Barbara Fowler is Managing Director at Chief Outsiders, which provides part-time marketing executives to help mid-sized businesses grow. Fowler’s specialties lie in sales and marketing synchronization, global business strategies, and family business turnaround techniques. A frequent speaker and writer on topics such as leadership, cultural diversity, and developing an environment of success, she has effectively led culturally diverse organizations and written and implemented training programs for CMOs worldwide.

1.      What are some key indicators that successful, established women might want to choose a different career path?

More opportunity is a big signal. Some fields are reducing in size, and others are expanding. It’s important to stay abreast of that. Also, stagnation is a factor: Are you still getting up and going to work, loving what you do? Or are you watching the clock, thinking of other things?

2.      How can one identify those indicators?

Women should read, do research, and see where people are hiring and where they aren’t.

3.      There is no doubt that switching careers late in life is frightening for most. Why do you think many women experience this fear?

I think many of us are more risk-averse than men. You see this when you look at things like stock ownership. Women are more conservative investors. In our careers, we also limit ourselves by sometimes making what we perceive to be the “safe choice,” rather than what could be the right one. This can come back to haunt us.

4.      What advice can you provide to help women gain the courage and confidence required to pursue opportunities that might be better for them and their lifestyles?

My first piece of advice is to save money. Money doesn’t always make us happy; however, money does give us choices. If someone wants to change careers but has no money, she may feel she has no choices and is forced to stay in a job that’s not rewarding or at a place where she’s not thriving. So, from the time you earn your first dollar, put some of it aside, about 15% or so.

Secondly, develop networks outside of your current job. Use LinkedIn; there are a bunch of good groups. One I recommend is Connect – you can ask questions and get advice from some great people.

In addition, help others. When you help other people get what they need, they help you. So whenever you have the opportunity, reach out.

Take courses! I love the new free courses available to us. One of my favorite blogs is Lifehacker; here’s their list of free courses taught by great professors this spring: Lifehacker courses.

5.      What is your personal experience with this topic? Did you ever change your career path?

Before joining Chief Outsiders, I was with Prudential for 30 years, switching careers several times. I started as a tax lawyer, went to marketing, training, sales, and management, and then was asked to start field operations in Argentina, Poland, and Asia. I loved it. However, it was obvious to me that my opportunities to make a further contribution there were limited. It was depressing, but that was the reality of the situation. I had to leave. When this happens, assess the possibilities; don’t play the victim role. Think about solving the problem, rather than finding someone to blame for the changes.

6.      What drove you to make that decision, and what did you learn about yourself along the way? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

With every change, you have the opportunity to reinvent yourself. I don’t mean you change everything, but you have the chance to think about what went right, what went wrong, what you could have done differently, and what you want to do better in the future.

I liked marketing and sales. I enjoy the challenge of developing and implementing a plan to grow revenue. I enjoyed developing team performance and aligning sales and marketing teams. So when I was looking for my next career, joining a company that provided fractional and part-time CMO services to a variety of different companies fit my needs. But it’s totally different. When you are a VP and CMO with a big company like Prudential, you have lots of help, lots of benefits, and a big salary, and your title lends you immediate credibility. Starting over with a new company, developing my contacts, handling the administrative side, and finding health insurance was new. It’s a transition! But even my husband says I am much happier, and I am learning so much every day and really helping mid-sized companies.

I didn’t like endless meetings on succession planning, performance appraisals, etc. Sometimes, as you move up in an organization, the things you really enjoyed doing get to be a smaller and smaller part of your work.

7.      What tips do you have for women thinking about seeking out other opportunities, but are not sure what they want to do or where to go?

One of my favorite quotes is by Benjamin Disraeli: “The secret of success is to be ready when your opportunity comes.” So many people I’ve met want guarantees that they will be successful if they do certain things, like get an MBA or take on a new position. There are no guarantees. But every time you take a risk, you gain new perspective and new insights, and you are prepared for more. Failure – and getting up from it – teaches you so much.

8.      How can she go about determining whether or not a career change is the right choice?

Analyze, think deeply, and then do it. But when you do it, go with a “whole heart.” Jump into the deep end. Burn your bridges. Do what is necessary.

9.      Once you have determined that it is time to move on and pursue new opportunities, what are the steps to get to that place?

Reach out to others. As I mentioned before, network, get involved in professional organizations, and be positive. “Act as if” this is the right choice. Don’t keep second-guessing, and don’t keep asking other people what they think. Act confident. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is never truer than now. People respond to confidence.

10.  Is this something that you would recommend many women do? Why or why not? 

Sometimes, this can be the right advice, but at the wrong time in your life. For example, you may want to try something new and different, but you may not be emotionally, financially, or physically ready for a new opportunity. Your mom might be sick or your children may need to remain in their schools. You may be having marital problems. You have to wait – but wait positively. Don’t let yourself get bitter or depressed. It hurts you so much.

Oftentimes, change is forced upon us and we are unprepared. Your company is downsized or they want to let people with higher incomes go in order to make way for others. It happens, so it’s best to prepare for changes before they even seem possible. I think it’s great to be optimistic, but I always spend a little time being pessimistic, thinking about the worst that could happen, how I can make that worst more palatable, and what I would do. Being both optimistic and pessimistic is really being realistic.