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What you need to know about later-life career changes

Unhappy at work? Longing for a more fulfilling career? Later-life career changes aren’t just possible; they can be immensely rewarding. Here’s what you need to know.   

Late-life career changes aren’t for the faint of heart. Usually, by the time we’ve arrived at the conclusion that life is too short to continue to sacrifice our souls to a career that’s about as inspiring as a root canal, we’ve exhausted all other possibilities. We may have tried to improve our relationships at work, find new avenues for growth or scoured the job market for an escape hatch.

Eventually, the realisation dawns: we’ve simply got to find another way. Something sustainable. Something – gasp – that might even make us look forward to Mondays. But how? What comes next?

The good news is that there are plenty of women who have taken the plunge and turned the page on an unfulfilling career – and there are plenty of experts out there who specialise in the art of the pivot. One such expert is career coach Marjorie Ngwenya, who has fought for her own success against the odds – and now sits on several boards in the financial and not-for-profit sectors in Africa and the UK. We asked her for some guidance and advice. 

Go inward  

If you know you want out, but haven’t got a clue what career you’d like to replace your current one with, it’s time for some self-reflection, says Marjorie. “Begin by identifying your strengths and interests,” she suggests. “What makes you feel most alive? What do you love doing, purely for its own sake? What activities and pursuits have brought you joy in the past? What are you passionate about? What causes do you care about?”  

Journaling can be a great way to start clarifying the qualities, activities or subjects that interest you, and may provide a path forward. Be sure to reflect also on your own personality: are you an introvert, for example, or do you love public speaking? Are you a spontaneous creative type, or do you love routines and order?  

Do your research  

“Once you have a clearer sense of what you love or feel inspired to explore, then you can begin to research careers that align with those passions,” says Marjorie.

Obviously, Google is your friend here, but you may also want to consult a recruitment agency, or – something Marjorie highly recommends – start networking with professionals in your prospective field to find out what types of jobs or opportunities there are to choose from, as well as what these entail and which skills and qualifications are needed. 

Assess your finances  

While it’s tempting to believe that anything is possible if we want it badly enough, it may not be so practical to – for the foreseeable future – give up a plump salary to become a paramedic if you still have a bond to pay off and children to support. A sober assessment of your financial needs is essential.

You’ll also need to factor in the cost of any additional education or courses you may need to complete, as well as the cost of taking time off from your current job, if necessary. Finally, research the salary range in your new field, so that your expectations are realistic.  

Create a Career Pivot Plan  

Changing careers can be daunting, so it helps to break the journey down into small, manageable steps. According to Marjorie, a Career Pivot Plan should include:  

  • Clearly defined goals: What specific role or position are you aiming for? 
  • A networking strategy: Plan how you will connect with other professionals in your new chosen field. 
  • Financial preparation: Consider saving money for any potential income gaps during the transition. 
  • Mentorship: Seek out people who are able to provide guidance and support.
  • An application or launch strategy: Whether you plan to apply for a job or start your own business, break down what this will entail into steps. 
  • A timeline: Work out how much time you’d reasonably need to achieve the milestones mentioned above. You now have a timeline for your transition.

Be patient  

“The actual time frame for a career transition can vary widely, depending on your circumstances, your skill and qualification gaps, and the availability of job opportunities,” says Marjorie.

“Typically, it can take anywhere from several months to several years to make a successful transition. It’s essential to remain patient and adaptable throughout the process.”

Marjorie emphasises the importance of perseverance: you’re playing the long game, after all! “Career changes can be challenging, but they can also be incredibly rewarding. The positive energy that comes from working in a field you are passionate about will spill over into the rest of your life.   Stay resilient, stay open to learning, and embrace the journey of self-discovery. It’s never too late to pursue a more fulfilling career path – your happiness and growth are worth the effort!” 

Words by: Robyn Maclarty 

Photography: Getty Images, Supplied

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