Too Late for a Career Change at 50?


It’s almost Friday night, I'm looking at the weekend ahead. Next year will be my 50th birthday and I am thinking this will be my last career change. My business might evolve but fundamentally what I do will remain the same. I feel as though I have reached a point where being a coach is a culmination of everything that has gone before, and this is a role in which I do truly feel alive at work. Though perhaps, work is the wrong word when you enjoy it so much, as John Williams says in his book ‘Screw Work, Let’s Play’, this very much on the play side.


When I started my working life, I could never have imagined the careers I have had. When I was in high school, I had no intention of going to university. As far as I was concerned back then, university was for the elite and clever folk. No one in my family had ever been be to university and yet, here I am, approaching 50, with four degrees from four different universities, 3 of which I did whilst working full time. I am not telling you this to brag about it but to highlight, it doesn't matter what your background, what you have done before, you are more than capable of doing totally different things throughout your life.  For me there was no grand plan, but I have made choices along the way which have worked out for the most part. Though I did work in a Turf Accountants one time, but only lasted three days before I quit. I had no clue how to work out betting odds and didn't realise you had to do them in your head, I thought a machine did them for you.

For the most part I followed the traditional world of work; working 37 hours a week. Then, several years ago, I listened to a webinar about creating an e-commerce business, which led on to a chain of events where I co-founded a company with my husband. This was something totally new for us and having our own business was not something we had ever contemplated for our future.  We utilised our skills, knowledge and passions to create the company. But, neither one of us have any previous business experience. When it came to it, we had to learn, just like everyone does I'm sure and we learned very quickly, that it not as hard as you think it is. Just as I learnt that university is not for the elite, then neither is the world of business. Anyone can create a business so long as they put the work in.

We live in a time where it has never been so easy to start up your own business. You see many people from all backgrounds and ages creating their own companies and being successful. Of course, for every success, there are probably three that don't make it, but the potential is there. Whilst building the business we were both still in full time employment, with the plan being that I would also build the coaching practice. And this is another mind shift that happens, the realisation that you don't just have to have one career, business or role, you can have multiple streams of income; especially when some businesses can be virtually automated. Or you can have one career but that you don't have to do it full time.

I think working in the public sector with high workloads as you get older you begin to question whether working full time is the way to go. In my last 18 months of working within a Probation setting I worked part time. I soon wondered why I had not done this earlier in my working life, feeling the benefits immediately. I realised what I valued more was time over money.

One of the challenges with switching to working part time is the perception and judgements from others. This is especially true from people you know who have worked full time all their life. Whilst it is acceptable to work part time if you have children, doing so when you are child free seems to be a big no-no. Whilst I ignore comments in relation to this aspect, I do wonder what is really behind it; is it jealousy because they didn't choose to do it whilst still working or is it a case that unless you working every hour, flogging yourself to death for your salary, it does not constitute work?

In the last 18 months of public sector life, I also made the switch from front line offender management to a coaching and mentoring role of staff rather than service users. This was more aligned to I wanted my next career shift to be.

Is changing career at 50 scary? Yes, in a way it is because it is yet another change. You're in a set routine, a lifestyle with a set income. You still have family and financial commitments. You know what to expect and what's expected of you. Whilst it is against the law to discriminate, we all know it happens and at 50, it is potentially more difficult to enter certain industries, but this can happen when you're in your 30's!

Potentially the other big barrier to overcome if switching your career at 50, is in relation to your pension. Let's face it, whilst public sector pensions perhaps aren't as good as they were, they are still significantly better than private sector ones. The pension issue can become a self-imposed trap. I am not here to offer any advice about pensions, but I can share my story and my thoughts on my pension situation. The reality of pensions is that they follow the 40:40:40 rule, whereby you effectively work 40 hours a week for 40 years to receive 40% of your income when you retire. As the retirement age continually goes up, I questioned when I would be retiring. I have a friend who thought she would be retiring at 60 some years ago, only for a decision from the government to add 6 years to her official retirement age. For me, this gives you no guarantee of when you can retire in the years ahead. Don't get me wrong having some way to support yourself in the future is of paramount importance but I didn't want the notion of a pension be the thing that anchors me down to a job I was no longer enjoying for the next 20 years. My mindset was, do I want to be miserable for a significant chunk of my life, even if there was a guarantee of a happy retirement at the age of 67 (and that’s if it stays at that age?) I think it's probably different if you've only got a couple of years to go before you retire but 20 years is an awful long time.

My other big question to myself was, can I physically and mentally keep going at the pace I was in the coming years? The workloads are never going to decrease, the pressures and demands aren't magically going to disappear. Going at the pace you do within a public sector environment is something which I believe is unsustainable in the long term and, why should you? Life is too short to spend all your time working and not living.

At the age of 50, we have a long life ahead of us so make sure you are doing something you love. Honestly, it is harder to switch careers within certain industries at 50 but not impossible. And, there are plenty of organisations out there that would snap someone of your skills, talent and experience up. It is challenging to start up your own business but not impossible. And you can build a business while you’re still working. Maybe you fancy studying again; there are people in their 80s and 90s studying for a degree, so why not you at 50?

You don't have to be trapped by your current role if it's no longer meeting all your needs, you choose to remain where you are. If the job is causing you to feel stressed, change it. If the thought of going into work on a morning fills you with nothing but dread, change it. If you are tired and feel ill through work, change it. If you want it to be different, then choose something else; you have the skills, knowledge and strengths to do so. It is never too late for a career change at 50, what are you waiting for?