Think you’re too old to start over?

Whether it’s going back to school or entering a new field, don’t underestimate what you’ll bring to the role – and what you’ll learn

Debbie Halpern, 58, from New Jersey, has been thinking about a career change for years. says Halpern. “I was worried that I was too old or that I might not like the job. And what if I put in all that effort and ended up not making a good living? In hindsight, all the excuses were probably motivated by an underlying fear of failure. “

An elderly woman taking an online class.  Next Avenue, continuing education, career switch
“When someone is older, they may feel they have to approach a career change with a sense of urgency. But it’s much better to approach the change methodically. Talk to people and do research. Try it out before you go all- goes in.” | Credit: Getty

Halpern is not alone. Many older adults, especially women, wonder if they should change careers. While the reasons may vary, it can be scary to make a change later in life, especially when you know that many of your co-workers could be half your age.

Different reasons for change

In Halpern’s case, she had long considered a career change. She says, “I thought about becoming a therapist before I initially went to college, but somehow I went to business school. Even though I had a successful career in business, I was always thinking ‘my way not passed’.”

“I decided to take a course to see if this was something I could do, and several years later I’m a nurse and applying for jobs with people the same age as my kids.”

Kasey Kelly (a pseudonym) from New Jersey, on the other hand, never thought about becoming a nurse when she was younger. An advertising executive for many years, Kelly became interested in a career in healthcare after one of her three children was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease.

“It was a combination of wanting to better understand what the doctors were saying and being so inspired by the nurses we met at the hospital,” says Kelly. “I decided to take a course to see if this was something I could do, and several years later I’m a nurse and applying for jobs with people the same age as my kids.”

For Randi Hoffman, 63, of New York, the change wasn’t something she initially wanted. Hoffman had been a journalist and reporter before spending 16 years as a staff writer and public relations person.

“At age 51, everyone in my entire department was fired. After a year of interacting with everyone I could think of and sending over 300 resumes, I was out of a job,” says Hoffman. “I was sinking and getting depressed.”

She realized she had to make a change and decided to become an English Second Language (ESL) teacher. “It was hard at first. I mourned the fact that I had skills and knowledge that were not appreciated by the world,” Hoffman admits. “But I’m a writer and a voracious reader, so being an ESL teacher suits my love of language.”

Anne Parris, 52, from Virginia, made a career switch after 15 years as a stay-at-home mom. Instead of returning to accounting, the field she worked in before having children, she opted for a job in marketing.

“The type of marketing I specialize in, affiliate marketing, didn’t really exist when I was in college,” says Parris.

Start slowly

Lynn Berger, a career counselor and coach in New York City, says, “When someone is older, they may feel they need to approach a career change with a sense of urgency. But it’s much better to approach the change methodically. . Talk to people, and do your research. Try it out before you go all in. You’ll feel stronger and more confident about the change if you take your time.”

Halpern agrees that taking it easy is crucial. “I started with one online class,” she says. “It was a soft start to my journey. I thought there was absolutely no way I would be able to focus on Zoom for four hours every Saturday. That lesson took away one of my biggest barriers and made me realize that this was the right way forward. “

Oldest student in the class

Additional training may be required for a career switch. Going back to being a student after being out of class for so many years can be a big deterrent.

Kelly smiles as she recalls one of her first nursing classes. She says, “The professor asked everyone to get their notepads. I grabbed a spiral notebook and a real pencil with an eraser tip. Of course everyone in the class had tablets and styluses. Then the teacher asked if we all knew what ‘Blackboard’ was , and I nodded. But he was talking about a software program, not a real blackboard. It was clear that a lot had changed since I was a student.”

“I had a mini breakdown the night before I had to register for classes trying to figure out the registration system. I almost gave up then.”

Halpern also had some adjustment issues. “Learning new systems and processes was overwhelming at times,” she says. “The night before I was due to register for classes, I had a mini bad luck figuring out the registration system. I almost gave up then. Thank goodness my kids happened to be at my house and knew it.”

Dealing with age discrimination

Berger says, “It can be uncomfortable to feel like the oldest person in the room. Everyone handles it differently. It’s a fact, so I usually suggest acknowledging it. Maybe joke if you’re comfortable with that feels.”

Kelly remembers walking to class one snowy day, struggling while carrying a huge stack of books. When a friendly male student asked if she needed help, she accepted his offer. “With my gray hair, he probably thought I was the professor,” says Kelly. “He was very surprised when I didn’t go on stage and instead sat next to him in class.”

Says Parris, “Everyone I work with is very professional, but I always worry about standing out as an old person.”

Hoffman adds: “When I worked at the private language school, there might have been some colleagues who would have been nicer to me if I had been younger or cuter. But that’s true anyway; there are always people who are nice and kind to be.” people who are not in a workplace.”

Broaden your view

As people get older, their world can get smaller. A career change can expose them to a wider, more diverse group of people, young and old.

“My program attracts people of all ages and backgrounds,” says Halpern. “Part of social work is confronting your own cultural biases, and it’s amazing to hear other people’s experiences that are so different from my own.”

“It doesn’t bother me to start over. I feel much more confident than when I was in my 20s and 30s.”

Hoffman also sees her new career as an opportunity to learn more about people outside of her community’s life. She says: “It is valuable for me to see the world through the eyes of people who are so very different from me. My students are mostly immigrants or the children of immigrants who want to become professionals. It makes me realize how much privilege I had growing up middle class with college educated parents.”

Benefits of being older

For many it can be an advantage to be older than their peers. “It doesn’t bother me to start over,” says Parris. “I feel much more confident than when I was in my 20s and 30s. I’m more confident in my skills and my worth.”

Hoffman says: “I made good friends with people younger than me. One of them was a single mother. I was able to give her support and advice, including telling her to have one last adventure before her due date. was probably more assertive than I would have been when I was younger.”

“Sometimes patients prefer me to the younger nurses. Because I’m older, they think I’m more experienced,” says Kelly. “And while I’m not educational, I have more life experience, and that perspective helps me have more empathy.”

Find your group

While it may feel like you’re the only person starting from scratch, most older adults find that it’s not just them. Says Halpern, “When I was trying to decide whether to go back to school, I interviewed a lot of people and one of them told me, ‘the people with more wrinkles find each other,’ and that’s true. We found each other on day one and it’s nice to have a small cohort.”

Kelly also bonds with the older students in her program. “We studied together and now we look for work together,” she says. “We share resources and have looked at each other’s resumes. We know we can encounter age discrimination as new nurses in their 50s, so we need to stick together and support each other.”

Connecting generations

Part of establishing good working relationships with younger peers is being open to their ideas. Berger explains, “Don’t go in with an ‘I know better because I’m older’ attitude. Instead, listen to younger people. Be involved and have fun learning what you can from them.”

“I’ve always loved the energy of people in their 20s and 30s,” she says. “Being around younger people keeps you connected. It also helps me connect with my young adult children.”

“Even though they’re closer in age to my kids, the other nursing students treat me like one of them, not like a ‘mom,'” explains Kelly. “They tell me things about their lives, their dating — things my kids wouldn’t tell me. It helps me understand what my own kids are going through.”

Parris is impressed by many of her millennial and Gen Z colleagues. She says, “I love how powerful and strong the younger women I work with are. I feel like they’ve been liberated from some of the expectations I had for myself when I was her age.”

Randy Mazzella
Randy Mazzella is a freelance writer specializing in a wide variety of topics from parenting to pop culture to life after 50. She is a mother of three and lives in New Jersey with her husband and teenage son. Read more of her work at randimazzella.com. read more

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