan Expressway). It is an opportunity to serve, not only the publishing house and its readers, but the authors who entrust me with their book babies, their hearts’ work. 

And my job is an opportunity to write (and edit) a new chapter in this second half of my life.

The week before I started the job, my younger daughter and I were standing in line at the grocery store. I had misread the price on the sweet dark cherries. They were $4.99 per pound not per bag.

“Mom, you’re a book editor now, you shouldn’t be making that kind of mistake,” she said.

I bought them anyway, and thought suddenly, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this job.”

What if I mistakenly us a comma instead of a semicolon? What if I overlook the embarrassing misspelling of public? What if my midlife body can’t take the daily grind?

The cashier looked at us quizzically.

“Oh, my daughter explained, she’s in publishing.”

I smiled, and I felt my crow’s feet deepen. Yes, yes I am.

Have you ever taken a direction in your career you didn’t expect? What helps you discern God’s will in your career? What do your career goals and dreams look like in midlife?

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Would love to be Joan of Arc–without the burning alive part

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