‘Risk is whatever scares you. It is the threshold we are required to cross before we can lean down to our passions lying dormant and kiss them awake.’
– Gregg LeVoy in ‘Callings’
This is an applicable quote describing the daunting task of re-entering a new career in mid-life. Some have called it mid-life crisis; I preferred to call it a mid-life ‘shift’, which can happen for a number of reasons. My reason was leaving behind the years of choosing to be a stay-at-home mum and create a career I could be passionate about.
I had studied journalism with a public relations emphasis back in the early/mid 90s. I’d had some experience in broadcast journalism but settled on a few years in PR/Marketing for a large business before life threw a few curves. I let go of my career goals for a season as I had the opportunity to not need a paid job for over a decade. In that time I supported my husband in an international move as he had a scholarship for a PhD, raised two small children and did meaningful volunteer work.
I didn’t regret any of my decisions as we were comfortable financially and it was a huge adjustment for our young family in a new country. Until, at the age of 40, when I sat down to write a CV.
My kids could pack their own lunches, walk to and from school by themselves and I was ready for a change. Despite fulfilling volunteer work with vulnerable women all those years, I began to feel the itch to make money and contribute to our family savings. But re-entering a career or just starting over scared me. Big time. Really really big time.
My skills were outdated and technology had changed both for journalism and PR. My CV reflected a decade under the sentence ‘Took a hiatus for motherhood’. I knew that what was invisible in that sentence was ‘Sacrificed my own career to move to the UK from the US, uproot from friends and family and raise two little kids in a place where I could barely understand the accent all the while doing work in the volunteer sector’.
The itch, however, was greater than the fear. At the age of 40 I had a mid life ‘shift’, not a crisis, but more of a slow and gradual swing to a desire to make an income and create a new career. I decided a few things: a) I wasn’t too old and, more than that, I had life experience under my belt so knew what I wanted b) I didn’t want to do jobs that were boring, didn’t use my skills or had a terrible working environment (or bad boss) and c) I wanted to do something I loved and got paid for it.
Fast forward five years and I now have a freelance portfolio career in media. This includes two consistent clients of ‘bread and butter’ weekly jobs, a small flexible job with the local college and one-off freelance jobs several times a month.
It’s been said that change isn’t what is challenging but the transition. I had a lot of trial and error, a few set-backs and a slow move to a career that is now both fulfilling and well-paid. Here are some of the many things I did to restart a career. Hopefully you’ll find them useful if you are re-launching a career after a long break.
Start to network with people you know. I looked at my existing relationships (mostly mums of my kids friends) and asked what was available in my area of interest – was it creative writing? Journalism? PR/Marketing or even something completely different? At first it wasn’t much, but as I connected with ‘friends of friends’ my networking began to pay off. I networked at every opportunity but continued to do classes such as my writing group and art class as well as volunteering – I needed to have some continuity of relationships and enjoyable hobbies until I got too busy.
Go back to school. I pursued being accepted being to a post-graduate degree program which helped me rewrite my CV, get professional recommendations and build up some much needed courage. In the end I didn’t accept a place that was offered on the MA writing course, but it still felt empowering to know I could do it even if it wasn’t the path I really wanted.
Do an internship – no matter your age. I interned a few hours a week at the age of 40 (for free) for about two months at a PR firm, which led to a paid part-time job. Yes, I was almost the same age as my boss, but it worth the experience.
Do free or low paid work to get experience in your field. I did a short-term plan of freebies and favours such as voice overs, acting, etc so I could gain experience and to get to know the industry. One of the first ones was a small non-speaking role that led to signing with several agents for commercial modelling – part of my current portfolio career.
Don’t give up, be flexible. I didn’t give up in pursuing my goal of being a freelancer in media, though I almost did numerous times when finances were slim and thought seriously about getting a temp job. I didn’t rule this out as sometimes we all have to make ends meet, but I was fortunate a few opportunities came my way when I was just about to make a call about temporary admin work.
Take classes or workshops in your area of interest. I took free classes through my local authority on how to set up a business, taxes, networking, create a brand, etc. before I made financial investments into creating my own company as a freelancer. I also did a few workshops in things like voice acting which broadened my network as well as my skills.
Decide what you want in terms of flexibility and working hours. I made a decision that I didn’t want to work a 9-5 job that spilled over into the evenings and weekends. If I worked evenings and weekends, I wanted a work/life balance that allowed me flexibility as a mother so I could take a morning or full day off in the week if needed.
Don’t be afraid to take risks. I took risks . . . lots and lots of them. I failed a few times but saw every mistake as a growth opportunity.
Five years later I write this piece sitting in 1st class on a train to London, where one of my consistent clients paid for a first rate hotel (plus all expenses and food allowance) for a fantastic day job with an enviable day rate. Yes, I am doing what I love and it was worth all the scary risk-taking.
I recently saw a LinkedIn article where the employer was impressed with a woman in the same predicament as me. She wrote ‘kept two children alive for over 10 years’ as her explanation for a huge gap in her CV. The woman in the article was hired.
For me, to be satisfied in a whole new career took guts, risks, failures and most of all perseverance. But I think the most important thing was that I wanted a career - not just a pay check. And it has paid off. Literally.
Jeannie McGinnis is an American who has lived in Sheffield, UK with her two children and husband for over a decade. She is a TV & stage presenter, voice artist, commercial model and actor. With a BA in Journalism, Jeannie is also a writer and a producer. She is passionate about health, wellness and fitness though she has a weakness for Tex-Mex cuisine. Connect with her on social media.