The words “career change” can be simultaneously exhilarating and frightening.

Recently, I’ve had an influx of clients in mid-life seeking career counseling. Many realize that they made career choices when they were young and lacked the self-awareness and confidence to choose a career that authentically reflected who they were.

Other clients were laid off from jobs and are now coping with a new reality in the economy and employment market.  Skills that in the past had guaranteed them ample income and prestige no longer ensure a steady climb in a lucrative vocation such as finance or corporate law.

Some clients have found a new passion and realized that they can pursue it now or never. Years of career counseling have shown me that talented and competent people embody the skills and experience they need to set a new course in their lives.  I’ve counseled clients who have successfully moved into new careers in which they feel more productive, energetic and motivated than they did in old jobs.

The wisdom they accumulated after years of working in high-demand professions has helped them transition into new enterprises:  a trained lawyer is now involved in health care public policy; an executive enrolled in medical school and recently opened a private practice—bringing his business skills to the creation of a new model of patient care.

I, myself, transitioned from a career in corporate law to one as a psychotherapist by applying years of expertise in legal negotiation and conflict-resolution to the realm of psychoanalysis.  I now guide individuals through personal and interpersonal conflict and help them find results-based solutions to problems in their marriage, with family and within themselves.

Career change has become a new norm, in the current economy especially.  Today, the New York metro area is overflowing with mid-life career changers.  I’ve counseled a former Wall Street broker now working as independent financial advisor and a former foundation executive who consults with nonprofits to help them raise funds.

Whatever the reason for a career change, fear and excitement play almost equal parts in the process of transitioning into a new vocation.

The key is focusing on the excitement, the released creativity and the empowerment that come with shedding an old profession and launching a new venture.  Exploring an unknown path requires emotional and physical stamina.  To harness the energy needed to move ahead, it’s counterproductive to obsess about the possibility of failure, or dwell on disappointment over a lost job.

I advise career changers to:

  • Create structure in your life.  Follow a routine and schedule each day as fully as you can.
  • Network with people who have successfully made a career transition.  You’re never too old to have a mentor.
  • Be patient.  It can take a year or more for a new career to fully gel.
  • Be grateful for the opportunity to effect positive change in your life.
  • Redefine the meaning of the word “capital” for yourself.  Value your intellectual, emotional and cultural capital as much as you do financial capital.
  • Praise yourself, believe in yourself, and speak to yourself kindly.
  • Look ahead and not backward.

The reality is that career change brings “agony and ecstasy.”  My advice to clients is to feel the excitement of the process as much as they can.  Focusing on the positive—the “ecstasy”—helps them achieve their stated goals—and ones about which they’d only dreamed.