Changing career at mid-life and beyond
Do you feel stuck in a job you hate? Do you think you are too old to learn something new? Are you afraid of leaving the security of a job, the prospect of loosing that retirement pension? Do you dream of changing career? Do you secretly envy someone because they did it?
I did not think about changing career throughout my 20s or 30s because I thought it was impossible. I did not have a Bachelor degree and never thought I could get one. Much less a Master’s degree. At 39, I was a single parent, working in the government with good chances of promotion but I was not happy in my job. I distinctly remember the day I realized I still had 25 years before retirement and how I could just not see myself doing this kind of work for another 25 years. It was a scary thought.
I was lucky during a course to meet a teacher who was doing the work I thought I would enjoy. But then it required a Master’s degree and I thought it was out of my reach. Then I met a fellow about my age who was doing a Master’s degree part time and I figured I was as intelligent as him and if he could do, so could I. And I could
That year, when I was 39, I decided to risk it all. I took an unpaid leave of absence (from my $15,000 a year safe job!!!), mortgaged my home and went to University full time for 2 years to complete a Bachelor degree I then added another year to start a Master’s program. (While I did not finish that M.A., I started another one part time, which I completed in about 5 years)
How did I pull it off, with 2 young kids and very little financial support? Luckily, I was able to take a line of credit against the equity in my home. For one semester I also worked part-time. What really helped was that I was able to live very frugally during those years. Money was spent on essentials: mortgage, food, clothes for the kids. I did not buy one single item of clothing during those 3 years and what really saved me was that I did not own a car, lived close to downtown and loved walking. My biggest extravagance was buying a bottle of wine every few months, and having a glass once in a while while cooking on the bbq. The sacrifices were well worth it as I enjoy a great career as a psychotherapist for 20 years and never regretted my decision.
The biggest financial mistake I made then was to not investigate whether I could have been eligible for student loan or grants – while the line of credit was great, for me who was not very financially savvy, it cost me money. Since I only had to pay the interest I did not see the need to pay the principal for a long while – today I know better and I would work hard to eliminate that debt as soon as possible, and I would definitely look at grants, bursaries or student loans.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I was now close to official retirement age and eyeing a 3rd career. It became obvious that if I was going to start this 3rd career in a private business and did not want to work 7 days a week, I had to make some changes regarding paid employment.
I was working in social services where the rate of pay is historically poor. I was also working with a coach as part of my coach training and I continually heard myself tell her “I did not have the time”. Finally I made a big decision: to go from full time to a 4 day work week, with a corresponding 20% pay cut. As scary as it was, this new schedule was fantastic and it gave me some breathing room and a chance to work on my business.
After a year or so of this new work arrangement, I had the chance!!! to further cut one day of work, and yes, another 20% pay cut. At that point my coaching business was making up for the lost salary and I was also being careful in the way I spent money.
Finally, in 2008, due to health scares, a poor work environment and the fact that I had lost 3 colleagues to cancer, I chose early retirement. That’s a 100% pay cut. Fortunately my coaching business was making up part of my lost salary. Having lived on 60% of my salary for a while, I had become quite good at not wasting money.
I remember the first few months – it was in the Fall – the pleasure of really enjoying my boss (myself), of sipping my coffee slowly, of scheduling my first client after 10 a.m., of scheduling my work around my bi-weekly swimming. Pure heaven. Exactly what they mean when they say “money can’t buy happiness”. Would I like to have more money? Absolutely! Would I change any of the choices I made? Absolutely not!
The only regret I have is not to have done it earlier. The early retirement I mean. Honestly everything – from the going to University to complete the degree to cutting the workweek to early retirement. Except, we do things when we are ready. I obviously was not ready before I did take the plunge.
Life has been great. I have enjoyed every minute of my new careers and, another surprise, I am on the brink of starting yet another career: professional blogger. It’s exciting, I am learning a lot. I am meeting new people, I feel my brain is growing again.
Should you take the risk? Only you can answer the question. There is a good chance you will be poorer. There’s a good chance you will have to work hard, whether to get a degree or to start the new career. Are you willing to cut expenses? Are you willing to have to say no to the luxuries you take for granted, at least for a while, whether it’s eating out, traveling, nice clothes. Depending on what career you are moving to, you could also make a lot more money than in your old job. Many bloggers for example make six figure income and many make very little. Many corporate executives who are now business and life coaches also make as much if not more than they did in their paid employment and many barely make enough to survive.
If you decide to make a change, do your homework. Talk to people who do what you want to do. Look at the employment opportunities in the new field. I admit I did neither which seems a bit reckless. However, my leave of absence from the government also included the option of returning to my old job or a similar one. That was my safety net. I am glad I never needed it
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Let me know what you are dreaming of changing in your life
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