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Friday, January 29, 2010

A New Vision of Working With Midlife Career Changers (MCC)

A New Vision of Working With Midlife Career Changers (MCC)
Part One: The New Call: From Externals to Internals
Featured Guest Contributor:Richard P. Johnson, Ph.D.
Founder: ReCareer, Inc.

As coaches we’re pretty much abreast of what I call the “externals” of the jobsearch: resume writing, interviewing, the difficult job market, educational requirements, and the like. All of these “externals” are important of course, but what this four part article series is about is the “internals” of the midlife career changer (MCC); looking at what’s going on inside the head of the midlife changer … that’s where you’ll find the real “action.”

Let’s look at the interior “terrain” of the MCC. First and foremost there are strong developmental forces afoot at the very core of the MCC that are pushing for expression. The MCC yearns for better internal congruence, a cleaner and clearer connection between the “what” I do with the “who” I am.

In the first half of life (all that time before the advent of midlife) the scream from the ego was to find success, indeed to become “a success.” This meant that one was to somehow gain the admiration, attention, and affection of one’s parents, spouse, friends, brothers and sisters, etc. To do this the younger career seeker had to prove somehow that he/she had “made it”; they had mastered some corner of the labor market, they had “triumphed” over the forces of laziness, lethargy, and foolishness of adolescence and become a full-pledged woman or man. There are many ways to find success but, they all have the same common denominator … other people must agree that you are one. All this changes as one walks deeper into the waters of midlife.

The MCC is changing indeed; the changes are gradual but quite dramatic in consequence. We see lots of personal shifts, and lots of interior questioning:

1. Career: Is the “what” I do in harmony with the “who” I am?

2. Family: Sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own family. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with them?

3. Relationships: Are my friends “right” for me? How might I need to change the ways I relate to my work peers/supervisors? I need closer, more intimate connections!

4. Self: Who have I become? Is the person that I’ve become the “real” me? Am I an imposter, just pretending to be someone I’m actually not? What’s most important for me now? I need to let the “real me” out, who is the “real me?”

5. Spiritual: What’s my life all about anyway? Where am I going?

6. Leisure: I’ve been doing, doing, doing for everybody else … what about me? When is it my turn?

As you can see the internal stability of the MCC is shaking; at times it seems that one’s whole life is “up for grabs.” Questions swirl and swirl, life carries on, but is it the life that wanted? Everything is questioned internally. Externally the MCC may look and present as “in control” but internally it’s just the opposite.

Your MCC client is probably straddling a line between two forces. On the one hand she/he feels the force of finding career success so that he/she can make a living that feeds their human needs (food, clothing, and shelter, etc.), while on the other hand she/he feels the ascending force of discovering personal significance motivating him/her to make their life one of true purpose that feeds their soul. Your client is trying desperately to bridge this gap, to discover ways of simultaneously satisfying both sides of life’s equation – the “making-it-in-the-world” side, and the “making-it-work-for-inner-harmony” side.

Action Points for Part One

We’re not therapists, we can’t wade into the waters with the MCC in hopes of resolving all these questions … that’s not our role. But we need to

1. Be aware that the calm exterior you may see externally belies an internal turbulence that may be the driving force for discontent.

2. Offer a) direction with patience, b) a plan, but without “push”, c) a schedule without demands, d) understanding without creating dependency, and e) strength without dominance.

3. Focus on the essentials of the jobsearch with the clear understanding that the elements of jobsearch may actually be secondary, or at least only half of the motivating forces behind your client.

Look for the second installment of this four part series: The Four Key Factors for Successful Midlife Career Change



  1. In my view, this is a brilliant article. Having made 5 career transitions and working with hundreds of business owners and professionals as a coach over the last 25 years, I endorse your view on what constitutes the real issues at this stage of life.

    For different perspectives on career transition at middle age, you may want to visit happiness-after-midlife.com

  2. I would agree that these issues do constitute mid life thoughts. I however, am more concerned that most under 50's think we boomer types should be willing to move over or retire...Unfortunately there are a lot of us over 50's who have been downsized, rif'd, politicized, and generally left to our 101(k), aging parents and college kids, without having a choice in the matter.

    For me the real issue is finding someone who appreciates me no matter whether I keep or change my career.

  3. Great article. I'm perhaps a little younger than your target audience. One of the things I think we are dealing with at midlife is the realization that "what I should be doing" may be closer to "what I liked and was good at when I was five years old" than to all of the education and history that was supposed to serve as credentials.

    Addressing this is a concrete dilemma as well as an emotional or psychological one. It can be hard to demonstrate internal qualifications, even when they are strong and real.


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