When was the last time you did any life or career planning for yourself?
I’m going to guess you took a career interest inventory in 8th Grade (before high school) or 11th Grade (before graduation or college). If you attended college, maybe you had a Career and Placement Office that provided these same assessments when you were a few years older, and before you found your first job.
Since then, performance evaluations by supervisors on your jobs may have provided annual checkpoints, but they usually focused on what your employer needed you to be and do, and rarely considered what you wanted for yourself.
Of course, now that you’re in midlife, in the midst of change after 50, you’re probably (finally) thinking differently.
Now you have the power and opportunity to make your own choices.
This time of life also ushers in a new context, where distinctly different considerations must be included in your decision-making about what jobs and career change after 50 might be right for you.
Let’s take a look at eight ways changing your life and career after age 50 is different than when you were younger.
1. Change after 50: Your mindset is different
Each of us tends to think we’re the same person at age 50 that we’ve always been.
But the truth is – you’re not. None of us are.
You can’t live through multiple decades of life without being shaped by your experiences: Sometimes they’re like the smooth, gradual polishing of a stone over time. Others sharp and abrupt as difficult life events show us how short life is, and create a keen desire to make our lives matter.
What makes you happy now may be vastly different from earlier years. A job you never thought you could possibly do or cope with when you were planning your career, might now be something you view with great excitement.
Odds are you haven’t lost any skills you developed along the way, but your willingness or interest to use them – or apply them in a particular career field – could have changed dramatically.
Taking time to figure out who you are NOW, and what you really want or don’t, will be energy well spent.
2. Your personal life: Empty nest or full house?
Is it just you? Just the two of you? Or has your home filled up with boomerang kids and/or parents?
That empty nest you might have been expecting in your ‘Second Act’ may not be so empty after all.
Providing caregiving responsibilities for an aging family member can sometimes be anticipated as their health or ability to live independently deteriorates over time.
But many Baby Boomers are also seeing their children return home after college when they are unable to find a job, or when a marriage breaks up and they return home – along with the grandchildren.
In some cases, you may be hoping to downshift from a full time position to one with more flexible hours or part time schedules so you can juggle work with some of these new caregiving challenges.
Your spouse and family members will be most affected by your choices, so talk to them. Your emotional well-being, time available for them, and income you bring home may all take a hit while you enter training for your new career field, or accept a new position.
And as most of us have experienced, sometimes the people in your life don’t want you to change so they sabotage your efforts, consciously or not. Others push too hard for you to change before you’re ready. Knowing their levels of support or concerns about your career decision will keep you from being blindsided and let you address them proactively.
Take a look at the current demands of your personal life, as well as any change after 50 you anticipate. What you learn and notice may guide you toward exploring a new career field where flexible and part time work is common or more easily negotiated.
3. Your life circumstances are more complicated
Back in High School and College, looking at the world from a teenage vantage point, you may have believed your life was full of angst and so painfully complicated.
But with hindsight, you now view those youthful years as a time of great stability, when parents provided a roof over your head along with weekly allowances, and part or all of our college tuition and expenses.
Although you were often reminded that your career choices would influence the rest of your life, you didn’t feel like you had much to lose back then. You had few obligations (credit cards hadn’t imprisoned you yet), perhaps no one else to consider or ‘just’ a spouse (no kids yet), and not that many options looked risky.
Mulling over career options from within that cradle of support and care back then, was quite different from your situation today.
Now you’re financially responsible for yourself and your family, with bills to pay, a roof to keep over your head, and saving accounts to prepare for ‘your old age.’ Making a career choice that doesn’t suit you may carry a hefty price tag. While not wanting to settle for the most practical options (simply because they are the most practical), you probably don’t feel free to act all that wildly or impulsively either.
Your life circumstances might range from those prompted by introspection and self discovery (which allow you the luxury of more slow, deliberate planning), to difficult and abrupt events that require a rapid return to work, for example:
• Your job has been outsourced, or your job is being phased out because of technological advancements
• Your financial portfolio could have taken a hit and you need to replenish it or you’ll never get to retire
• A health crisis has run up high bills not covered by insurance
• Marital separation or divorce has divided up your assets
• Your spouse or partner can no longer work due to injury or chronic illness,
• Or perhaps, most sadly, your spouse or partner has died.
Without a doubt, it’s more difficult to get your bearings and decide what direction to head in when you feel like you’re standing on shifting sand.
So go easy on yourself and allow the time you need for some healing to begin. Just remember that millions of other people have experienced similar events and have successfully rebuilt their lives, gone back to work or changed careers. It has been done. And it can be done by you, too.
Considering a career change after 50 while living in the midst of ongoing personal, economic and social changes, is the New Normal. It’s unlikely the world we live in is going to stop changing anytime soon, so it’s time to map out what your new normal really is.
4. Your health and aging body may have new limitations
You can engage in blue-sky thinking about what you want to do with your life, not limiting yourself to conventional notions of what is practical or feasible.
But your physical work options may not truly be wide open after age 50. Or in other words, your achilles heel could actually be your achilles heel.
Despite your intellectual ability and willingness to do a job, your current health and aging body may rule out some work options.
Even if you’re presently in a job that you enjoy and do well, you may be aware that some tasks create more physical stress or pain to complete. If that’s the case, you might want to start exploring new career fields (or different positions in the same field) that will cause less strain on your aging body.
As you evaluate possible work options for your immediate future, you should also consider how your health and physical abilities could change over the next five, ten or more years time, and affect your continued ability to perform your job. Consider your parents and other family members’ health, and how long they were able to work.
Keeping yourself healthy and injury-free is important so you can enjoy all aspects of your life, working or not.
But it’s critical that you protect your body from injuries because aging bodies do not heal or recover as quickly and easily as younger ones do – something most of us are all too aware of.
Maintaining a healthy, injury-free body is absolutely essential if you know you’ll need to continue working during what were supposed to be your ‘retirement years’. The longer you expect to continue working, the more important nutrition, strength, fitness, and self care strategies will become to you.
You can extend your work life by exercising caution and good judgment.
5. Your employment options have multiplied
We continue to experience a monumental shift in the World of Work and are fortunate to have more options in how, where and when we work than ever before.
So you can give some thought to what you actually want.
Do you want full-time or part-time employment?
Self employment is always an option, too.
Many Boomers consult for their past employers, and you might work for yourself by offering consulting services based on your previous expertise to get the income and flexibility you need.
Short term or temporary contract work opportunities are easier to find now — especially as the world in general shifts away from hiring employees. This option would allow you to work seasonally or during limited times of year as a self– employed freelancer.
Working remotely from home with your own local or online business allows you to put yourself back to work with new job and career possibilities we didn’t have before the Internet.
If you’re giving thought to a completely new career field and can stand a few months without income, consider volunteering to test out a new area of interest or learn a new skill.
Allow yourself to experience a new industry or professional field first hand as an ‘intern’ to confirm whether or not it’s right for you. Either way, you’ll will benefit from the short term experiment.
6. Your Life is not a clean slate after 50
You have lived a full life, and you carry the baggage to prove it.
While our initial career decisions were probably made considering only our own needs, now there are many people and multiple factors to consider.
You may not be able to move for a new job or business startup without losing money on the sale of your home. You might have health issues that limit how many hours you can be on your feet, or how long you can comfortably sit in a chair.
You may find yourself restricted by the sequence of jobs you held and experience you developed. Or didn’t.
You can start from scratch in an entry level position in a new career field, but only if you have the basic education and skills needed for it. It’s possible some career fields that are attractive to you may require additional education for skills you don’t have and can only be gained by going back to school.
Starting a business in a field you know little about might mean the financial investment you make is something you never get back.
So pursuing all options will come at a cost of time, and money, and may pose a trade off you’re not willing to make.
Life and career changes after age 50 require a different decision making process and consideration of different planning factors, too.
What’s key here is to accept that reality and different planning factors, and not get demoralized or paralyzed by them, feeling that since you can’t do everything without limits or exactly the way you may want to, that you can’t pursue new options at all. Yes, your situation may require some thinking outside the box, but many roads will still be available to you. Let yourself be guided by your personal GPS to locate them.
7. Life is fluid and you must adapt accordingly.
When you were younger, looking ahead at all life could offer you, your planning was expansive and big picture. The world was your oyster, and the pearl yours to find.
But now you find yourself in unfamiliar territory.
It’s important not to assume you have the same range of options you did at a younger age, when you assumed ‘the sky is the limit.’ You may have more options than before – or fewer.
It’s one thing to identify a career change after 50 that’s right for you right now. But it’s important to keep in mind that your ability and/or willingness to continue working can change over the next few years. You may find it useful to re-evaluate your options more frequently, perhaps every year or two.
This way of looking at future career options will probably feel strange and uncomfortable as you ask yourself, “What limitations might prevent me from pursuing this path?”
The more time and money you consider investing in making your career change after 50, the more significant your personal long range planning becomes.
For example, given your family history and current health, is it likely you can go back to school for two to four years to re-tool or complete a degree before you obtain your first position, and then still have 5-10 years to work in your new chosen field?
If you need to take out student loans to achieve this goal, will you be able to pay those loans back? Are you able and willing to financially invest in yourself using personal funds, assuming you’ll have sufficient time to pay yourself back?
Your analysis and decision based on the scenario above will probably vary significantly by the age you’re at when you begin to plan your career change or business startup: age 50, 60 or 70.
Decision making about life change after 50 involves the constellation of unique factors that make up YOU and who you are now.
You must identify and confront your issues honestly based on your age, how many years you expect to continue working, changes that might be expected in your health or that of your spouse, while adjusting to any caregiving responsibilities or challenges that land on your shoulders.
Life looked so easy and stable when we looked at our grandparents, didn’t it?
8. You can revive old dreams
When you were younger, you likely had many dreams of what your life would be like, or turn out to be.
But then Life intervened and you made other choices – sometimes consistent with who you truly were, but sometimes not.
It was so easy to listen to the shoulda’s and oughta’s back then, wasn’t it?
We had to be practical. We chose that marketable major. We were supposed to get married. We had no choice but to accept that promotion and move. We had children on the way. We often did what was expected of us.
But your choices are yours to make now, based on your values, needs, hopes and dreams.
If you did put any dreams on hold, they may be worth circling back to and retrieving. Are they do-able or desirable now – at this stage of your life?
Rediscovering old dreams and bringing them to life doesn’t have to involve a cross country move, leaving your partner of thirty years or working 12 hour shifts.
With all you’ve experienced in your lifetime, it’s likely the dreams of your youth can take on a new twist, and be adapted to your current self and the life you’re living.