This isn't your parents' generation, and you're not chained to the same job until you get that gold watch at 60 years of age (partly because employers don't give watches of any kind to any employee anymore and partly because retiring at 60 is now a pipe dream for many). There are countless people who are enjoying thriving "next careers" in their 40s, 50s, and beyond, and there's no reason you can't be next.
However, this isn't a move that can be taken lightly. On the plus side, your children are probably older or even adults themselves, so you don't have to struggle with around-the-clock daycare while shifting careers. On the other hand, there can be discrimination against older workers. Here are tips to making your midlife career switch as smooth as possible.
1. Get a nest egg built first
Even if you don't need additional training or education, it's good to build up your emergency nest egg bigger than it normally would be. If your employer "catches you" looking for another job, a reference call jumps the gun, or another issue pops up, you don't want to be facing down a layoff that forces you to take the first job you can--which will probably be in the field you're trying to move out of.
2. Figure out what education is necessary
Maybe your new career path requires weeks, months, or even years of additional training. For example, maybe you've always dreamt of being a masseur and that requires 12 months of full-time schooling. Before making any changes, find out what's required, the financing for it, and how you'll make ends meet while taking care of licensing, certificates, and training.
3. Be realistic about retirement
At what age do you want to retire, if ever? Does changing careers at this point in your life, after considering requisite training, align with those goals? If you truly want to retire in 10 years and need two years of training, is (best-case scenario) eight years in a new career worth it for you? That's something only you can decide.
4. Don't give up a pension
If you're one of the lucky few who will get a pension upon retirement and changing careers will nix or lower it, then changing careers is probably not a good idea. Instead, pursue your next career as a part-time job or hobby, or save it until retirement. Very few things are worth giving up a lifetime salary for.
5. Talk with your family about your plans
You owe it to your family, who may be impacted by your move, to discuss it with them and get their input. They have different perspectives and might offer to support you in various ways during the transition. Plus, it's only fair and you don't want to spring such a big change on your loved ones without considering their feelings.
6. Meet with a retirement planner
If you really want to know how your finances might change with a career shift, discuss it with a financial planner who specializes in retirement. There might be caveats you aren't aware of or benefits you can take advantage of.
Starting a new career isn't easy no matter what your age. However, at midlife, you need to take extra precautions.