That was the question Andy Levine asked Marci Alboher, vice president at Encore.org and the author of “The Encore Career Handbook” and myself in this recent podcast of Second Act Stories. Listen in below.
It reminded me that this was the precise query many workers over 50 asked themselves in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. And many of them did just that — launching encore careers often in the nonprofit arena and starting their own businesses.
When something catastrophic like this happens, it’s human nature to take stock of the how fleeting and precious life can be, particularly when you have reached a certain age. We pause and ponder, is this really what it’s all about? Is there something I should be doing that I always wanted to do, a passion I set aside? Is there work I should be doing with meaning and purpose and makes a difference in the world? What’s my legacy going to be?
The kind of life event that we are currently experiencing can be a huge motivator to try something new. The second-acters, mostly baby boomers, who I profiled in my book “What’s Next?” were typically spurred to make a hard turn due to a job loss, a personal health crisis, or an alarming global event.
While everyone’s job challenge was different, there was a common spine to the success stories I tracked. No one made a rash move. They made sure they had their financial lives in order. They did their homework and research. They asked why me, why now, why this product or service or job? What can I bring to it that will make a difference and bring meaning to my life? But the seed for the change began in a crisis.
The key is to be willing to be creative about the kinds of work to consider. Chances are many of the skills you already have in your wheelhouse can be redeployed in new job fields. And at this stage of life after two or three decades in the same industry, or sometimes with the same employer, nothing has to be forever. Your work life moving forward will likely be more of a patchwork quilt. You may do something for a few years and switch to something else, or do a few things at the same time.
Here are steps you can take now to gear up for a new chapter.
Get financially fit. This is a hard one. If you choose to start over in a new field, you will probably make less income initially. Starting a business, may require capital for startup costs and foregoing pay until your business gains some traction.
If you’ve lost a job due to COVID-19, this can be brutal. Do a budget. Where can you cut back spending to make a change feasible financially? Can you refinance a mortgage if need be? Perhaps move to a smaller home, or a town where the cost of living is cheaper.
Shape-up. To fight ageism in the workplace, have the grit for a new start and be physically in shape. Eating with an eye to nutrition is key, too. Project energy and a can-do, positive vibe. It shrewdly shows hiring managers that you’re up for the job (even on a video interview).
Do your internal review. Spend some time quietly getting in touch with what it is that matters to you, that you love about the work you’ve done in the past, what kinds of passions and hobbies you had as a child. Let these ideas and possibilities bubble up. I find journaling helps this exploration.
Run an account of your current skills and interests. This will be useful when writing your résumé, filling out job applications, and prepping for interviews.
• Write down formal education you received that has given you a work skill, such as coding, nursing, or accounting. Include any other work-related courses, seminars, or workshops you participated in.
• List any licenses or certifications you’ve attained.
• Jot down any capabilities you have in other areas such as fluency in a second language or public speaking.
• List all office software you can work with. This includes spreadsheet applications, presentation programs, database management software, desktop publishing or graphics programs, blogging platforms, and so on.
• Review your soft skills.
• Ask friends, families and colleagues for some feedback. You may not realize skills you possess until others call attention to them.
• Don’t limit yourself to skills you learned at work. If you worked pro bono as treasurer for your local parent-teacher organization, for example, you have proficiency with financial management and budgeting. If you raised children, you understand scheduling. If you cared for an aging relative, you may have been a financial manager, hiring manager, patient advocate, and project manager. How you grew your skills is less essential than having the skills that meet an employer’s requirements.
Tip: The U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop has a skills profiler that generates a list of skills in several categories based on the job type and work activities you specify.
Hit the books. Effectively navigating a career switch at 50+, often depends on upgrading skills and going back to school to swivel to new kinds of work. There are a wide variety of free offerings from webinars to podcasts, as well as reasonably priced online courses and certifications. U.S. News & World Report ranks the best online programs each year.
Update your LinkedIn profile. Put some spiff and polish on your profile by adding any new skills, presentations that you may have neglected to add previously. Connect with other professionals, especially ones in fields that interest. You might even ask your former boss, if you were laid off due to the coronavirus, to post a recommendation there for you.
Revamp your résumé. If you haven’t done a résumé in decades, this is a must-do. Keep it to around two pages, featuring the last 10 years. Weave a narrative with your C.A.R. stories—challenge, action, result. AARP Resume Advisor offers a free expert review. Ultimately, you will be pitching your experience as it touches the new career at hand. You must show how those skills can help a company in your new field solve problems and create business.
Network. Seek out people you know who are working in fields, or jobs that interest you, or run their own businesses in the arena where you’d like to launch your own startup. Pick up the phone and have informational chats about that kind of work or business and ask for advice. You’re not asking for a job. Always ask for another name or two of people you might be able to reach out to for guidance. If there’s a way to do the job first as a volunteer or an intern, that can be a great idea. Today, that means a virtual hand, but there are ways to do so. You get a sense of the fit for you before you jump in and it can show as experience on your resume.
Consult a career or retirement coach. Most coaches will do telephone or virtual appointments via app such as Zoom or Skype. Hiring an unbiased outsider review your résumé and work through your skills and career objectives can be invaluable and confidence building.
Tap this time, when you feel uncertain of how the future will play out, and, perhaps, angry about the senselessness of what the world has thrown at us…to dream.
My personal bittersweet parting note: Starting a second act midlife can be daunting, especially after a job loss has made you feel anxious and adrift. On top of that, the unprecedented pandemic has turned the world upside down. It will take chutzpah and believing deeply in yourself.
Recently, John Prine, a musician whose work has deeply resonated with me for four decades, died of complications caused by the coronavirus. He was 73.
This lyric from one of his songs: “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” keeps running through my head today. It reminds me of how important it is to move to the future in times like this.
“You can gaze out the window get mad and get madder,
Throw your hands in the air, say ‘What does it matter?’;
But it don’t do no good to get angry,
So help me I know
For a heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow.”
By Kerry Hannon, MarketWatch columnist
Kerry Hannon is the author of the forthcoming Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home, now available for pre-order. Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life. She has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for The New York Times, MarketWatch, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among other publications. She is the author of 14 books including Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single Women and What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Her website is kerryhannon.com. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.