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The career path to enlightenment

The career path to enlightenment

With determination and effort, a mid-life career change can work wonders.

Bond trader turned cinematographer Jules O'Loughlin has some advice for anyone contemplating a dramatic change in career. "You are never too old but if you decide to make a change later in life, you have to be completely dedicated. You must have a take-no-prisoners approach," he says.

And according to Nicholas Tuckfield, NSW general manager at recruitment company Talent2, 'tis the season to think about chucking it in.

"The new year is a great time for gymnasiums and recruitment companies - we both benefit from resolutions made after people have had some time off over Christmas," Tuckfield says.

"And this is a good year to make a career change because unemployment is so low. Times are good, people are feeling buoyant, it's as good a time as any to give it a go."

Contemplating change is one thing; finding yourself, like then then 33-year-old O'Loughlin did, in a TAFE classroom surrounded by school leavers, is quite another.

He had long nursed a desire to ditch the futures market in favour of film. The move was finally triggered by a personality test that concluded he was ill-suited for finance but good for the arts.

"I thought, 'Bugger this, I'm going to leave'. I'm lucky to have a supportive wife who backed me the whole way," O'Loughlin says. "She knew that up until then I had led a life of quiet desperation."

TAFE was followed by the Australian Film and Television and Radio School, where he made contacts that helped secure a gig on a feature film.

That, in turn, led to more doors opening.

"There is no doubt there was luck involved - I was in the right place at the right time - but you have to put yourself in the position to be lucky," O'Loughlin says.

"I'm 40 now and I do have some regrets that I didn't make the move 10 years earlier. But the finance industry also gave me many life experiences I would not have had otherwise, including the opportunity to do a lot of travelling.

"Once I made the decision to go into the film industry, nothing was going to get in my way."

Jerome Lander was a few years into his medical degree when he began to suspect he was more interested in the stockmarket than medicine.

Now head of research at funds management research house Van Eyk, Lander says he decided to finish his degree because "opting out would mean no qualification at all and I only had two years to go".

"I thought that being top of my class in a degree as prestigious and challenging and hard to enter as medicine at Sydney University would be a real statement about my capability and work ethic.

"However, if I had been given a science degree after three years, like some other universities did at the time, I probably would have changed paths earlier."

Lander did work part-time as a doctor for a while, then shifted to medical management. He also did a stint as a pharmaceutical analyst.

"So I did things that were related to medicine but were more business focused. I entered the investment field at Platinum as an investment analyst; although I loved investing I found that the nature of the work at Platinum was too introverted for me.

"Then I saw a manager research job advertised. I've always been interested in managed funds and fund managers and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great learning to see how everyone does things?'. So I moved across to become a senior analyst with Van Eyk and subsequently became head of research."

Lander says he is not surprised at the way things have worked out, and neither are those who know him well.

"I became passionate about investing during my fourth year of medicine when I opened up the business pages," he says. "I'm not surprised I ended up here and neither are other people I was close to back then."

Suzie Fawcett's change of heart has taken her from NSW ministerial offices to the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

Joining the elite ranks of those who crew luxury yachts was not on the agenda in 1997, when Fawcett worked for Kim Yeadon, then NSW minister for land and water conservation. It was more a case of what she sailed into.

"I hadn't had a good year and then I met a guy who was a sailor, an American with a yacht, so I took off with him," she says.

The romance ended, leaving Fawcett stranded in Antigua. So she found a job as a stewardess and entered the world of the superyachts, a rarefied zone where boat owners compete to have the biggest and the best.

Fawcett then decided she wanted to spend more time at sea but as a chef, so did a three-month cordon bleu cooking course.

"You work from 6.30am to 11pm every day for three weeks but then you don't see the owner for six weeks and your time is pretty much your own."

Others have change thrust upon them.

Julian Todd had spent 11 years working in corporate finance at Southcorp and then AAPT before finding himself out of a job and stranded - along with many others - by the dotcom wave in 2002.

A coffee encounter with a former colleague, Glen Cunningham, led to a plan to start a wine business, Backvintage.com.

The business broke even in its first year and has been profitable every year since, thanks to a winning combination of canny business acumen, an expert palate (Master of Wine Nick Bulleid endorses every wine sold), a love of wine and a lot of hard work.

"I've got the job from heaven," Todd says. "I have never worked harder in my life, but it isn't a struggle getting up."

Philomena Tan, author of How to Escape the Rat Race, says a change in career often follows a mid-life re-evaluation. This might occur earlier than expected.

"If we assume you are going to live till 90, your mid-life starts in your 30s and runs through to your 60s. Often people in that age bracket look at their job and think 'Do I really want to spend the rest of my life doing this?'.

"You can have a change of heart without having a full-blown mid-life crisis."

Prospective employers will want to know why you made your decision but a sudden change in direction is not viewed negatively, says Don Easter of executive search firm Edward W. Kelley.

"The most common scenario we see is when people have been successful, they are financially independent and they start to think about what they really want to do," Easter says. "People in their 50s and 60s often start thinking about the legacy they will leave behind and the integrity of their life. That's where career evaluation comes in."

© Fairfax Business Media

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