Research and determination are the keys to success, whether you’re 25 or 65

When Wendell Hall was asked to relocate for the 13th time in 31 years, he realized how demanding and unfulfilling his corporate life had become.

As a vice president of operations for General Motors Acceptance Corp., he oversaw lending activities among GM dealers throughout the Western U.S. The job required lots of travel and, at age 55, another transfer, this time from northern New Jersey to Detroit.

“I wasn’t willing to do that again, so I left,” he says.

Mr. Hall accepted an early retirement offer, then wasted little time before launching what he considered career #2. “During all those moves, I always liked buying and selling homes,” he explains. “It’s a hell of an interesting business, so I decided to give it a try.”

After completing a real-estate course and earning a license in less than a month, Mr. Hall signed on with a local realtor as a sales associate. When asked why he thought he could make such a major change — from corporate bigwig to lowly sales associate — Mr. Hall says that taking a complete inventory of his strengths and having a strong motivation to succeed were key ingredients. Mr. Hall eventually owned a multi-site brokerage firm in Oakland, N.J. that employed dozens of associates, before deciding to retire and move to central New Jersey with his wife.

“I enjoy working with people, and that’s the greatest similarity between the two careers. In both, it’s important to build trust and mutual respect with others, which I like doing,” he explains, adding that if he were an engineer or scientist who enjoyed working alone, “real estate wouldn’t be a good career choice.”

The biggest difference between Mr. Hall’s two careers reflects the source of his motivation. “In a corporation, you’re paid a salary whether you have a good year of not, so some people lay back on the oars if they want to. In real estate, everything is on commission, so you’ve got a real incentive to do well. If you’re not a self-starter, you won’t earn any income.”

To be sure, there are trade-offs. “What I really miss most about corporate life is that I have to do my own photocopying,” Mr. Hall adds with a laugh.

The New Trend

Everyone is changing careers these days. Teachers become financial planners. Airline pilots buy fast-food franchises. Middle managers learn to write software programs and sell them at trade shows. The list is endless, and for good reason. There’s no excuse for sticking with a career that you no longer enjoy, aren’t good at anymore or has been taken away from you.

The restructuring of corporate America has hastened this trend. Entire layers of management — as well as whole departments — are being eliminated willy-nilly, tossing long-tenured employees at all levels into the volatile job market. Some of these folks are so eager to find new corporate homes, they’re squeezing themselves into restrictive job requirements just to earn paychecks. But many more are putting a positive spin on the situation. They see this as a chance to launch more meaningful, exciting and potentially challenging careers.

Yet choosing which careers to try next is rarely easy, whether you’re 25 or 65. Some folks have second jobs that can be expanded to fill their now-available time. But most are at loose ends. Fortunately, selecting a new career direction isn’t difficult once you understand the process.

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