This is a question I am asked all the time. Am I too old to change career at 30? Too old to change career at 40? Or am I too old to change career at 50? And what about changing career in my 60s?
Its never too late!
The short answer is, it is never too late. There is always an opportunity to make improvements to your working life.
We work for an average of 90,000 hours in our lifetime. That’s a lot, so being miserable at any age about what we do for work just isn’t acceptable.
Over the course of a lifetime, we change as people, our work changes, those we work with change. And sometimes we simply stop enjoying what we do. We may find that our priorities in life have changed. Or we realise we have never really enjoyed our chosen career path and have simply put up with career misery. Sometimes, we tell ourselves that our job pays the bills and we should just get on with it. Or, we might even feel we don’t deserve to be happy at work.
Career Transition Points and Building Stages
We go through regular cycles in our careers. At Career Transition Points we reach a moment in our lives when we are looking for new directions. During Building Stages, on the other hand, we have decided on a direction. We will very likely continue in that direction until we get to the next transition point.
During a building stage, regardless of how unhappy we are with what we are doing, we are unlikely to change. At a transition point, regardless of how successful our last direction has been, we are likely to be seeking something different. This is a critical time in one’s life when big decisions can lead to big changes in both work and life.
A transition point typically shows up about every 10 years of adult life between the ages of 18 and 65. Of course, some of us experience fewer or more transition points than others and do so at different times. Events such as redundancy, and changes in mobility, personal circumstances and preferences, all tend to create more transition points. And people differ: some of us like change and choose it more often, whilst others detest change.
Changing careers in early life
Most individuals will make some career decisions between the ages of 17 to 25. It could be a decision to continue with further education, or to start the first job; either way, this sets a person on the path of their first building stage.
Changing careers at quarter-life
Whatever path is chosen at the second transition point, we tend to continue on it for some five to seven years. From age 25 to age 33, people will reassess and reevaluate that path. We may make some modifications to it, to make it more satisfying. If an initial path turned out to be completely unsatisfactory, it is at this transition point that the person will start over. This is often referred to as the Quarter-life Crisis. Thoughts of ‘Is this it? Have I got to do this for the rest of my life?’ arise. There can be feelings of disillusionment or even depression.
I have worked with a number of clients who have started on a career path such as law at university. They hated it but thought things would get better when they completed their professional qualifications. When they do eventually start their first job, however, and find that things don’t improve, they continue on the same path simply because they have invested so much of themselves in going down this particular career route for so long.
Sometimes career change can, with the right support, be relatively straightforward. Especially when responsibilities and ties such as children and mortgages do not have to be taken into the equation.
Changing careers at midlife
People arrive at the end of their first life structure (about 20 years) at around 40–45 years of age. At this point, a person typically wants something different from their career other than what they wanted earlier. It may be a goal or a value that was felt to be important at an earlier age but then left behind, or a goal or value that is completely new.
Just like the reassessment that takes place in our thirties, now in their forties, people typically take stock of the choices they made at the mid-life transition, after five to seven years. This is sometimes known as the mid-life crisis. People use this opportunity to modify directions chosen earlier, or in some cases to start over again if choices were very unsatisfactory.
Depending on the individual, a career change can be more complex when there are financial aspects to consider, and ties such as children or mortgages. The 50s seems to be the new 40s, and more people are realising that they want to change their career at this point.
Changing careers later in life
At 60 to 65, individuals have reached the end of the second 20-year life structure. They must now make major changes in direction and goals and begin their third life structure. This is potentially a time of great integration, satisfaction and happiness — but unfortunately, it is all too often a time of disappointment and depression. Success with this transition point depends a great deal on the choices that have preceded it at other transition points.
Aspects to take into consideration with a career change
At any age, when thinking about changing your career, make sure you really want to change. Explore ways to enrich or improve your current role first. A career change can require complicated adjustments to your daily focus, your schedules and your lifestyle in general. Change can be challenging, but the benefits of a happy working life outweigh staying stuck in a career that’s familiar but makes you miserable.
Before you make your move, make sure you know the direction you want to go in. Seek out expert support, to help you understand what personal, psychological benefits you need from your work. Seek out relevant experience: gaining experience will help you decide if you really want to make this career change. It will give you some inside information to use when you apply for new jobs.
Taking online or in-person classes relevant to the new path you are considering can help to ensure success. Once you learn a little more about your desired industry, it becomes much easier to appreciate what you already know and what you still need to learn. In the age of the internet, such skill and knowledge gaps are easier to close than ever before.
Online courses are becoming increasingly popular, which is good news for anyone who doesn’t have time for in-person training. Lynda, LinkedIn Learning, and Coursera are tools that can help fill any skill gaps.
Skill-based volunteering can also help you gain experience and strengthen your skills Don’t forget, relevant volunteer experience always looks great on a resumé.