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?

What I Discovered About a Career Change at 30


Did you ever do one of those questionnaires at school where you answer around 200 questions and when processed you were provided with list of career options to which you are most suited. I think I was 12 years old when I completed mine and was told that my ideal jobs were either a kennel maid and a zoo keeper. I had no issue with these choices since I am an animal lover but living in Wakefield, there were certainly no zoos nearby and back then only one kennel business that I knew of. It's funny how throughout your teenage years, your potential future career was narrowed down through your responses to loaded questions and a set number of careers. Becoming a research chemist, probation officer and life coach was not on my list of potential.

During my school years, I wanted to be a police officer; I applied at 19 years old but didn't get in. 6 months later, I was starting my first ever full-time job as a laboratory assistant in Leeds. After studying for a chemistry degree at the same time as working, I never envisaged not remaining within this type of environment. I mean, I am from a generation whose parents remained in the same role throughout their entire working lives and I was brought up on the belief that if you got a good education, gained a good job, you would have one for life.

Even before I was made redundant, I was beginning to question whether I could do the job I had for the next 40 years. By the time I reached 30, I knew I had to change what I was doing. I wasn't interested in chemistry. For me, there was no future in it but what do you do when you are earning a decent income and have a mortgage? It was a big decision for me to make a career change at 30, but it was something I felt I had to make.

Is it any different for people today? There is still the pressure to decide what you want to do throughout your teenage years without even knowing what is out there in the world. For many, their first full time job is not really one by design but by default. By the time you have hit 30 and the realisation dawns on you that you are not enjoying the work and don't look forward to the future. By this point there might be children, a house, debt in the picture and whilst you wouldn't necessarily change any of these, they can hold you back from looking at different options.

I didn't have children when I decided to leave my job and go study psychology at Huddersfield University, but I realised I wasn't the only mature student on my course and there were people studying with me that did and still made the same choice I did. Here's what I discovered about a career change at 30:

Challenges and opportunities: Whether you are going off to retrain, return to studying or going into a different role, you'll be faced with a variety of challenges.

  • You'll either have no money or much less than you were getting before.
  • You'll be stepping out of your comfort zone into a totally new environment. Effectively you're the new kid on the block, only you have been working for the past 7-10 years and both your expectations and those of others sometimes get in the way.
  • Accepting your mindset needs to shift because you're starting over, taking a step sideways or more likely a step down.
  • The reaction from others when you are telling them what you are doing. Some people will just not understand.

On the flip side, there are many opportunities and positives.

  • If you choose to study or retrain, making a choice is empowering. You're not doing things by default, you are making a conscious choice to do something you are interested and invested in. Because of this, you'll take more from the experience which will benefit you further going forward.
  • Your network is going to get bigger and you'll connect with people with similar interests which you would not have met otherwise.
  • The scope for the development of your career is massive. You'll utilise strengths and experiences from your previous career and this will allow you to bring a totally different perspective and value to your new endeavours.
  • One thing that surprised me when I gave up an income to go to university to study was the amount of money I was wasting on things that were necessary. It made me appreciate more of what I had and was grateful for it. And because we didn't have as much money as before, we did activities which were free, such as spending more time outdoors and seeing much more of our local area.
  • Your relationships strengthen as you gain support from those around you and doing something you love has a positive impact on their lives as well.

In terms of your working life, and by working life I am thinking in terms of the traditional sense from leaving full time education to retirement age which currently is 68 years if you are 30 this year, you are roughly a fifth of the way through.

Or look at it this way by considering the diagram below (a brilliant concept by the SUMO guy, that's Shut Up, Move On , Paul McGee. If you haven't read any of his stuff, I'd highly recommend it.)

If each figure represents a day of the week, and each day represents a decade of your life, by the time you are looking to change your career at 30, you're currently at Wednesday evening, looking forward to Thursday morning. There is plenty of time to learn something new or switch careers, especially given most fun happens on a weekend.


Don't let your career be defined by what a computer came up for you by what you responded to as a teenager or by falling into an occupation through default rather than by design. No matter what stage of life you are at, do something you love and enjoy.