It’s Never Too Late To Do What You Want To Do - Michelle Gibbings

The legs of a person are standing on rocks in a stream

Have you ever felt stuck in a rut yet felt it was too late to change direction or shift gears?

It’s so easy to get set in our ways and to see change as something that has an expiration date – ‘If I don’t do this or make this change by this particular date, it’s not possible‘. Yet, that belief structure is a manufacture of our own making.

It’s never too late.

This is what struck me when I was binge-listening to the brilliant podcast Wiser Than Me, hosted by the equally fabulous, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Thank you to one of my clients for recommending this series; it is such a delight to listen to.

In the podcast series, Julia gets schooled by women who, as she says, ‘Are wiser than me’. The conversations include Rhea Perlman, Carol Burnett, Jane Fonda and Isabel Allende. Many talked about their life in acts, with most of them in their third act and a few in their fourth. All of them were still learning, exploring, and doing new things.

I had never thought about our lives in acts, which made me think about how our careers are often in acts, too.

Ditch the Invisible Timeline
Society often imposes an invisible timeline on our lives, dictating when we should graduate, start a career, get married, or settle down. However, this notion of a ‘right’ age for what we do or don’t do only limits us and holds back our options.

There are many examples of career success that came later in a person’s career.

For example, Isabel Allende was first published at 40. Similarly, chef and author Julia Child published her first cookbook in her late 40s after a career in the Office of Strategic Services (later part of the CIA). Frank McCourt, who wrote Angela’s Ashes, became a best-selling author at 65. Harland Sanders created the KFC franchise when he was 62.

The Guardian’s inspiring series of articles about people who have ventured down different paths later in life is worth perusing.

Navigating a transition can be daunting regardless of your age or context. Yet, finding a career that aligns with your values, skills, and purpose is worth pursuing.

Accept the Shift
Careers are no longer linear.

In the past, it was common for people to enter a profession straight out of school or university and remain in that field until retirement. That’s certainly what my dad did. However, with increased life expectancy, technological advancements, and shifting community expectations, we are working longer and have more opportunities to explore different career paths.

Remove the Layers
Remember that childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, artist, or marine biologist?

Life, including expectations from parents, partners or friends, can nudge us away from those early aspirations. It becomes buried beneath the layers of adulthood and responsibility.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a novel, start a bakery, or code the next groundbreaking app. If you want to uncover what’s beneath the surface, it helps to spend time alone. In that quiet time of reflection and contemplation, you will get in touch with what you really want to do.

For me, it was going on a meditation retreat. In the space and quiet, I uncovered my dreams to do what I am doing now. I often wonder if I hadn’t given myself that ‘quiet time’ if I would have made the leap into running a leadership consulting practice or have just stayed with what was safe and familiar.

Put Your Brain in Gear
Research by psychologist Erik Erikson supports the idea of how humans learn throughout their lifetime. He outlined how we continue to evolve and redefine ourselves well into adulthood.

Additionally, with the brilliant discoveries in neuroplasticity, we know that our brain retains the ability to learn and adapt, regardless of age.

Learning is not only possible but good for our brain and physical health.

Our brains thrive on novelty and challenge. When we learn something new, neural pathways light up. Switching careers introduces fresh challenges, stimulating cognitive growth. Whether mastering a foreign language, diving into data science, learning to dance, or crafting marketing campaigns for the first time, your brain will thank you.

Be Ready for Challenge
Of course, embarking on a new career path later in life comes with its challenges. Financial obligations, family responsibilities, and fear of the unknown can loom large, casting shadows of doubt.

However, these obstacles can be overcome with careful planning, resilience, and a willingness to adapt.

So, where can you start?

Start by reflecting on your career to date and identify what you enjoy doing, what’s meaningful, and what you want to change in your career move.

List the skills and experience you’ve accumulated throughout your career. You want to understand which are transferable and can adapt to new roles.

Next, consider your values, purpose and the criteria desired for your next job. For example, salary expectations, full or part-time work, location, and flexibility. These details can provide helpful guardrails for determining roles in or out of scope.

Once you understand those elements, you can start researching potential careers that align. Examine new industries and roles and look for sectors that are growing and have a demand for your skills. As part of this process, talk to people who work in the areas you are considering and those in similar fields, as it will provide insights into potential opportunities. As well, consider attending industry events and career expos.

Leverage Your Network
One distinct benefit of experience is that you already have an established network. Now’s your time to leverage that network.

Networking is critical when making a career transition of any kind. Reach out to colleagues, friends, and family members to let them know about your career goals. They can provide encouragement, guidance, and advice to help you navigate the process.

If you find navigating a career change later in life particularly daunting or want additional support, a career coach can be invaluable. A career coach offers expert guidance and support as you transition. They can help you identify your strengths and opportunities, create a career transition plan, and provide feedback and accountability as you work towards your goals.

Make Each Day Matter
Changing careers takes time and focus, so dedicate time each day. You want to prioritise and plan so you are making regular and sustained progress. It can help to document your plan and set achievable goals.

Set aside time for yourself, whether it’s a weekly massage, listening to music or a daily run. Having self-care strategies in place isn’t a luxury; managing your energy and putting your best self forward is essential.

Remember, as the writer George Eliot said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been“.

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