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How you can juggle a career change later in life

Have you been contemplating a career change? Are you weighing up the pros and cons, of sticking with what you know or following a long-held passion? There are many reasons for making a big career move later in life. But, no matter what your reasons, you’ll likely still be plagued with worries and stress over how you’ll manage a career change along with life’s responsibilities.

Becoming overwhelmed by these thoughts can mask the excitement of pursuing a new vocation. But it is an exciting time, and if you’re prepared for the challenges ahead, you’ll be able to overcome them and make the most of a valuable experience.

Three Deakin University students share their insights on managing a career change later in life.

Mapping out your pathway

For Deakin medicine student, Alida Lewis, a passion for medicine had been dormant since her teenage years. After a career in transport and logistics, a stint as a medical receptionist helped her realise healthcare was the industry she wanted to be in.

Her decision to enrol in a Bachelor of Health Sciences at Deakin came down to ‘a mixture of timing, circumstance and genuine despondence at going back to my old career,’ she says. ‘When I chose to study, it wasn’t just about doing a degree; it was about what I could do with that degree.’

This is something to consider when mapping out your career change journey: research which courses will get you where you want to be.

Although Alida’s end goal was medicine, she decided against biomedical science, choosing instead to transfer from health sciences into nursing, and applied for medicine after graduating. ‘At my age, it was more important to study something that would get me a career, not just a degree, in an area I was passionate about,’ she explains.

Ford Davis, a Deakin MBA graduate, says anyone considering a return to study needs to ensure they have enough time and willpower to commit – not just to cope with the demands of study, but to have an immersive learning experience.

Environmental engineering student, Vaughan Mitchell, reiterates this, saying, ‘Once you know what course to study, do your homework on the study method, the results you want to achieve and the time at your disposal to pick the best study option for yourself.

‘Be realistic about the time available to you and study part-time if you’re worried about fitting everything in, or want to learn each unit deeply. Expect 10-12 hours per unit a week to fully explore the teaching available,’ he advises.

The pros to look forward to, and the cons to prepare for

For Vaughan, Alida and Ford, one of the biggest pros of their career change journey has been meeting incredible people along the way.

Ford says, ‘Most of my peers were motivated, like-minded individuals who also wanted to enhance or change their careers. These connections enriched my study journey and my professional career. I also made some terrific friends with whom I still socialise today.’

The challenge of delving into a new area of expertise and learning is also gratifying. Vaughan says, ‘My happiness coefficient is way up. Learning new systems and challenging my perceived limitations and comfort zone has been rewarding.’

Alida says, ‘I think it’s also improved my confidence in myself and has helped me believe that I can actually pursue my interests and if I’m passionate I’ll succeed.

'At my age, it was more important to study something that would get me a career, not just a degree, in an area I was passionate about.'

Alida Lewis,
Student, Deakin University

‘One of the cons has been that I’ve missed some time with my family and friends that I would have had if I wasn’t studying. Because the thing about studying is, it doesn’t end when you finish uni. There’s forever an assignment or an exam or a placement,’ she explains.

Despite this, Alida says she’s ‘really grateful’ to have had the opportunity to study.

When the challenges stack up on your career change journey, it can be easy to lose sight of the factors that drove you there in the first place. Remembering that you’re giving yourself an opportunity to pursue your passion is important for staying motivated.

The great balancing act

When changing careers later in life, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to drop all of life’s responsibilities. So how can you juggle everything without dropping the ball?

Alida says, first of all, you probably will drop the ball and you don’t need to punish yourself for it.

‘Don’t be afraid to put your hand up and say that you need help. Open and honest communication with your tutors is really important. You can always apply for extensions or special consideration when the unavoidable things in life happen.

‘Don’t feel like you have to saddle everything alone, because it can be hard,’ she says.

She says most of the challenges she’s experienced have been related to childcare. ‘I think the key is to make sure you have a very supportive network – and that will look very different for everybody.

‘Some people might need to utilise after or before school care, and I think accepting that’s okay is important,’ Alida says. ‘There’s this societal expectation that kids need to be with their parents a lot – that’s true to a point. But it’s also really positive to have a role model teaching them that you can pursue your dreams.’

She also explains that being organised is essential for ‘thwarting any potential crisis from arising’.

‘You never know what curveballs are going to be thrown at you. Get things done early and be prepared.’

Likewise, Vaughan says the key to balancing everything is ‘planning, planning and more planning’.

‘We have a family calendar to write all activities on so that study time and assignments can be completed, and the kids know what additional organisation they may need to undertake to get where they want to go,’ he explains.

And, when quiet study at home seems impossible, Vaughan says, ‘I’ve found getting out of the house to complete study requirements to be really helpful.’

You’ll juggle all kinds of things in your career change journey, and you’ll likely develop your own tactics to overcome the challenges.

But at the end of the day, Alida says, ‘I think my life experiences have enriched my study. It’s like that saying: if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. Juggling everything makes me more focused because I have to be.’

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