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Elise Sax Headshot

Changing Careers in Midlife

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As we enter graduation season, when some of us say goodbye to our children and ponder selling our kidneys to pay for their college education, should we take a step back and reconsider just how much importance we are putting on this stage of our children's lives?

Is this the foundation of their future selves? Will their choices now dictate who they are forever? Most of these young people are pondering who they are and who they will become, but maybe these questions can't be answered at graduation.

Because I got to tell you, I'm a hell of a lot older than they are, and I'm asking myself: Who am I? Where am I? I used to know, but then I changed. I mean, the occupation blank on forms has changed.

Lately, my inbox has gotten slammed with notes from my editor, line editor, copy editor, production editor -- who would have thought there were so many different kinds of editors? -- agent, and publisher, and I've realized that I'm having an identity crisis. That is, my identity has changed, and I'm now a novelist.

This isn't how it's supposed to go, is it? Aren't we supposed to go to college, get trained, work for 25 years for the same company, and then retire with a gold watch? That's the normal way, right?

But there's no gold watch in my life, and I've left behind the training, the career, and the company and traded them all in for the next career. The new identity.

Is this how it works? Are we supposed to change careers midlife? Are we supposed to reinvent ourselves or just build on our old selves, the ones we developed in our early 20's?

I was raised to follow a direct path. My parents and grandparents urged us all to become professionals in college and have a secure career for the rest of our lives. But my parents didn't follow their own advice. They followed a circuitous route and changed careers later on.

When we would ask my father why he changed careers from an engineer to a dentist, he would joke that, "I wanted to build better bridges." My mother became a lawyer when most of her kids had already graduated high school.

They found their groove when they changed careers. They followed their bliss, but their bliss changed with age. So, you could say we are a family that saves best for last. We enjoy a dessert profession ... the tastiest for later on in life.

Let me introduce myself: I am a novelist. So, maybe I'll keep my kidneys and buy my own gold watch.