Opinion: Starting a New Career Later in Life


Dear Susi Q,

I’m 53, currently an English teacher, and likely to retire in the next couple of years. It’s always been a dream of mine to help people, specifically by becoming a 911 emergency dispatcher. Do you have any advice about starting a new career at my age?

–Just Wondering

Dear Just Wondering,

During a conversation, a friend’s late father once told me, “Do not be a slave to your pension. I have seen too many friends and colleagues stay in jobs too long that did not provide them challenges or joy because they were focused on their pensions.”

This can be good advice for older people in jobs that they find increasingly tedious, adding to their stress as they wish the days away until their retirement. 

In other words, there’s never a wrong time to take stock of your life and evaluate whether a change of profession might do you a world of good – mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

I offer myself as an example. For more than 25 years in the fire service, my profession’s physical demands increased as I aged. Frequently interrupted sleep, mandatory extra duty for emergencies, and long-term wear and tear significantly impacted my body. I also began to have more doctor’s appointments and physical therapy sessions.    

I decided to pursue my passion for helping others in a new manner as a marriage and family therapist. I couldn’t be happier despite the challenges along the long road to licensure.

Here is a quote to ponder: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” John Shedd, 1928. That is an interesting thought – but I do have some caveats. I cannot stress the importance of prudent financial planning before, during, and after such a significant decision to ensure that it is not impulsive and, indeed, a wise move. I am very aware and sensitive to the fact that many people have limited financial options. Despite these limitations, seeking sound financial advice may help you pursue your goals and transition to a new career path more smoothly.

Thoroughly research the qualifications needed for your desired profession: do you have the time and the resources to manage the necessary training and education? Consider contacting people already working those jobs and ask if you can shadow them for a day or two to have a realistic sense of what’s involved. 

People are generally happy to provide honest answers to questions from curious people seeking their opinions and advice.

Also, anticipate a myriad of emotions…fear, elation, joy, and excitement are a few that spring to mind. There may be changes in your relationships too. In a new job, you may have more – or less – time with your family and friends, which may cause unanticipated problems and almost certainly call for readjustments.

Bottom line, take the time to think your decision through, but if a career change sounds good to you, go for it! Worst case, you change your mind and seek another path.

–Clint Christie, Licensed Marriage Family Therapist www.ClintChristieCounseling.org

“Dear Susi Q,” brought to you by nonprofit Laguna Beach Seniors, is intended to provide helpful advice for readers on matters including relationships, retirement, home safety, transportation, mental/physical health, and local entertainment and educational resources.

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No identifying names will ever be used. Some questions, such as today’s, may be a composite of several submitted. 

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