The concept of a traditional career path is changing. With more than 108 million people who are now age 50 or older — and with one in five Americans who will be 65 or older by 2030 — the idea of an upwards career path culminating in retirement at age 65 or 67 is evolving to “second act” and even “third act” careers. Moving into a new career later in life is becoming more common.
Career reinvention at this stage often means finding the intersection of:
- What you love,
- What you’re good at,
- What you can be paid to do, and
- What the world needs.
The years between age 40 and age 60 are generally considered to be “peak earning years,” as full-time workers with bachelor’s degrees tend to make the most money during those two decades. As a result, your 50s are the decade in which your income-earning potential can be its highest.
But many people feel stuck or uncertain about their future when they turn 50. They may have worked in the same job for many years and are feeling frustrated or bored. They may no longer be challenged by the work they are doing. Or they may have hit a “pay ceiling” — maxing out their salary compensation for the type of work they are doing, without the opportunity for further significant growth. And, depending on economic and business conditions, some workers near the top of their pay scale may find their jobs eliminated.
According to the US Census, all baby-boomers will be age 65 or more in the year 2030. So, you are not alone when you are ready for your next act.
What do you love?
A good starting point for career exploration at any stage of life is to think about what activities or subjects you love. A former co-worker pursued his interest in healthcare and became an E.M.T. Another acquaintance—an electronics technician for many years—began studying calculus at age 70 to qualify as an electrical engineer.
What are you good at?
Also consider whether or not you have the talent for what you love. For example, you may not want to pursue formal schooling in engineering if you lack mathematical aptitude even if you love to tinker and invent gadgets. Another classic example I’ve cited before is that “being kind-hearted” is not good enough to become a great nurse because the job is quite technical.
Some retirees convert hobbies into businesses, or take jobs doing things they have done as hobbies for years. But this does not work for everyone. It may not be fun to spend eight-hours or more per day doing something that was exciting for one day a week. A client that loved baking, for example, accepted an apprenticeship in a commercial kitchen. She was heartbroken when she found the work was very different from baking at home.
Can you be paid for something you love?
You may be able to monetize a spare time activity you love as a second-act or third-act career. For example, if you have established a successful social-media or website presence for a community group or club, you may be able to build this into paid freelance or contract work. It can take time and money, though, to turn a hobby or volunteer activity you love into a viable business, so think about whether you want to make the commitment. But remember the expression “if you do something you love, you will never work a day in your life.”
Does the world need your expertise?
You can love what you do, be very good at it, and have expertise that can be monetized, but you will only make money when you are offering something “the world” needs. You will find it a challenge to establish whether the market needs the services you want to offer when entering a new field if you are unfamiliar with potential employers or customers.
It may require market research to determine whether you can convince prospective employers or customers that they need your service. Use LinkedIn and your personal network to identify people that are doing what you want to do so you can speak with them. Approach them by explaining that you are learning about your new field so they don’t view you as a competitor. People that love what they do like to talk about it, so you will get information.
We found well known reinvention examples.
There are countless stories of successful midlife career changes. Here are a few of them:
Colonel Sanders (of KFC fame) held many jobs — as farmer, fireman, insurance salesman, and streetcar conductor — before operating a Kentucky service station at age 40, where he also sold fried chicken. His chicken became famous, and so did he! Sanders sold his first KFC franchise in 1952, at the age of 62.
The one job he reportedly never held was Army Colonel. Kentucky Colonel is an honorary title.
Ray Kroc was 50 when he met Dick and Mac McDonald and convinced them to franchise their local, self-service burger restaurant.Kroc, a salesman then selling five-spindle milkshake mixers, saw the potential in the quick-service concept. By the time Kroc reached age 63, McDonalds had more than 400 locations in 44 states.
Julia Child was a longtime government employee when she took a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu. She was 49 when she published “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One,” in 1961. She got her own TV show, “The French Chef,” at the age of 51.
Duncan Hines was a traveling office supply salesman who assembled a list of quality restaurants across the United States, which he sent out with his Christmas cards in 1935. (He was 55.) The following year, he self-published a book, “Adventures in Good Eating,” which he sold for $1 a copy. In 1952, at the age of 72, he partnered with Roy H. Park to create Hines-Park, allowing his name to appear on a branded line of foods and products, including baked goods.
These people are reminders that you always have the power to make a change and become the person you always wanted to be — the person you were meant to be.
Some are convinced it’s too late to start something new. Others are worried about age discrimination in the job search. None of these are reasons not to reinvent yourself after age 50.