As the managing editor of Autorotate, a trade publication for helicopter pilots, Tony Fonze invites questions from would-be aviators. "I probably get three...

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As the managing editor of Autorotate, a trade publication for helicopter pilots, Tony Fonze invites questions from would-be aviators.

“I probably get three or four e-mail a week from people interested in becoming pilots,” says Fonze, who lives in Tucson, Ariz. “Many of them ask me if they’re too old. I tell them there’s no such thing as being too old to make a change.”

Too old or too established. Now 53, Fonze gave up a successful career in software to fly.

“The stuff you have to do, it’s tedious, it’s difficult; you have to be proactive,” says Julie Jansen, author of “I Don’t Know What I Want, but I Know It’s Not This.” “People aren’t good necessarily at networking; they aren’t good necessarily at interviewing. I think you have to develop some skills.”

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Depending on your chosen career, you may need additional training, says Nicholas Lore. He is the author of “The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success” (Fireside, 1998, $15) and founder of Rockport Institute, an international career-counseling network based in Maryland. He cautions against going to school as a way of postponing tough decisions.

“I’ve taught myself to do accounting,” says Judy Egge, a Tempe resident who makes and sells vegetable relish under the label Relish This!

Egge was a food broker for 20 years before finding herself unemployed. That was around the same time she began experimenting with relish recipes, striving to re-create a favorite product she had discovered at a roadside stand in Canada but which was unavailable in the United States.

“I couldn’t get it so I started making it, but I made it better,” she says. Her relish was such a success with friends that she was encouraged to go into business.

Relish This!, however, only sells itself the second time around.

“I’m out there constantly promoting and pushing,” Egge says.

“I didn’t think I’d become a carnival barker,” she says, but a passion for her product keeps her going and sales strong. This year’s numbers are nearly double last year’s.

“I have endless energy when it comes to promoting my product,” she says. “I sold somebody else’s product for 20 years. Now it’s great to be out there with something I made myself.”

That, of course, is the point: finding a career so satisfying, even the setbacks are worthwhile.

“It’s work to go pursue different careers, but the rewards are there,” Fonze says. “One of my favorite quotes is, ‘You can’t do everything you want in life, but you can do anything you want in life.’ ”

So what are you waiting for?

“I made a lot of money and I was good at it and I enjoyed it from that aspect,” he says about his previous employment. “But it wasn’t a job where I jumped out of bed every morning and said, ‘Yeah! I’m going to work.’ ”

According to a 2003 survey by the Conference Board, a nonprofit research group, fewer than half of all Americans are satisfied with their jobs.

Of Americans ages 35 to 44, just 47 percent are satisfied with their jobs. For Americans ages 45 to 54, the number is 46 percent.

The problem? The Conference Board cites discontent with promotion policies, bonus plans and training programs (plus the ever-popular complaint: the boss).

Yet the popularity of books on changing careers suggests another complaint: We want to be passionate about our work, and we aren’t.

“We get a huge number of mid-career people,” says Lore, the author of “Pathfinder.” “They just make a promise to themselves to not live a half-lived life anymore. … Those are the people who come after New Year’s.”

Passions aren’t always sitting on the surface; sometimes you have to hunt for them. In “Pathfinder,” Lore guides readers through a process of self-discovery, then shows them how to turn what they’ve learned into gainful and gratifying employment.

Fonze, for example, didn’t grow up wanting to be a pilot, but after selling his software company in 1996, he says, “I probably was looking for something to get interested in.” His introduction to whirlybirds came when his wife bought him a book about helicopters for Christmas.

“Many times when people hire me, they don’t have a clue what they want to do,” says Jansen. “They tell me, ‘I know I’m really unhappy but I’m not sure what’s making me unhappy.’ ”

If you’re stuck, she says, “the first step is really getting to know who you are. Once you know who you are, armed with that knowledge you can hone in on what kinds of careers you might enjoy.”

According to Lore, learning who you are means distinguishing between a past-based identity — “who you are by virtue of who you were yesterday, last week, last month” — and an identity based on your intrinsic talents and personality.

“Ask yourself, ‘What’s unique about me that isn’t going to change?’ ” he says. “A duck that grew up in the desert, if you put it in a pond, it’s going to be home immediately.”

Essentially, that’s a matter of introspection. If you find it difficult, a book or life coach can help direct your questioning.

Once you’re ready to look at specific careers, consider aptitude testing (like the Rockport Institute’s Career Testing Program). Or simply research lots of careers: Read up on professions, talk to people in different fields or take that introductory helicopter flight.

Now comes the hard part.

“One of the most powerful forces in our lives is equilibrium,” Lore says. Making the leap to a new career means overcoming a multitude of what he calls “yeah, buts,” the nagging doubts that bind us to an unhappy, but comfortable, status quo.