Is It Too Late to Change Careers? (Plus: What Not to Say at a Dinner Party)

Is It Too Late to Change Careers? (Plus: What Not to Say at a Dinner Party)

If you’re reading this post, you’re likely at a crossroads, wondering if it’s too late to change careers. Imagine this: you’re at a party with your partner’s family, or at a school reunion, or attending any other social gathering where you want to make a good impression (I know, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, but try to picture it).

At some point, the dreaded question will inevitably strike you like a thunder: “What do you do?”

Unless you’re already living your passion and can’t wait to start dazzling everyone with your countless adventures, you’ll probably hate the answer. Chances are, you’ll either:

  1. Tell the truth, which is much less impressive than you’d like it to be, or…
  2. Give yourself a fictional promotion. Especially if you know that the person who just asked is widely successful — or at least seems to be on Facebook.

For women in their thirty-somethings, the expected path to success is this: graduate from university, have a brilliant career (but don’t be too ambitious; men don’t like that), get married, buy a house, have kids. Then, after a short maternity leave, continue to be a multitasking superwoman who juggles being a manager in a large corporation while raising her family at the same time. Sounds familiar?

Okay, I may have exaggerated a little, but the societal expectations are not far off. And the dreaded “What do you do?” question still awaits an answer.

If you’re in-between careers, stuck at a dead-end job, or not holding any ‘respected’ high earning positions, answering truthfully might make you feel like a failure. Especially if your passion doesn’t shine through.

Career change: expectations vs reality

Someone threw a similar bomb of a question at me one day. “I’m switching careers. I’ve recently enrolled in a course to become a writer.”, I answered. “Oh”, said the other person, clearly unimpressed. “That doesn’t sound like a proper job. Aren’t you supposed to be done with education by now?”

In fairness, I get this reaction often, and it makes me rather sad. Somehow, we’ve developed a notion that we’re supposed to know exactly what to do with our lives by the age of 20. Also, we apply an expiry date to a person, as if change and reinvention were attributes only possible for toddlers. Ouch!

We see education as something we need to be done with at some point, rather than a continuous act of self-improvement.

If that person asked me the same question a few years ago, I could have said: “I’m a product executive at an insurance firm.” I guess the reaction would have been vastly different. It sounds like a ‘proper job’ to most people, and the words like ‘executive’, ‘insurance’ and ‘firm’ could indicate some sort of financial stability. Ah, yes, the oldfashioned definition of success.

However, I had no passion for it. I felt like a mismatched sow with a saddle; completely out of place.

Here’s the thing: not all of us are so lucky and land on the right path from the start. If you’ve read my previous post about being a mature student, you’ll remember that I talked about having dreams and ambitions as a teenager that don’t quite work out when we grow up.

What if you end up getting that ‘proper job’ you thought you wanted, but you find out that you’re not a good fit? Are you supposed to stay there until you’re ready to retire, just because society deems you ‘too old’ to change? Heck no.

Why it’s never too late to change careers

Let me put things in perspective: you’ll spend one-third of your life at work. This translates to approximately 90,000 hours. That’s a lot of precious time to waste on something that doesn’t fill you with joy.

Here is another angle to consider: 80 per cent of people aged 45 and over are frustrated with their jobs and want a change of careers, but only six per cent will have the guts to do it. I find it absolutely devastating that so many people lack the courage to do what makes them happy.

When is it too late to change careers? How about we reframe the question to: “Do I see myself doing the same thing in 10 years?”

No matter how old you are or what decisions you make right now, in 10 years’ time you will still be 10 years older. Let that sink in. You might as well get there doing something you love.

Of course, changing careers is not all fun and games. You’ll probably have to start from scratch, so your salary might not be as good as it is in your current role. However, fulfilment is something that money can’t buy. If your work fills you with purpose and makes you want to get up early in the morning, you will feel happier. Even with a smaller paycheck.

If you’re still not convinced, think of Vera Wang who became a fashion designer at the age of 40, or countless other women who found success later in life. Therefore, there is no such thing as ‘too late’; there’s only ‘not soon enough’.

That, and having a satisfying answer to “What do you do?” next time you go to a dinner party.

Image credit: Unsplash

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