Midlifers live their dreams by changing careers

At 47, attorney Frank Miele left a lucrative partnership at a law firm to open his own art gallery in New York City, a decision he says took him about "2½ seconds" to make and one he doesn't regret even in these tough economic times.

Joe Sabia of Boca Raton, Fla., was 46 when he quit his job selling medical products to become a physical education teacher and coach, which he calls "the best job in the world."

Bartan Kennedy, an assistant kindergarten teacher in Stamford, Conn., was 50 when she realized she still wanted to fulfill her lifelong desire to be a performer. So she took a job doing dramatic storytelling at three local libraries and now entertains 200 children every week.

"My audience is young and enthusiastic and forgiving, and I am finally a star," she says.

With the economy on the skids and retirement benefits being cut, many people realize they will need to continue working much longer than they ever expected, and they're rethinking how they want to spend those years.

Is there still time to switch, take a risk and pursue an old dream, a secret passion, something meaningful? USA TODAY asked to hear from readers who did just that, and dozens responded with details about how they changed course.

"People are realizing that they might be working for a long time, so they might as well find something that they like," says life coach Laura Berman Fortgang, author of Now What? 90 Days to a New Life Direction.

At least 5.3 million people ages 44 to 70 in the USA have encore careers, ones that combine income, personal meaning and social impact, and many more would like to pursue such jobs, according to the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a national think tank.

But figuring out what to do can be a daunting task, experts say, and many people are frozen in indecision and fear. Too often people dismiss their passions and dreams as improbable because they might need more training or because they feel as if they'll be throwing away years they invested in graduate school or their current careers, Fortgang says.

Many clients tell her they have no idea how to begin to uncover another passion or dream within themselves. They say to her: "I don't know what else I would do." She looks at them and says, "I bet you do, but you don't want to admit it." Fortgang has clients write their life stories so they can uncover forgotten interests.

Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia and former president of the American Psychological Association, says figuring out something that will sustain your commitment, passion and drive for years to come takes careful thought. "I have a simple formula for success in life," he says. "Success equals self-knowledge plus motivation."

When it comes to your self-knowledge, Farley advises taking a hard look at your current job. What do you like about it, and what don't you like? Ask yourself if you have a passion such as art, landscaping or writing that you will regret not pursuing. "You don't want to look back and think, 'I wish I'd done that.'

"After you come up with some passions or interests that might evolve into a new career, then it's important to do a dispassionate analysis of them: Is this enough for me? Can I make enough to support myself and my spouse?"

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