The pandemic profoundly changed our workplace. The five major trends that have emerged: remote work is here to stay, an upsurge in contract positions, entrepreneurship and self-employment have lit up, lifelong learning is no longer nice to do, but essential, and finally, workers of all ages have jumped to execute career transitions.
Career changes later in life used to make people gasp and question if you know what you’re getting into, or if you have enough runway to really make a go of it in a new field. You were an outlier, a risk-taker. But the pandemic has infused people with a new desire, passion and confidence to shift to work that has meaning.
What ties these emerging trends together is that there has been a psychological reset among almost everyone I know, especially the 50+ workers I’ve interviewed in recent months, about how we want to spend our time.
People dear to us died from a virus that terrified us. That shook us. We were isolated, separated from friends and family for months on end. The experience may now be fading somewhat, but it taught us lessons about what we value, what sustains us and what it feels like to lose it. That lingers.
More and more, people are asking: If not now, when? Careers are morphing into a patchwork quilt. Jobs are more fluid. Our paths in the new workplace are and will continue to be more creative and improvisational. People who retired, unretired.
Nothing is forever. It’s not like our linear first acts. This is improv. This is uncharted territory for those who once thought of their next act as one of retirement and stepping back from being fully engaged in life and pedal to the metal.
This is a new era of Me Inc. You might do something new for a decade or more, or only a couple of years, and then shift to something completely different once again. It might be part-time, or seasonal. It might be lending your talents to a nonprofit that has a mission that matters to you, or launching a business of your own or a combination of work and giving back, but it’s all about making our lives matter, making a difference in the world—even in small ways—and moving forward.
Redeploy Your Skill Set
You’re not reinventing your career or making a massive change. You’re redeploying your skill set. You’re reimagining how to put the puzzle together in a new design. With all those tools in your wheelhouse from your years of experience, you can shift to a new direction. Sure, you will add new areas of expertise, make new connections and have new challenges, but the core you are in place to anchor your pivot.
That said, a career transition is a process—external and internal. Take time to do your inner MRI. Reflect on your motivation: Why are you making a switch? Why you, why now and why this field, this kind of job, this entrepreneurial venture? These profound questions get to the heart of what’s motivating you.
You should never make the shift because you’re running away from something, but rather to move toward something positive, something that you wish to do, that means something to you, that makes you see the world with fresh eyes. You want to embark on a new direction by stepping toward a goal you’re excited about attaining, that even gives you butterflies in your stomach and sparks the adrenaline that comes with a new beginning and the challenge of learning, where you are a beginner again. It’s fresh.
That is what gives you the get-up-and-go and grit you need to make the turn.
Once you’re straight on what’s driving your desire to make a transition, examine your hard skills, maybe data analytics or marketing, and then your softer skills. Are you a great communicator? Do you have terrific writing skills, are you a superstar on your feet making oral presentations? Maybe it’s your leadership skills that set you apart.
Own those skills and talents that are intrinsic to you and who you are. They are the underpinnings of your past success and will serve you well as you move forward in a new career. Embrace them. All these abilities are moveable in new directions.
One of my favorite career visionaries is Dorie Clark, author and educator at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. When I asked her for her best advice for career changers, she told me: “It can take a while for a new career direction to get off the ground. In the period before it’s clear that you’ve succeeded, it can often feel like a dark tunnel—are you making progress at all? How much longer? It can be a frustrating and discomfiting time, and that’s when so many people quit prematurely.”
Instead, Clark suggested “looking for the raindrops” by “making a conscious effort to identify small signs of progress, so you can both celebrate them and validate that you’re on the right track. They might seem insignificant—‘Big deal, five people signed up for my newsletter today.’ But when you’re just getting started, having five more people who are interested today, as compared to zero last week, actually is a big deal—and a small piece of evidence that your message is starting to resonate.”
Kerry’s Fitness Plan
Finally, consider my three-part fitness plan—financial, physical and spiritual fitness.
Money is the biggest stumbling block when it comes to starting a new act. It’s critical to have a grip on just how much money you need to earn now. When you’re financially fit, you can take a chance at starting a new path where the pay is not as essential, but the work itself takes center stage, at least initially. You’re nimble. You can experiment, and test new opportunities.
Physical fitness translates to energy, a can-do spirit, and an optimistic, curious mindset. People may not recognize exactly what it is, but they want you on their team—whether they are a client for a new second-act business you launch, or to bring you on board as an employee. Better yet, when you’re physically fit, and I don’t mean running fast miles or bench-pressing weights, but rather eating with an eye to nutrition and finding a regular workout regime that suits you—walking a few miles a day, or swimming—it goes a long way to fighting ageism. Trust me, it’s better than Botox.
And spiritual fitness is the third piece of my fitness plan. This is not a religious practice, per se, but more in the realm of mindful meditation, yoga, tai chi, walking your dog in the country—whatever it is that you can do to center yourself, quiet the madness, and churn of change and provide a ballast.
There’s never an ideal time to get started on a second verse, so my best advice is to start in baby steps. Just get underway. Change is a process. And that’s the fun of it.
Do one thing every day to move forward and out of your lane. Make that call to someone you know in the field that you’re eyeing to learn more. Sign up for an online course. Attend a lecture by someone who has made a big change and opens yourself up to be inspired. These are the actions that will allow you to be ready when the invitations appear to try something new.
Edited and adapted from “In Control at 50+: How to Succeed In The New World of Work” (McGraw Hill, 2022) by Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon is a workplace futurist and a leading strategist on career management, entrepreneurship, personal finance, and retirement. She is a frequent TV, podcast and radio commentator and is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences. Kerry is the bestselling and award-winning author of 14 books, including “Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working from Home” and “Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life,” a number one bestseller on Amazon and selected by the Washington Post for its Book-of-the-Month Club.
Other bestselling and award-winning books penned by Kerry include “Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single Women,” “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy . . . and Pays the Bills,” “Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness,” “Getting the Job You Want After 50” and “What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties, and Beyond.”
Kerry is currently a senior columnist and on-air expert at Yahoo! Finance. She was previously an expert columnist, opinion writer and regular contributor to the New York Times, MarketWatch and Forbes, and was the PBS website NextAvenue.org personal finance and entrepreneur expert. She has also worked as a writer, columnist and editor for USA Today, U.S. News & World Report and Money magazine and as a contributor to the Wall Street Journal.