How to Decide If a Late-Career Change Is Worth It
I recently came across a New York Times article on whether it’s worth it to make a late-career change.
Specifically, “A reader has eight years to go until retirement, at a job that has become almost unbearable. Is it better to explore other options even if that means taking a step backward, or to play it safe and ride it out?”
What would you do if this were you?
When I read this, a swirl of thoughts came into my head: When does “late-career” mean “too late” and is it ever too late to change your work or life? What does it mean to retire and why does age have to matter? Why would anyone tolerate misery when they have other options, whether they realize it or not?
As with most things, the answer that works for me (and I’ll tell you what I did in a minute) might not work for others.
In the end, I think it comes down to this.
1. You owe it to yourself to explore your options
Especially if you’re unhappy. When you have options, it makes you feel more confident and empowered. You’re able to make decisions from a position of strength rather than fear. And your explorations may even convince you to stay where you are if the grass doesn’t look greener on the other side.
2. Don’t let yourself be constrained by arbitrary designations like retirement age
First of all, they’re getting pushed out – we’ll all be working longer as life expectancy rises. And secondly, we all need to have a reason to get up in the morning whether we’re 25, 65 or beyond. As long as you’re healthy and motivated to work, why not keep going?
3. Get clear on your “end game”
For some, like some of my husband’s golf buddies, retirement is hugely attractive. They can play whenever they want and travel the world to play on some of the best courses.
For others, like my father, it’s a terrible idea. He loves his work and wants to do it for as long as he possibly can.
There's no right or wrong. You just need to be honest with yourself about your ideal “end game” because that's what drives the risk/reward equation for your decision.
4. Don’t settle for either/or decisions
How you frame your choices in life affects the quality of your decisions. If you see things as an “either/or” dilemma, then you’re closing off a host of other possible options.
For those big life decisions where you’ve framed it as an either/or where neither option is attractive, it’s in your interest to look for what I call “the third way”.
5. Don’t worry about taking a step backward
If it means you’re setting yourself up to take a step forward into a better future. Recognize that a step backward or sideways from what you perceive as a “dead end” is what allows you to move forward. And that makes it a smart move.
6. Give yourself permission to negotiate for what you want
You owe it to yourself to try to make it work on your terms. It could be to negotiate for another role that involves less of what makes you miserable, or an additional team member to help you handle the parts that don’t suit you.
It could also mean looking externally as well as internally at the same time and auctioning yourself off to the better opportunity. And external options can include setting out your own stall as an independent consultant in your area of expertise.
7. Know where to draw the line, especially when it comes to your health
Without health, you can’t do much so don’t compromise. I can’t help but think of my former colleague who stayed too long in a job reporting to a toxic boss and she ended up on disability.
The same is true for drawing the line when it comes to your integrity. It’s your reputation at stake, and that’s an asset worth protecting.
8. A year is a long time
And eight years could be an eternity when you’re in a job that’s almost unbearable. Especially one that could damage your health. If you can’t find a way to make it work where you are, you owe it to yourself to find another option.
My late-career change
As for me, I did make a late-career change. It was a hard decision, but I’m glad I did it. That’s because I see myself learning, growing and developing myself professionally for as long as I can.
I’m a do-er, so playing golf or watching the waves roll in on the beach on a permanent basis sound like “hard work” for me. And my first career was rewarding in many ways, but it was not my higher calling.
Since we’re all different, there’s no single “right answer”. As the Paul Simon song goes, “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”.
What I do know is that life is short and none of us knows how much time we have left. So it pays to make the most of every day and do our best to enjoy the journey of life.
And on the other hand, you may have more decades ahead than you anticipate, you might have more runway to build that next career than you think.
So how about you?
What would you do if faced with this decision about making a late-career change?
Leave a comment and let me know.