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Considering a Career Change?

By Bill Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #91, 2009.

Here's how to make the most of career changes

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Bill Pride


How many of you reading this are still working in the same job you had when you got married?

How many are still following your original career path?

According to the Clear Management website at www.clearmgmt.com/careers.htm:

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS] is frequently asked for data on how many jobs the average person holds in a lifetime. To determine the number of jobs in a lifetime, one would need data from a “longitudinal” survey that tracks the same respondents over their entire working lives, and so far, no longitudinal survey has ever tracked respondents for that long. However, a survey begun in 1979 has tracked younger baby boomers over a considerable segment of their lives.

    A BLS report examined the number of jobs that people born in the years 1957 to 1964 held from age 18 to age 36. . . . These younger baby boomers held an average of 9.6 jobs from ages 18 to 36. (In this report, a job is defined as an uninterrupted period of work with a particular employer.) . . .

    From ages 18 to 36, some of these younger baby boomers held more jobs than average and others held fewer jobs. Seventeen percent held 15 jobs or more, while 18 percent held zero to four jobs.

Furthermore, as reported on AllBusiness.com, according to Angela Sorrell, assistant director with Ernst & Young and head of recruiting for the firm’s real estate group, the average person will have five different careers in his or her lifetime.

In today’s changing economy, that is not too surprising. Entire industries come and go within a decade or two. Due to the volatile political climate, and the push towards international business, jobs which seemed secure years ago might emigrate to an entirely different continent.

There are two main ways to protect our families from the effects of these trends.

  • One, start your own business.
  • Two, go back to school.

Then there’s the third option:

  • Start your own business and go back to school.

The third one is definitely the most painful route.

So, inevitably, that’s the path I have taken.

My hope is that I can pass on some lessons I learned the hard way, so that those of you contemplating a midlife career change can have some hearty laughs at my expense. No, actually, I meant so you could learn valuable lessons from my experiences, without having to suffer through them yourself.

Robert Frost’s One-Road Solution

My first conclusion is that poet Robert Frost is not the man to go to for career advice.

Remember how he wrote about “the road not taken”? Given a choice of two roads, the poet took “the one less traveled by” and “that made all the difference.” He admits that he “kept the first for another day” but doubted he would ever go back to it.

Today, we no longer have the luxury of picking one road down which we can leisurely stroll while thinking poetic thoughts.

The average person has to make his or her way, from end to end, down five such roads (remember, the average person now has five careers during a lifetime).

The point today is not to take the “road less traveled by,” but to pick a good, solid road before the thundering herds stampede down it. You want an occupation that’s growing faster than the number of people willing and able to fill it.

Less Traveled ≠ More Opportunity

Also, sometimes the “road less traveled” is less traveled for a good reason. Corpses, skulls, and people crying for help by the side of the road are good signs that this is not your preferred career path.

For example, consider the plight of a young (or old) fellow with a math Ph.D. in which he has invested five years. The odds are strongly against him ever getting a job teaching in a four-year college. To get such a job, he probably will have to endure a humiliating series of one-year post-doc appointments, and if he finally gets hired, he’ll make less than an R.N. who works overtime. Note: the R.N. only needed two years of college before she or he started working.

If our math Ph.D. had taken the time to read the entry on “mathematicians” in the government’s “Occupational Outlook Handbook“ at www.bls.gov/oco, he would have found that:

Because the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded in mathematics continues to exceed the number of available university positions-especially those that are tenure tracked-many graduates will need to find employment in industry and government.

By researching elsewhere, he would find that there aren’t all that many great jobs for math Ph.D.s in industry and government, either. And of those jobs, many involve unsavory and questionable practices (privacy-invading data mining or financial modeling that led to markets such as derivatives, which in turn fed the global economic collapse, etc.)

If you truly, truly love the subject you are studying beyond all reason, then of course economic realities won’t affect you.

This is my only excuse for having gone back to school to earn an M.S. in Math, and for quixotically pressing on towards a financially unrewarding Ph.D.

But you can learn from my mistake.

Always check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook first, before you embark on a costly back-to-school project!

And by the way, it won’t hurt Junior and Jessica any if they take the time to check the Occupational Outlook Handbook before deciding for sure on their college majors. This might save them some fancy footwork later in their lives, and will at least mean there aren’t as many ugly surprises.

The Oh-So-Easy Family Business Solution

But wait! We don’t have to settle for begging for a job.

We can create our own jobs!

This is true.

However, it’s not quite as easy as those Internet emails make it sound.

How does starting your own business compare to re-educating yourself in a new career path?

If Robert Frost had decided that merely taking a fairly untrodden path was too wimpy, and instead he’d rather take his trusty axe and hack his own road through the woods, that would be close.

If you already have money saved up that you want to invest in a reputable franchise, that can work. You’ll still have to put in a lot of hours, but it’s not quite as risky.

If, on the other hand, you are scrambling to find some way of adding family income, without any capital to launch the new business, it’s going to be tough.

The traditional method is for the wife and/or kids, who have more free time, to try to start a business. The danger here is that it will be based on their skill sets. And they won’t be able to carry the load forever. The kids are going to grow up and want to go to college and/or get married and move away. Also, Mom will want to have time to homeschool and to participate in community and church activities. If the business is designed to require Mom and the kids to keep it going, they can become slaves to the very thing that was supposed to set them free.

If you have no talent for sales and marketing, and the business is not likely to grow quickly enough to hire someone proficient in these areas, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about starting your own business. The heart of any business is selling something to someone. But, if you’re determined, you can start by learning how to market and how to sell. There are plenty of good books on these topics in your local library. This is the real first step to business success.

Bill Pride, a proud dad of nine homeschool graduates, has run his family’s business for 24 years. He also went back to school five years ago and has managed to get part-way through a math Ph.D. so far.


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