This is admittedly a pretty short post asking a pretty big question. I'd be willing to provide some details if that would help to stimulate some discussion, but hopefully the following can at least get things started.
I am experiencing a "career midlife crisis" in the sense that I've been a software engineer for approximately 10 years, and I'm feeling that with my knowledge of programming, higher-level design issues and sense of perspective I should be able to transition to a senior position. At the same time, I've taken some cues from my current employer that for me to make that transition with them would be a fairly extensive undertaking, and I should not expect it in the near term. In a sense I feel they are under-rating my accomplishments thus far. I also think I look a lot younger than I am and this, too, colors their perspective.
So I've been thinking of presenting myself to the larger software market as a strong candidate for a senior-level position. Thus far, I have never held a job with the word "senior" in the title; I don't know how great an obstacle that would be. I don't think there is an expectation in the industry that one becomes a senior engineer by way of internal promotion only. In fact, I've had some interviews in the past where the interviewer would first establish the candidate's "level" and would then conduct the interview at the "level" appropriate for the candidate, as if to say, "Here we are face-to-face, now show me your level and we'll talk about the possibilities."
Am I being realistic?
Thanks to everyone for your advice.