Q: I’m starting over in a new career after 20 years. This requires schooling, probably with much younger classmates. I’m anxious about the age difference and about studying again after all these years. How do I manage this with confidence?
A: Let the vision that led you to this path give you the assurance you need.
The inner game
Your strong center will be your best resource as you go through this major change. Invest time into anchoring your inner confidence using your breath and taking plenty of time for reflection.
Start by creating a vivid vision of your future, defined by the reasons you chose this direction. What do you hope to gain? What do you hope to contribute to others? Imagine what a “day in the life” of your new job may be. Develop a positive vision … and notice negatives that emerge for future consideration.
Now compile an inventory of the attributes you bring, including skills and characteristics that you’ve developed in the past. You’ve undoubtedly had to adapt to new situations and learn new skills during your previous career. You can draw on the same tactics that have helped you before.
It’ll also help to spend time defusing the negative. Try answering three questions about an aspect you’re really afraid of:
• How realistic is it? Say you feel like you won’t fit in because of your age. First of all, you don’t know that your age will be unusual, so you’re just making predictions. Also, you’re all drawn to the same field, so shared interests may well trump any age differences. So, your concerns may not be realistic at all.
• What’s the worst thing that could happen? If these concerns are realistic, worst case, you might not have an enjoyable social experience, but there is no reason why you still can’t succeed in your new profession.
• What can you do about it? Since you can’t change your age, accept yourself as you are — this will increase your chances of building rewarding relationships and will make you happier.
The outer game
Develop an outer game plan so that you’re ready to start school. Include plenty of self-care, such as a personal energy management strategy that suits your temperament — if you’re more introverted, have plenty of opportunities to recharge.
Put as many support systems in place in advance as possible. For example, if some courses are likely to be especially difficult, look into getting a tutor before you get in over your head.
Don’t be shy about asking for help. If you feel isolated or overwhelmed, reach out to others. Also, remember that others are also stepping into the unknown, so take the initiative to connect rather than waiting for them to come to you. Becoming a leader can be a very reassuring position, and may come more naturally to you if you’re one of the older students.
Celebrate your courage! It’s a big deal to be willing to reinvent yourself, so don’t forget to acknowledge it.