Defense Media Network

The Second Act: Following the Heart to a New Career

A retired Air force public affairs officer wants to become a social worker. A Fortune 500 executive steps off the corporate ladder to pursue his dream of becoming a high school teacher. The local auto mechanic, known as being one of the best in town, trades his wrench set for a computer and graphic design software. After 20 years at the same firm, a legal secretary goes back to school to become an attorney herself.

It’s called the second act. A case in courage. Or, depending with whom you talk, just downright nuts. Although it’s not as typical as changing jobs – 84 percent of American workers intend to seek new positions this year – mid-career makeovers are becoming more and more common as the economy dictates a new set of circumstances. At the same time, the way we think about quality of life has evolved: company man mentality is out and pursuing personal happiness is in.

Although the thought of leaving your comfort zone can seem daunting, with some research and careful consideration, the risk factor decreases and the odds of even greater professional success spike, Sherri Thomas, founder of and best-selling author of Career Smart: 5 Steps to a Powerful Personal Brand, says. Planning ahead, instead of just making the intuitive leap, can mean the difference between getting into a career that is just a new way to pay the bills, or one that is personally fulfilling. Here are some of her other recommendations for managing a career change.

Money – Evaluate your financial situation. How long can you afford to be out of work? How much will additional schooling or training cost? Will there be a pay cut before you start climbing the next career ladder?

Synergies – Inventory your skills and determine which ones are transferable into a different industry or job role, and preferably one that has demand. Leadership, project management, communication, and human relations, for example, are all skills – inherent to military members – that can be put to work in any discipline.

Networking – Conduct “informational interviews” with those who are in careers you are considering for yourself. Ask them: What does a good day look like at your job? A bad day? Challenges? Rewards? How did they break into the industry? Who else would they recommend you interview? Also use websites such as to make professional connections and build a support network.

Coaching – Results with clients is what you want when considering hiring a career coach, along with success in their own field, and personal chemistry. Think of a career coach as you would a fitness trainer: You may be able to do it on your own, but a coach can get you there faster, easier, and keep you motivated along the way. If coaching isn’t in the budget, there are many CDs and books written by career coaches.

Passion – What excites you? What job roles interest you? What career do you want to create? To stimulate some of these juices, explore the Internet to see which industries speak to you. The idea is to extend skills and talents out to your passions, not to just settle for what’s immediately available.