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How To Change Your Career When You’re Over 50

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Someone jumping at the beach.

Nearly everyone hits a point in life when it’s time to shake things up professionally—it happens to people who’ve never quite found a sense of fulfillment at work, and it happens to people who once loved what they did for a living but are no longer moved by their day-to-day. You can reach that point in a lot of ways, such as a personal loss, a layoff, a crisis of conscience.

When it happens at midlife, it can be tinged with some urgency. How do you make the final round of your career matter? What will your legacy be?

I call this your “encore moment.” It’s when you realize you want to put your skills to work for the greater good, using your experience to help others while continuing to earn a paycheck. Here’s mine.

Once you arrive at your encore moment—regardless of how you get there—there are pretty much two ways you can move forward: You can leap, or you can plan.

How to change your career if you're a leaper

If you’re a leaper, an opportunity strikes and you plunge right in without much thought. Leapers tend to act before analyzing, to seize serendipitously, and to trust their guts. They tend to learn about what they want by trying things first and then seeing how they feel.

Patricia Brune is a typical leaper. Within seven days of retiring from a 30-year position with the federal court system in Kansas City, Brune got a call from a friend asking if she’d consider filling in for a departing executive director at the local YMCA. Brune thought about it briefly and then jumped in. She said her learning curve was like drinking from a fire hose. “Court bureaucracies I knew,” she said. “Volunteers and children’s programming, not so much.”

How to change your career if you're a planner

Barbara Gomperts took a more cautious approach. After a few massage sessions relieved her of chronic pain in her shoulders and knee, she was determined to do for others what her therapist had done for her. She researched massage training programs catering to mid-career people with full-time jobs and compressed her schedule to work four days a week, down from five. Once she is certified as a therapist, she plans to launch her own massage practice and slowly move away from her office job.

If you’re a planner, you do your homework and come up with an idea, then research options about how to make it happen. You may be waiting to hit a milestone—last child off to college, an eligibility age for early retirement, a round amount of savings that makes you comfortable taking a risk.

You may modify the way you work so that you have some free time for an immersion experience like an internship or volunteer work. You may need some new skills or even a certification or degree. Whatever the case, if you’re a planner, you’re thinking about the steps to an encore career—one that allows you make a living and/or make a difference—before you pull the trigger.

You may even find you’re a bit of a hybrid. Some leapers dig in, then take a step back to reassess and refine their ideas. And even the most methodical planner may be taken off course when the right unexpected opportunity presents itself.

So… what about you? Leaper or planner?


About The Author | Each month, Marci Alboher, a Vice President of Cogenerate.orga nonprofit that helps people find meaningful careers in their second half of life—shares ideas and strategies for older job seekers. This is an excerpt from her book, The Encore Career Handbook.

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