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Easing the Mid-Life Change of Career

January 30, 1986|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

In 1978, Chuck Bond was living in West Los Angeles and earning $73,000 a year as national director of college recruiting and relations for one of the so-called Big-8 national CPA firms.

Bond had always enjoyed his job. He was, as he says, "emotionally hooked into it." But at age 46--after 14 years with the firm--something was wrong.

"The first time I noticed anything was wrong," said Bond, now a Balboa Island resident, "was when I started feeling some cynicism about my work. I'm normally a very positive person. It's not like me to be cynical or depressed about my job. So I started talking with my wife, and I said, 'Are you happy?' And she said, 'Yeah, I'm happy.' And I said, 'Well, I'm feeling a lot of pain; how can I be happy like you?' "

Bond sought professional counseling and then, he said, the process began: "I started taking long walks on the beach, trying to think things out."

Still Thinking

Six months later, Bond was still thinking things out.

While attending a meeting of the board of governors of the College Placement Council in Houston, he recalled, "the legal counsel was going to make a sensitive presentation, so the rest of us who were not board members were asked to leave the room and return in an hour.

"Instead of returning in an hour, I went out and walked the streets of Houston for four hours, and I kind of reviewed my whole life. And I remember at the end of that walk, I said, 'I don't care if it takes every effort I've got, I don't care if it takes every ounce of energy I've got, I'm not going to keep living this way. I'm just not going to do it. I went back to the hotel and called my wife. I talked to her and she said, 'You're crazy. ' "

The next day, however, Bond flew to New York and resigned. "

Bond is now field services coordinator for the College Placement Council, a nonprofit national association for career planning, placement and recruitment. He earns substantially less than he did with his old job, but, he said, he has substantially more job satisfaction.

Bond, 52, was one of four panelists who shared their experiences in making successful career changes during a daylong workshop, "Mid-Life Career Change," sponsored by Coastline Community College in Newport Beach last Saturday.

Three women who conducted the workshop: Ann Coil, Jane Ballback and Jan Slater--partners in CB&S Associates, a career consulting firm in Orange. The 110 men and women who attended--most of them in their 40s and 50s--paid $35 each to find out, as the workshop brochure put it: how to take your job skills, experience and talent and transfer them to more rewarding careers.

And, as Jane Ballback pointed out in her introductory talk on how to make the most of mid-life years, feeling restless, bored or stuck in a job--signs of the so-called mid-life crisis--can happen at any time in life.

And, Ballback emphasized, a life transition "is not always a crisis in the negative sense of the word."

"You can turn it around and make it one of the most positive, exciting events in your entire life if you simply know how to do that," She said.

For years, Ballback said, most people knew nothing about adult life changes and transitions because most studies focused on childhood and adolescenceor on the field of gerontology, which studies the aging process.

"What has not been around except for the last 20 or so years is studying that whole middle group," she said.

Years ago, Ballback said, people lived out their lives in a relatively straight line, sticking with the marriage, career and life-style decisions they chose in their late teens and early 20s. But that has changed markedly in the last 20 years.

Easier Without Choices

"What's interesting about living on a straight line," she observed, "is it was a whole bunch easier not to have all those choices and not to be faced with all of that change."

Citing research conducted by Daniel Levinson, author of "The Seasons of a Man's Life," Ballback said that between the ages of 38 and 42, people typically undergo a highly defined transition. They've been educated, they've established their families and careers and, she said, they begin to become very interested in "enriching" their lives and making "qualitative changes."

Ballback noted that the late 30s to early 40s is a period in which some people make dramatic changes in their lives--a process that has been popularized in songs, books and movies. In the movie "Middle Age Crazy," for example, Bruce Dern reacts to hitting his 40th birthday by walking away from his business, donning a flashy pair of cowboy boots, buying a new Porsche and finding a girlfriend.

But people who go "crazy" in middle age are, according to Ballback, the exceptions.

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