My older brother is a father of four boys–ranging in age from 17 to 22. A few weeks ago, his eldest son graduated from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. My entire family gathered to celebrate this fantastic rite of passage. And we felt hopeful.
That’s what graduations are about. Hope mixed in with a little fear of what life might have to offer our kids as they embark on their first jobs in the “real world,” the first step as they build their ladder to the stars. And as we watch them go, we yearn to “stay forever young,” as Dylan sings.
Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi, the current Saudi Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and a 1962 graduate of Lehigh, delivered the commencement address. He shared his thoughts on the opportunities that await the Class of 2012, and the challenge to use their knowledge to “bring about progress and positive change.” His message provided an encouraging and inspirational send-off to graduates. “Class of 2012, very few people reach the position you have reached here today,” Al-Naimi said. “With that comes wonderful opportunities. But it also brings responsibilities. A responsibility to use your knowledge, as I have tried to do, to bring about progress and positive change.”
My nephew is lucky; he has a job lined up at a major bank and starts the training program in August. But I couldn’t help but think how my brother must have felt as he heard those words and absorbed the life passage of his firstborn son.
My brother is on the cusp of turning 56, and has a few more kids to educate. Yet I suspect he was recalling what it felt like when he was walking across the stage to get his diploma and dreaming of business and financial success, a future family, happiness and more. He has had that. He has been with his employer for roughly a quarter of a century, an anomaly these days. He loves his job, is loyal to his employer and grateful for all it has given to him.
But he, like many boomer dads, is starting to think about what he might want to do when all the college bills are paid and he is ready to “retire” . This will be a time when he can begin a second career of sorts. What’s next? He has time to consider.
Perhaps your child’s graduation this spring has triggered similar nostalgia and a yearning to try something new to “use your knowledge to bring about change.” This is precisely the time in our lives when we all start to desire something that brings additional meaning to life. If you are starting to dream about switching careers now, or after you retire from your first career, remember career change is a process, and it takes confidence that comes from laying the groundwork.
The most successful 50+ career switchers take a few years to learn new skills, network, and prepare financially. Here are some steps I recommend.
1. Get a fitness plan.
You need to be—
- Physically fit. This helps when changing jobs or making big decisions. When you’re eating healthy and have a normal workout regime, you have more physical vigor and mental sharpness. You’ll need that get-up-and-go to face the challenges ahead. And the truth is, change is stressful, and exercise can counter that beautifully.
- Spiritually fit. Mind-body balance helps you calmly roll with the punches and teaches you to quietly listen to the inner voice that can guide your decisions.
- Financially fit. Economic stability gives you freedom of choice. It provides the nimbleness you need to start a new career, whether that means opening your own business, paying the tuition to go back to school, or making it easier to work in a job that you love—even if it pays less than your old one. Have an emergency fund cushion tucked away to cover any unexpected expenses. Pay down debts and trim your discretionary expenses.
2. Go slowly. No one dives into a second career on a whim. You’ve got to have a plan and have saved, added skills, apprenticed. Start working at age 50 on a career you might kick off in another five years. If you have lots of time, you can sample some ideas and possibilities. Look at your skill set and past experience as transferable to lots of different challenges and fields. Search inside and answer some important questions: What am I best at? What do I love to do?
3. Look for opportunities that leverage experience. Check out job web sites like encore.org, retiredbrains.com, and workforce50.com to get a flavor for what others are doing and what jobs are out there now.
4. Go back to school. A host of certificate programs in a specialized field of study are aimed at adult students looking to retool their careers. Some of these programs offer graduate-level courses in the subject area that you can use as a start toward a master’s degree if you have the time, desire, and funds to do so. Certain fields, say, health care, counseling, and technology, require a certificate for specific jobs. A certificate can also show that you have a specialty in the area.
5. Apprentice, volunteer, or moonlight. Do yourself a favor—do the job first. It’s is a great way to get in the door and see what goes on behind the scenes.
6. Don’t mess with your hobby. Be aware of the difference between a hobby, which is a breather from your working world, and an interest that brings in an income.
7. Do something every day to work toward your goal. Begin with a mental picture of where you want to go, tape a photograph on your office wall of what it might look like, journal about your goals. Get things moving by taking small steps. That might mean making a phone call to ask for advice, or reaching out with an e-mail a day to make a lunch date to knock around possibilities.
8. Be realistic. Nothing lasts forever. You might have several new “careers” from here on out. Accept that thesis, and it makes a next move more manageable.