A mid-life career change is hard, but not impossible—even if you have kids. Here's how one mom found her true passion and successfully made it her day job.

By Tricia Stewart Shiu
February 13, 2020
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illustration of woman on a fork in the road unsure of which direction to go
Credit: Illustration by Pete Ryan

Back in 2015, I walked away from a six figure salary at Fox Studios in Los Angeles. After more than 16 years, I wanted a fresh start doing something I was passionate about, and figuring out what that was all started with a simple suggestion from motivational coach Deborah Kagan:

"List 100 things you could do to make ­­money."

Writing that list helped jog my memory of my true passions. I'd pursued voice-over work right out of college, but was discouraged and ended up burying my passion in exchange for a more logical path. Fast-forward to today, and I've done voice-over work with the likes of major corporations including Honeywell, UPS, Walmart, and Pepsi. Not only that, but my own recorded visualizations and rituals have internationally received over 1.5 million streams and downloads. And while none of it happened overnight, it took far less time than I'd spent on my previous career.

Now a single mom to a 15-year-old daughter (I separated and subsequently divorced my husband in the middle of my career transition), one thing I can say with certainty is that no job transition—especially while parenting—is linear. There is no cookie-cutter way to make it work, or hard and fast rules, and twists and turns are the norm. But there are certainly a few things I learned along the way that made my dream job transition possible. If you're looking to make your own change, I'd offer this advice for finding a career that brings you joy all while modeling the strength, tenacity, and brilliance required to create a beautiful legacy for your kids.

Tricia Stewart Shiu at Wondery Sunset Studio
Tricia Stewart Shiu at Wondery Sunset Studio

Seek advice outside your "circle."

One of the most surprising discoveries I made during my career change was that the biggest obstacle I had to overcome was not a meddling boss, a questioning cousin, or a nosy coworker—it was me. That's right. I was the culprit that had held me back from my dream career. The good news was, once I figured that out, the rest was infinitely easier.

During my tenure as a high-level executive assistant, I researched many other vocations and daydreamed about new ways of making money. Trouble was, almost every person from whom I sought advice saw me in my old role. When I branched out though, I found that while there were gorgeous diamonds to mine from that pressure-filled job, there was so much more out there. Broadening my circle helped me find motivation to persevere, but it also forced me to quell my ego. Sure, I was accomplished in the career I had. But in any other? I was a newbie, regardless of my age. I had to start from scratch and learn brand new skills. And while it was scary admitting I knew nothing, when I did, learning became infinitely more rewarding than even a minute of my previous 16 year's work.

Start with a side gig.

Knowledge is power, and the more you learn about a new career before you commit, the more power you'll have to succeed once you've made the shift. Experts agree that the best way to do that is by keeping the new career as a side gig at first. "Whatever you learn as you observe your stream of income from this new gig, you can work out the kinks and gauge your potential (in truth—your reality)," says career coach, Leah Mazzola, Ph.D., BCC. And no matter what field you're entering, this trial will allow you to gain traction when it comes to creating a new professional network as well as a (literal) new workflow for your family.

Have prospects and money saved before you quit.

As rewarding as my leap of faith was right off the bat in terms learning, if you're wondering if you should have prospects before you leave your job, the answer is absolutely, 100 percent, according to Dr. Mazzola. "One of the primary concerns for parents is their responsibility to provide for their children's needs," she says. "When a parent is thinking about changing a career, resources and limitation are at the top of the list." And without prospects, your resources become a lot less secure.

One of the most rewarding elements of my career transition has been knowing that my work was witnessed by my daughter. Early on, we had more than a few talks about freelancing versus salaried jobs and budgeting. She learned a lot right along with me about the ways a family can create the type of wealth they need to live the life they are comfortable with. Looking back, I definitely could have prepared better for the budgetary shift—it's advisable to have a few months of salary in savings at any given time, says Dr. Mazzola, and definitely when you're about to make a transition. But including my daughter in money conversations during my shift was something I'd for sure do again.

Schedule your own homework time.

During my journey getting my business off the ground, the priority was still that my daughter was cared for and nurtured. Finding time as a parent to write the resume, polish the cover letter, and field all the amazing incoming offers for a new job requires a bit of fancy footwork. One strategy: "Schedule career transition work out, so that it does not bleed into parenting time," says Fiona Steele, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. "For example, while the kids are in school, playing soccer, when they're asleep, or before they get up in the morning. It takes concentration and 100 percent of your effort to put into your career and you'll be distracted if the children need something."

The "right" time to change careers is when you can cover your family's needs.

According to Dr. Mazzola, there is no exact time, age (for you or your kids), or amount of money you need to have in the bank to make a career transition. "The basic issue is you have got to have a way to cover your needs. Meeting those needs is the biggest stressor as a parent. If you are not addressing this issue, you are setting yourself up for unnecessary stress."

One of the biggest things I would have done differently along my journey is to honor my own sense of timing and not be so hard on myself. When I started my new career, it took so much energy and much of it was sucked up by my own judgments about how I "should" be doing my job or what it looked like from other people's perspective. And when you already have a limited amount of time to yourself in any given day as a parent, this kind of internal stress is something you don't want to waste a second on if you can help it.

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