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Rethinking your work life: advice from a career reinvention expert


Do you feel satisfied with your job? Are there more days when you’re unhappy at work, than truly enjoying it? Your later life could see you decide to make a change to your career – big or small. But, how do you go about it?

For Joanna Maxwell, who started her career as a corporate lawyer, there was always a desire to pursue an alternative career path. After becoming a journalist on the side, thanks to her love of writing, Joanna’s interest in the struggles many others like her faced with their own work life continued to grow. From unhappiness at work, to a lack of sustainability with their job, Joanna started to explore the reasons people might be thinking about a change, and has been pursuing this line of work ever since.

What spurred you on to change your career, and ultimately to write your book, Rethink Your Career in Your 40s, 50s and 60s?

As I got older and became interested in what makes people happy at work and what makes a sustainable career, I started to attract older clients and became even more engrossed in exploring the different needs and barriers of older people. I completed my second masters, which is in adult education, and this led me to writing the book. I wanted to give people who were looking for a job right now a practical guide that would help them do so. I’ve since become the Director of the Age Discrimination Team at the Australian Human Rights Commission, a role that is really fascinating. It’s giving me the opportunity to look at issues for all older Australians and explore advocacy and social change.

What do you think are the biggest triggers for people to want or need to change their career later in life?

People become more different rather similar as they get older, so it tends to be a mix of reasons, but these are the main three.

  1. People realise they want to pursue something they love. They have this feeling of ‘if not now, then when’, and it becomes a bit of a wake up call to make a change.
  2. The job, or their current world of work runs out. For example, it might be a job that requires physical exertion or manual labour and they don’t feel they can continue on with it.
  3. A person could be made redundant, and so they rethink their career to become more marketable when going out on the hunt for a job.

What are some simple strategies or tips you give people later in life who are looking to change their career?

If you’re feeling depressed, angry or fearful about looking for work, deal with those feelings first before heading into job interviews. It’s also important to take stock of your strengths and values, as well as your transportable skills so you know what you can take to your next job.

Work out what you want from the world of work for the next 20 years – stability, a creative passion, or you may want to use it as a way to give back. All that matters is that your work is important to you. And you should also have a good look at your finances.

What is the most important thing to remember for someone who is older and looking to make a career change?

Do your research and consider all avenues – that way you know there are always options available and that you shouldn’t give up.

For many people, it’ll be necessary to retrain or upskill. While some of us love learning new things, there are also some that find it difficult to grapple with the fact they need to get a new qualification. Lifelong learning is now something we all have to factor in – no matter our age. If and when you have to train, it doesn’t have to mean going back to full-time university, it could simply mean finding a mentor or doing some online courses. Always be thinking of what short courses you can do to be more current, and to stay abreast of changes within your industry so you don’t get left behind.

What are some of the most positive or unusual changes you’ve seen from those who make a career transition later in life?

Although it doesn’t always have to be a glamorous or dramatic change – it might look to an outsider like a small pivot – there have been some significant changes. I had a client who went from a financial analyst to now being an art therapist. Her background meant she was very logical and thorough in her research, and she mapped out with her husband a solid financial and action plan to get there.

There is quite a strong sub group in this area of women in their 50s and onwards who see this as their time to shine. I had a woman who had done heaps of jobs in retail and hospitality when she was much younger, but left the workforce to be a full-time mum. Once her son was in high school, she realised she had a talent for numbers, and is now an accountant and auditor for super funds.

Another unusual one was a doctor who became a glass sculptor. He was a good doctor, but wasn’t thriving. When he realised he could create a pathway to become a sculptor, it was like watching the light come on.

What are the biggest challenges someone will face when rethinking their career in their later years?

Finances, training and ageism. Older workers are discriminated against, and it will take someone older roughly twice as long to find a job as someone younger. Although it can be psychologically difficult, it’s so important to not give up. Find a creative way around it; use your networks, life experience and resilience to keep going.

One of the biggest challenges is that there are no real pathways for older workers; we’re forging the pathways as we go. This means individuals can create their own pathways – which is both exciting, and terrifying!

What are the biggest benefits to a career change later in life?

It’ll reinvigorate your whole life! It’ll give you a new perspective, and a new playground. There is also a great deal of confidence and self-satisfaction that comes with being able to say, “I did this, I made this change myself”. There will also be financial benefits, as you’ll ideally move into a more sustainable way to make an income with real prospects for the future.

If you’re not sure of where to start, pick up a copy of Joanna’s book ‘Rethink Your Career in your 40s, 50s and 60s’ so you can start figuring out ways to flourish and find a new level of satisfaction and enjoyment from your work life.

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