To be the engineer of your own life, re-visit yourself, not your toolkit, first.

As a mid-life career changer, this is the most important lesson I learned.

My own career started at age 27 as an executive secretary in France.  By 29, I was in the same job.  I was living in Paris.  I had a great title, great working conditions, and was bored to tears.  The idea of crossing the Atlantic to “a land where everything is possible” was a no-brainer.  I moved to Miami where I held positions as a bilingual (French-English) administrative secretary and executive assistant until the birth of our first and only child.

Given my social nature and my dislike of routines and schedules, staying at home was not a good plan.  When we moved to the Washington, DC metro area, I thought I was really lucky to live in such an exciting environment, where diversity and ideas were fireworks of exploding talents and opportunities.

But there was a problem:  I wasn’t part of this excitement.  And I had no idea how to jump into it.

I became frustrated, and I don’t do frustration well.  It makes me a nasty person, and that’s not me.

The truth soon became apparent:  my only marketable skills were for an occupation I really disliked.  What’s worse – paying for an education to change this path could only come by putting these skills on the market again.

A bigger problem:  I can’t work if I’m not excited about what I’m doing.  I’d rather quit than do a lousy job.  That’s always been my strategy, and it worked.  I quit lousy, boring jobs before the employers even had a clue.

“Quit quitting,” I tell myself.  Yeah, right…

I learned a few lessons from that.  If you choose a job based on salary or prestige, or because of family tradition, a childhood dream, or simply out of the blue, these initial motivations will be tested sooner or later.  You will then face a choice on how to deal with it. If your choice involves getting a degree at warp speed from an online university, know that there is no guarantee this is the right choice.  If your first choice was a mistake, your thought pattern could very well lead you to a second mistake.  In other words – what if you unsuccessfully went to Med School only to find out that in the meantime, you could have been a great plumber at $250 or more an hour?

I was 44 and learned this lesson well.  I knew that I would not stay in any position that didn’t make me happy.  I can’t function otherwise.  So I came up with a 30 hour work week in an administrative job I knew I could hold for more than a few months, but with a low salary, and volunteer commitments for the many human causes I care about.  It sounded like a happy medium, but realistically not financially sustainable inside the Beltway.  And here’s yet another problem:  even though I was always able to talk about my job very enthusiastically, I felt a little ashamed, and really beat myself up about that.

At my age, a career change was still an option, but mistakes were not.  The answer was inside me.  All the right pieces of the puzzle were there somewhere, but something was preventing me from putting it all together.  I needed help to figure it out.
I eventually got the help, and I’m so glad I did.  Today I’m at peace – not so much because I make a great living, but because of 4 letters.

I’m talking about the 4 letters of my Myers-Briggs type.  These letters are my alter ego, my oracle in times of doubt, my explanation for 20 years of professional guilt and frustration, my biggest professional and personal accomplishment.  It throws the “I wish I would have known then what I know now” in the garbage.  Suddenly, I became the “back then”, the now, and the future at the same time.

Who doesn’t want that edge?  How can you function effectively without knowing what drives you, how you make decisions, or how you perceive your environment?

Because of this assessment, I have not only a list of possible career paths, but I know why they’re a good fit and why I’m guaranteed to thrive.  It taught me what waters I could swim and the ones I should avoid.  Mostly, it taught me to embrace myself for who I am and not for who I should be.

So take a little look inside.  The real you in you will be glad you did.  Guaranteed.

Oh – and by the way – my name is ENFP, and I now love to be me.  Nice to meet you!