A late-life career change could be exactly what you need

According to Australian Seniors, 45.4% of Australian's over 50 have reported either attempting to re-enter the workforce or make a career change.

Are you one of the many older Australians considering a shift in your career? Read one man's later-in-life career change that's opened up a whole world of possibility and purpose.

By Bron Maxabella

Christopher Trevitt spent 25 years building a career in executive leadership for global technology giants like IBM, Dell and Hewett-Packard. He travelled the world leading a highly motivated sales team to achieve outcomes for company shareholders.

Then at 48 he had a sudden cardiac arrest. It changed everything.

“My 6 minutes of death was a catalyst, but not the root cause,” Chris, who is now 50, points out. “My desire for change had been developing for several years beforehand. I realised that material wealth made me comfortable, but it played little role in making me happy.”

By the time he had his health scare, Chris’s lack of what he calls “self-love” was impacting his entire life. His relationships, mental health and physical health were all showing signs of fatigue.

A cardiac arrest was the loudest wake up call he could possibly get. 

Once he recovered, Chris retrained as a Community Corrections Officer, a role far removed from the corporate life. “I’m learning at a pace I haven’t experienced since the beginning of my career,” he says, and he’s loving every minute of it.

Read about the heart health check that could save your life.

A niggling feeling is enough

Fortunately, not everyone needs a catastrophic health event give them the kick they need to pivot their career. Kate Richardson is an executive and career coach and she works with many people who, like Chris, simply have a niggling feeling they should be doing “something else” with their life.

“My new working life is very different,” says Chris Trevitt. “It has its challenges for sure, but the mission is sound.”

There are many reasons why people never listen to that persistent feeling. It’s daunting to change jobs when you’re mid-way (or even further) through your working life. It can be especially overwhelming if you’re already in retirement or semi-retirement mode. 

There are practical challenges like financial and family responsibilities to consider.

It’s also confronting to abruptly turn away from the long career road you’ve spent decades establishing. Even without a ‘big career’ behind you, moving from what’s comfortable towards something that’s filled with uncertainty can be formidable enough.

One of the more surprising hurdles can be particularly hard to face up to.

“The biggest challenge in making the move turned out to be dealing with my ego,” Chris says sheepishly.

“I knew I wanted to find more purpose-driven work, but I had also become used to authority and the material benefits of executive positions. I knew the change would test my authenticity and challenge my understanding of self.”

Navigating the shift in identity

Kate sees this regularly in her work. “Coming out of one successful career and moving into another is navigating [a] shift in identity. The roles you’ve had, the network you’ve developed, the companies you’ve worked for – all of these things contribute to your working identity. In a time of transition, it can feel destabilising to lose that part of [yourself].”

Anyone who has faced retirement will already be familiar with this identity shift. If you’re considering unretiring, or simply going back into a new career part-time, the sheer magnitude of the task can be intimidating.

Kate recommends reducing financial risks to successfully make a career transition.

The simplest ways to do this is to take on your new career as a side project or consulting gig.

You could also do a short course instead of launching immediately into long-term study. Even putting your hand up for a project or secondment in your existing workplace can spark change.

Whether your career change is triggered by a redundancy, retirement, health considerations or just a feeling, it’s important to spend time understanding your options and mapping out a plan.

1. Know yourself and your ‘why’

Kate recommends starting with a deep dive into your values and strengths. “What’s really important to you? And what are you not just good at but energised by?” she asks. “It’s also important to envisage what your ideal working life looks like - how does your perfect workday play out?”

Chris echoes this when he suggests to anyone wanting to change careers to “work on yourself first. Get to the core of your motivation and think about the legacy you want to leave behind.”

2. Work out what you can keep

Consider how transferable your current skills and strengths are. Are there gaps in your skillset? Will you need to retrain?

Make sure you also take time to understand what you don’t want in a new career. Are their aspects of your current job that prevent you from fully loving your work? What would you never do again if you could?

3. Plot your next step

Even if you’re unsure of your final “new career destination”, you should be able to work out what you want to do next. Take one small step in the direction you want to go. Chris started by working for a local food charity, feeding the homeless and feeling his way towards the best way to support those in need using his existing skills.

Do a course, talk to a person who is already working in an industry you’re curious about, or simply research your area of interest. It doesn’t have to be a giant leap; you can make a positive career move one small step at a time.

4. Do something today

When asked if he would do anything differently, Chris had this to say: “I wouldn’t wait until my heart stopped before I started to follow it.”

If those poignant words don’t push you towards your new path immediately, perhaps you don’t really want to make a career change after all?

Check out Citro's guide on how to age-proof your resume and nab that new job.
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