Why Starting Over in Your Career Is So Hard (& Necessary)

March 13, 2011

I know you’ll find several things in this excellent article,  (written by Alan Deutschman, in Boston.com) that will apply to you, even if you have kept your job for many, many years.

Excerpt from (click): Why Starting Over in Your Career Is So Hard:

“When I talked with one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, he explained that practicing a craft or profession for a long time makes your brain change dramatically.

If a doctor conducted a scan of the brain of a female flute player in a symphony orchestra, the image would show that the regions that control the fingers, tongue, and lips are unusually large. All of her years of training and practice have actually distorted her brain. Whatever your particular trade or occupation, your brain becomes specialized to do your job.

The good news is that your brain is capable of extraordinary change throughout middle age and well into your senior years. You’re capable of “rewiring” it with the complex learning you’ll need in a new career. Neuroscientists call this “neural plasticity.” But the catch is that unless you’ve stayed in the practice of learning hard things, then your “brain fitness” declines. The cognitive muscles you need for change have atrophied. It’s a use it or lose it situation. Unfortunately, few of us really use it. Merzenich told me that most people “haven’t ‘learned’ anything in twenty or thirty years.”

Can that really be true? After all, most of us put a lot of effort into keeping up with the latest developments in our professional fields. But that’s not what Merzenich is talking about. To him, “learning” isn’t maintaining your long-entrenched expertise; “learning” means becoming a true beginner in another challenging pursuit. You know that you’re learning something new and different if it’s really hard for a long time and you’re constantly making mistakes and feeling like an idiot. No one wants to feel that way, especially once they’ve become used to the headiness of being an expert in another area.

Complex learning is undeniably difficult and discouraging. Think of the immense frustration of trying for the first time to drive stick shift, play golf, dance the tango, or speak a foreign language. That’s how you’ll feel if you switch careers. The way to make it manageable is to seek support from good coaches, teachers, and mentors who’ll help sustain your efforts, just as you would if you were learning Chinese or how to snowboard.”

Read the 2-page article:  Why Starting Over in Your Career Is So Hard

[Photo taken by me, of hand-stitched pillow on chair, at a friend’s home, in Santa Fe, Oct. 2009]

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