Thinking of a career change? Don't delay

Stocks slip as Wall Street sees weekly jobless claim numbers, the number of foreclosed homes hitting the auction block have hit a nine-month high, and according to a British telecommunications firm it's better to have a female boss. Ashley Morrison reports.

(MoneyWatch) James Reed, chairman of U.K. career firm Reed recruiting, says that only 2 percent of employees over 40 are working in occupations they planned when they were 18. This is both good news and bad.

The good news is that it illustrates how humans respond to information. We might all have dreamed of being football heroes, heart surgeons or president of the United States. As we learned more about ourselves and the realities of doing these jobs, we changed our minds. When I was 18, I was utterly committed to becoming a theater director. When I got the chance, I discovered I didn't enjoy directing and wasn't very good at it. That's just learning.

The bad news is that it may mean that many employees are disappointed by the way their lives have turned out. They may want a job or a career change. If that's you, then I'd advise you to hurry up. Everyone I've ever known who made a big transition had left it later than they should. Between mild discontent and raging frustration, about a year of unproductive ambivalence passed. Afterwards, when a jump has been successfully negotiated, everyone looked back and asked, what took me so long?

I think we all feel pretty ambivalent about the increasingly temporary nature of work. The euphoria that once greeted so-called "free" agents has morphed into cynicism about low pay and insecure jobs. But as the economy starts to recover, this is a good moment to review where you are. Do you really want to be there? Do you still harbor the dreams you had when you were 18 that you never even attempted? Is it really too late?

My father was brutally pushed out of a job he hated when he was in his late fifties. He was bitter and angry and then he set up in business for himself. The last 20 years of his life were the most fun, productive and profitable time of his career. His only regret? He hadn't done it sooner.

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    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.