People & Stories

Life begins at 50: The rise of the second career

There’s a common misconception that you should start thinking about retirement after 50. However, for many people quite the opposite is true. With more baby boomers making career changes after 50, we look at what’s driving the rise of the second career.

It’s never too late for change

elderly man painting second career

Baby boomers are no strangers to change. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average baby boomer held 11.7 jobs from 18 to 48. And there’s still time to switch careers later in life.

A study by the American Institute for Economic Research found that 82% of those surveyed reported making a successful transition to a new career after 45.

Kathy Elliot from South Australia, has worked as a travel agent, a small business consultant, a marketing manager and in horticulture production and export. At 60, she started a mobile bar business with her husband Ross. At 66, she started a second business building custom caravans for mobile businesses.

Kathy says she “wanted to start a business that [expressed] myself and my creativity and love of serving others,” and the best thing about the change was that she “could spread my wings and visualise [the] change in a way that worked for my family and me.”

“At a time in my life when many of my friends thought I was crazy, I felt excitement that would keep me awake at night,” says Kathy.

She believes people are starting second careers after 50 because they “are likely to have gained vast experience throughout their working careers. They have dedicated their work-life to serving the dreams of others and see the time for change.”

“They see an opportunity to realise their own dreams and a means of keeping their minds healthy, creating new partnerships and social interactions. For some, it is the fear of being bored. People feel a sense of purpose when they start a new career that is on their terms.”

A sense of purpose in a second career

man teaching a cooking class second career

Retirement often makes people healthier and happier. But there’s also plenty of research that shows that people who work and live with a sense of purpose will live longer.

Older workers are happier in their new careers too, with 59% of survey respondents agreeing they could “finally carry out my passion in my new career” and 72% saying that “emotionally, I feel like a new person since switching careers”.

With 19% of UK adults unhappy in their job, while the 53% of US adults unhappy at work, it’s no wonder that more people over 50 are choosing to follow their passion with a second career.

Rebecca Reiber from Antón, Panamá, founded an EcoVillage at 53 and says, “Chasing money doesn’t work for me. Living my life purpose has made all the difference in the world.”

Rebecca previously worked in export sales and as a consultant in strategic planning and sustainable community development and says she now has peace of mind knowing she’s living her purpose.

She believes more people are starting new careers after 50 “because they are fed up with the current consumer-capitalist model of running on a hamster wheel.” By 50, many people have “accumulated enough wisdom and financial stability to walk away from the 9-5 and do what really motivates them,” says Rebecca.

Meg Roberts from Queensland, Australia, also followed her passion when she quit her office administration career and bought a machine embroidery business at 51. She says, “I had always wanted a sewing business and this opportunity came up. I thought if I didn’t have a go then I would find out I have left it too late and regret that I didn’t give it a go.”

Meg believes more people are starting second careers after 50 because “There are so many more options available now. People don’t feel tied to the one career like they once did. And we need to work longer so we may as well be doing something we like.”

Lifestyle change

hands making pottery second career

Lynda and Warren Stevenson from Invercargill, New Zealand, started a Retro Kombi Hire business after 50 because they were “Looking for a way to have more freedom in our lives combined with possible travel, yet also have an income heading towards retirement.”

Lynda worked as a typographer before starting the business and says she’s already enjoying a better work-life balance.

“I think this generation realises that modern life means we are living longer, and the potential to still be of value to the community or world at an older age is exciting! The scope of work has changed dramatically to when we all began our careers – new possibilities open up all the time,” says Lynda.

Lotta Lassesson was 39 when she left her HR career in Sweden and moved to Bali to pursue her dream of living abroad and opening a restaurant. She still runs the restaurant and also started her own jewellery business at 52 last year.

Lotta made the change after a period of introspection following her divorce. She says the best thing about making the change was that she “did something for me, by me”.

She thinks more people are starting a second career after 50 because “We might be done with [things like] traditional careers, marriages, and bringing up kids. We can finally just focus on us [and] our dreams.”

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Longer working lives

elderly hands typing on laptop

Passion isn’t the only thing driving the rise in second careers after 50. Longer life expectancies, rising retirement ages and smaller pensions are also forcing people to work later in life.

Research shows that more US adults are working than in previous decades, while UK adults aged between 50 and 64 “accounted for more than half the annual increase in employment.”

Gayle Gardner from Queensland, Australia, says she had to end her hospitality career at 52 after 30 years of physical labour took a toll on her body. “My body told me to stop. I have worked hard for so many years and I simply cannot do it anymore,” says Gayle. She began a new career as a security officer with better working hours.

She says more people are starting new careers after 50 because “we can’t afford to retire. Superannuation [in Australia] became compulsory in 1992 and that’s when a lot of women were at home with little ones. People are starting new careers also because the physical roles are too hard.”

Advice on changing careers after 50

woman talking to office coworkers

Changing careers after 50 comes with challenges like financial insecurity and a lack of confidence. Learning new skills can also become daunting for many people looking to change careers.

Lynda and Warren recommend doing extensive research so you can feel more comfortable taking the plunge. You can “combine your day job with extra learning to give you the confidence to try out a new career”.

Kathy agrees and says, “Have a plan and do lots of research. Be realistic with your goals, believe in yourself and never lose sight of your vision.” She says it’s also helpful to “seek out people who support you and listen to inspirational podcasts.”

Others say just ‘go for it’.

Lotta believes you should “Go for it 100%, but my advice is to have a mentor or coach that is not your friend or family. It’s the hardest but most rewarding thing I’ve done for myself.”

Gayle also says you should “Go for it. Embrace change and have no fear. We’ve been around for half a century and know a lot. Think about all that you’ve accomplished in your life and believe in yourself. It’s so exciting and there’s no looking back.”

Turning 50 doesn’t have to mean you’re on “the down-slide of your career,” says Kathy.

“For us over 50s it’s just the beginning! We have two choices in life – either get busy living or get busy dying. I prefer the former.”

Have you started a new career after age 50? Are you thinking about making a change? Share your thoughts and experiences with us by commenting below…

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