Eight Myths of Midlife Career Changes

Myth 1: Career transitions are a sign of failure

Truth: Many people feel ashamed of or guilty for making a career transition. This comes from the myth that career transitions signify failure and indecisiveness. But the days of people sticking to one job or career are long gone.

Instead, career transitions are becoming more common in the ever-changing modern world. Many people transition into careers that better reflect the change in values or priorities. For example, many young parents switch to more flexible and less time-consuming careers to care for their young children while still working.

Furthermore, successful career transitions can take months or years of planning, clearly not something done on a whim.

A successful career transition means dealing with the guilt, shame, and fear caused by this career myth. Processing those emotions can help you recognize legitimate reasons for your career change. It can help you move to a place of acceptance, as you feel a stronger sense of commitment to the new career. It can also help build resistance and flexibility in the face of difficulties during career transitions. 

All of these efforts will pay off by providing you with a stronger sense of commitment and energy, both of which are necessary in navigating all the changes brought about by career transitions. 

Myth 2: Career transitions are always a free choice

Truth: Career transitions are motivated by several factors. There are voluntary career transitions that are entirely or mainly internally motivated. This is a career transition that is motivated primarily by your personal desires and needs. Some internal factors include things like personal aspirations, values, and desires.

There are also involuntary career transitions, which are entirely or primarily motivated by external factors. This typically includes things like family, health, or financial issues.

People are not one-dimensional, so most career transitions are due to a mix of internal and external desires. Regardless of the reason, any career transition can be happy and successful.

Myth 3: Career transitions are spontaneous

Truth: Very few career transitions are spontaneous. In fact, most successful career transitions involve some preparation—the more prepared you feel, the smoother the transition.

In every career transition, there are some practical issues you need to consider. The main one is finding a career that aligns with your values, skills, and needs. From there, cultivating networks, skills, and experience can help you get a job and settle into it.

Since career transitions can cause a significant difference in your relationships, routines, identity, and even lifestyle, mental and emotional preparation is also necessary. Give yourself time to grieve your past while moving towards accepting the present and hoping for the future.

Any career transition can be happy and prosperous with some practical and emotional preparation. But, of course, every career transition is unique, so what counts as preparation is different for everyone. Furthermore, most people don’t go through a career transition linearly; they do what works for them.

Myth 4: A career transition is a single, big event that culminates in landing a job in a new career 

Truth: A common misconception about career transitions is that they are a simple one-and-done event. But career transitions are more complicated than a job change.

In fact, major transitions can take 3-5 years of work, with the “big event” most people think of happening right at the end. Even when the transition is forced or unplanned, the mental, emotional, and practical work needed to succeed in the new career can continue for months afterward.

So rather than a huge life-changing leap, experts agree it’s best to ease your way with small steps. One way to do this is by researching and networking to get a clear picture of what’s it like working in that career. Volunteering, or doing part-time and casual work in that career, is also a great way to get insight into the profession without fully committing.

Remember, career transitions, especially major ones, are significant life changes. So just like with marriage or parenthood, some level of planning, preparation, and flexibility on your part can help make it a smooth and positive experience.

Myth 5: A career transition only happens when you move into an entirely new field

Truth: Traditionally, career transitions are thought of as a change across both organizational and occupational boundaries. The truth is there are a variety of forms of career transitions. Career transoms can be characterized in the following ways.

  • Across organizational boundaries – Transitions involving a career shift to a new organization but in a similar role.
  • Across occupational boundaries – Transitions where you experience a role change but stay at a similar professional level.
  • Transitions across boundaries of roles – Can involve hierarchical shifts, for example a promotion in your current career where you experience a role change and a leadership change.
  • Transitions across boundaries within roles – Transitions that include an organization or job restructuring where the job duties of the role change.
  • Changes in network relationships or employment relationships – Transitions where your professional relationships or networks undergo a change such as a shift from salary to contract work or the move into self-employment or entrepreneurial work.

You can undergo a combination of career transitions during the same time shifting in your career. Career transitions need to be thought of as much more than just the dramatic change—from tax accountant to woodworker—but as an event which can have many different characterizations.

Myth 6: Mentorship is just for the young

Truth: There can be benefits for you at any stage in your career, whether you are the mentor or mentee. Mentoring helps provide networking, support, feedback, and skill development at any age. Whether you are new to indexing, or have been at it for several years, using the mentorship program can strengthen your ties to your indexing community and help you stay on top of new developments.  (See Mentorship Tip Sheet). 

Myth 7: Career transitions are only about changing jobs    

Truth: A common misconception is that career transitions are nothing more than job changes. However, a career change is more akin to a significant life change, like marriage or parenthood, because of its impact on different parts of your life.

Like any significant life change, a career transition causes a difference in your routines, lifestyle, relationships, identity and sometimes even your environment. Therefore, coping with those changes is crucial to positive career transitions.

First, you can consider what changes your career transition has on your life. From there, think of ways to minimize the change’s negative effects. For example, a career transition inevitably means losing co-workers, but that doesn’t mean you have to cut off contact with them. On the contrary, keeping in touch with your old co-workers and friends is a way to build a solid network to help you throughout the career transition. 

Similarly, identity change can be a challenging change for people who were attached to their previous careers. But remember, changing your job doesn’t mean abandoning your experiences, skills, or accomplishments. Think of it as expanding your identity rather than replacing a part of it.

You’re not restricted to one role your whole life. So just like you can be both a daughter and mother, you can be both an indexer and a teacher or doctor or any other title you can think of. 

Myth 8: Changing careers is a solitary undertaking

Truth: People around you can shape how successful your career transition will be. Enthusiastic support allows you to step outside your comfort zone and pursue your career change goals. They also remind you why you are making the changes. It is beneficial to consider the interpersonal relationships you have and how you can maximize them. Use the Relationship Inventory to evaluate your relationships and think about how they might help when making a career change. 


This content speaks to general trends found in research literature. It should not replace careful consideration of individual career situations, nor can they take the place of consultation with mental health professionals. 


This document is an extract from the report Resources for Mid-Life Career Changers: Final Report and Web Content, for a research collaboration between the Indexing Society of Canada/Société canadienne d’indexation (ISC/SCI) and the King’s University (TKU) in Edmonton. Supervised, honors-equivalent psychology students conducted the research in partnership with the ISC/SCI as a capstone senior research project in their senior seminar. The ISC/SCI Executive committee collaborated with the King’s Community Engaged Research (CER) Program to initiate and design the project. 

The CER Program at the King’s University facilitates university-community partnerships in which student-supervisor teams engage community partners in the design and implementation of research that addresses community-defined needs. For more information, please contact the Program Manager, Dr. Elim Ng (Elim.Ng@Kingsu.ca).


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