Sharon Chang had an enviable career.
After working as a brand strategist and creative director in numerous prestigious global agencies, she became a sought-after creative leader in the design and digital marketing industry, leading internationally recognized campaigns for major companies including Ford, Pepsi, Sony, and Universal Music. As the chief creative officer of 19 Entertainment–the company behind So You Think You Can Dance and American Idol, Chang had access to prestigious Hollywood parties, a high salary and an intellectually stimulating career.
Yet, in her mid-thirties, Chang realized she needed to make a change.
She left her lucrative position and founded Yoxi, a company that discovers, nurtures, and elevates social entrepreneurs via mass-media, business-focused campaigns. “A lot of people ask me why I would give up the position of chief creative officer for American Idol and the answer is very easy: I wasn’t happy,” says Chang, who now argues your mid-thirties are an ideal time for career reflection.
So, what is it about this age that makes it an ideal time for a career change? Chang explains:
“When you’re young, you’re very idealistic. You can be very ambitious,” says Chang. “You have a vision of where you want to go and you see a very straight line and you just want to get there.” While Chang says she ran on that linear path for nearly 15 years, by the time she hit her mid-thirties, life changes, including the death of her mother, forced her to look sideways and realize that the path wasn’t necessarily linear, but full of other branches that she simply couldn’t see when she was in her twenties.
For most people, their thirties are filled with many life changes including marriage, children, and the reality of aging. This ability to look sideways and see other paths, Chang argues, only comes after years of work and life experience that we lack in our twenties.
Before deciding to make a career change, Chang went through an intense period of self-reflection. She asked herself three key questions: what do I really want to do, what am I really good at, and are these two things the same? Chang argues this type of self-reflection requires really being in tune with knowing who you are. “I think that level of awareness just can’t come when you’re 25,” she says.
Chang recalls a scene in the movie The Matrix where Neo moves in slow motion to dodge a bullet. This ability to see things in slow motion is what Chang argues eludes us in youth, but seems to happen naturally when we reach our mid-thirties. While our twenties are spent fixated on the upward trajectory of growing our careers, once we’ve established a certain level of success in our mid-thirties, the experience and maturity we’ve acquired allows us to take the time to slow down. Chang credits her success with her new endeavor with this ability to slow down. “Everything around me now happens in slower motion than 10 years ago and because of that, I can see things more clearly,” she says.
While Chang doesn’t argue a career change is necessary for everyone in their mid-thirties, she does say this time in one’s life is a natural career checkpoint. “After about 20 years of learning and experience and wanting to get ahead, you just need to check in,” she says. Pausing at various stages of life to re-assess career and personal goals is something Chang argues not enough people take the time to do, but can be incredibly rewarding.