Can you start a new career at 50?


Can you start a new career at 50?

Haven’t we all fantasised at some point about changing jobs, asking ourselves , ‘Can I start a new career at 50?’ (or 45 or 55!). Catriona Dry, HR consultant, shares her very positive experiences of doing just that.

After a successful and high profile career as a national newspaper and magazine journalist, a friend has retrained as an interior designer and recently posted a picture of the materials library she has created for the architectural practice where she now works. Her new employers she says ‘were kind enough to give an old-newly-qualified interior designer her first job. A career shift in middle-age is actually a wonderful thing; you take your Boss Class transferable skillset and polish it into something new’.

This has been my own experience since starting not one, but 3 new careers in my 50s.

After working in publishing until my 40s, I downshifted by leaving London and taking an admin job in a local secondary school to give me more time to spend with my rapidly growing kids. Some friends thought it was ‘courageous’ but, although earning a fraction of my previous salary, it was a fantastic turning point career-wise. I learned new skills, built on my existing ones, was sponsored to do 2 different professional post-graduate qualifications that opened up other career opportunities but most importantly, discovered a new energy and enthusiasm for work. We all know the concept of golden handcuffs, or being tied to work you don’t particularly love because it pays well. My new career was a revelation to me about how much I gained from work that wasn’t about the monetary rewards.

Fast forward 12 years, with my kids grown and starting careers of their own, it was time to think again about my own strategy for the next phase of my working life. The drivers for me were: boosting my income pre-retirement, the need for fresh stimulation coupled with the need to keep busy in the face of the empty nest. The first change was moving out of the school environment -no need for school holidays now and wow, it’s cheaper and easier when you can take your holidays in September! Thanks to my retraining, I scored a full time role in HR in local government. Then, because weekends were free (and my partner spends whole days running and cycling which is not my thing) I started scouting around to see what sort of job I could do on a Saturday. That’s when I saw the ad for a Cotswold estate agency, looking for someone to do a few hours on Saturdays. Reader, I joined them. I had always enjoyed looking at property websites and magazines (don’t we all?) and now I get paid to do it IRL with a great team/new friends.

My 3rd job involves using a bit of annual leave to work freelance for a company delivering advice sessions in schools, which brings in some welcome extra income but also keeps me in contact with young people and the education world.

Doing nothing in retirement isn’t an option for a busy-body like me so I’m also planning for the longer-term future by taking occasional courses in abstract painting. It’s something I haven’t done seriously since A level, but always enjoyed. I picture my working retirement in a studio near the coast, hopefully making a small living, as an artist. But that’s many years down the line.

By 2020, 1 in 3 workers in the UK will be over 50 and the CIPD’s research shows that people over 55 are now preparing to continue working to the age of 70. But if you’re facing another 10 to 20 years of work, why not make it something fulfilling or something that you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the chance to try?

Being older, and free from the constraints of child-rearing, early career-building, and the need to stay put, can be exciting. The options are wide open and you can take a few risks.

It takes some guts, but step out of that comfort zone and it’s never too late to reinvent your professional self. It’s a chance to explore your interests, motivations and creativity. Potentially it’s a voyage of self-discovery. Think back to every stage of your life from your earliest years – what interested and absorbed you that you could still do now? What did you want to be or do when you grew up?

Age used to be a major barrier to late career change but that’s not widely the case now. Andy Briggs, chief executive of Aviva Life in the UK and Ireland, is the government’s business champion for older workers and, as leader of BITC’s “Age at Work” campaign, he invites people to use the website to identify employers who have made a public statement about wanting to recruit the best possible people regardless of age.

Someone posted on LinkedIn recently that everyone in the workplace should act as if they are 35. I think this is great advice. He meant that when you are young you should act like someone with more experience and maturity and when you are an older worker you should try to approach the working day with youthful energy and a willingness to embrace new ideas. It works for me. If you can identify your skills and passions and apply that youthful energy, you can transfer them to a new career. Or you can take up something completely new by re-training or volunteering. Just stay positive, think creatively, keep an open mind and be the architect of your future.   

Catriona Dry



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