Why it's okay to change your career as many times as you want

Images: Kerri Walter (Instagram: @kerriwalterphotography)

So, you've done it all by the book; you've headed to Sixth Form or college, got into a good uni, spent as much of your time interning as you did drinking through funnels, and landed your perfect job upon graduation. Life is good! You're getting paid, you can see a progression path, and your career is turning out to be everything you dreamed of in those 9am (lol) lectures. But what happens when it's not? What happens when you wake up and decide you no longer want to do that career you mapped out for yourself at 16 years old?

This is the position many of us find ourselves in - and not just in our 20s. I have many friends in their 30s, and even 40s, who have lost the passion for what they do and want a change of career, but have MAJOR fears about committing to something new. 

We get ourselves in a panic: will I need to start from the bottom again? Do I need to go back and study? Has everything so far been a waste? Am I gonna be earning less? Will I lose my flat? Would this even be the right decision?! 

Right, let me just say, these thoughts are totally normal. Change brings about uncertainty and your job is a huge part of your life to be unsure about. You spend more time at work than anywhere else, if you're a full-time worker.

Despite following the traditional path myself, earlier this year, I chose to take my writing career in a different direction. Part of the reason I had the confidence to do so is because of my mother. She has had multiple career changes since she was 16 and has excelled in all of them. From telemarketing to midwifery, with primary school teaching in between, she has always landed on her feet. She didn't follow the 'path' and actually got her university degree when I was around 10 years old. Currently a community public health nurse, I asked for her advice...


At what age did you change careers?

My most significant career changes - from teacher to midwife, then to community public health nurse - were at ages 32 and 48. 

What led you to change your career each time?

There were many reasons! Some were pretty life-changing events, such as moving country, the end of a relationship and wanting a university degree, but then there were the more generic reasons, too, like wanting more financial security. With my career choices, in particular, I wanted to be a specialist in a specific health field and, of course, I wanted to make a difference.

What challenges did you face when applying for these different roles?

With having three children, particularly with one under the age of 16, childcare was an issue, as was the financial strain I encountered with returning to academic study. When I moved into midwifery, I had to face the physical and emotional challenges of working in the NHS, which I wasn't used to. Long 12-hour shifts and night shifts are no joke! Finding a work-life balance can also be hard, especially when you're working, as well as studying.

How have your previous careers benefited the ones that followed?

Education and health are the main threads throughout my working life, as well as nursing, parenting and child development. Teaching gave me the basis of child development knowledge, communication, and good interpersonal skills, while midwifery gave me transferable skills in clinical and evidence-based knowledge for maternity - from pregnancy through to birth and the postnatal period for mothers and babies. My public health sector role has evolved from midwifery in that I deal with issues from birth up to five-year-olds, and with their families. These issues range from parenting to child development, as well as public health issues such as obesity, immunisations, safeguarding and social issues, such as domestic violence and mental health. 

What did you want to be when you were younger? 

A nurse - I used to give my brother injections with knitting needles as practice!

What workplace support have you received when changing careers?

When I did my university degree in midwifery, government funding was available. Thankfully, I was also being paid a nurse's salary to work, train and study when I did my postgraduate diploma to become a community public health nurse.

What advice do you have for people who worry about starting over when they are already established in their field? 

Do it! You are never too old to retrain and start a new career. You can use all your experience and knowledge, as they are transferable skills. Follow your dreams, as you can achieve anything you are determined to do. You can reinvent yourselves as much as you wish to, and make a positive difference to yourself and others in the process.

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