Careers in the 2nd Half of Life
I have been thinking about how careers in the 2nd half of life are different. In fact, I claim that the idea of a career in the 2nd half of life is a relatively new concept.
My father was forced into retirement at the age of 59 in 1978, after a long career as an economist at the New York Stock Exchange. He did not want to retire, so he decided to teach college economics. He did not have his Ph.D. and had a really hard time making the transition because everyone expected him to retire.
He died at the age of 73 from having his career yanked out from underneath him.
Some things have changed, but others have not. We are living much longer. I plan on living both longer and healthier in my 2nd half of life than my parents. What has not changed is many of our generations are having their careers yanked out from underneath them.
When Does the 2nd Half of Life Begin?
First, we need to answer the question—when does the 2nd half of life begin?
When I was growing up in the 1960’s, someone who was 60 was really old. I remember my grandfather was using a walker in his late 60’s! He was also a 3-pack-a-day Lucky Strike smoker. He passed away in November of 1968, a little after his 70th birthday. There was no thought of a career in the 2nd half of life because you had one career. Period.
For many of us, the 2nd half of life began in our mid-40’s or early 50’s. So what happened?
When I graduated from Northwestern University with my engineering degree in the late 1970’s, I had a completely different set of priorities than I would 25 years later.
- I bought a house and acquired debt (mortgage)
- Got married
- Had a son
Back then, it was about getting promoted and making more money.
I then went through a whole series of changes after I turned 40.
- IBM discontinued the pension plan in 1999. They re-instated it for those of us over 40, but I no longer trusted them. I left in early 2000 for a successful startup.
- Our only son graduated from high school and left for college. (Empty nest)
- At age 46, I had what could have been a fatal bicycle collision. I hit a car head on, where our speeds exceeded 50 mph.
- We paid off the mortgage.
All of these changes caused me to change my perspective on what a career meant to me.
For me, the 2nd half of life had begun in my mid-40’s.
What is Different in 2nd Half of Life Careers
In the late 1990’s, my boss at IBM told me she was going to promote me. IBM had—and I believe still has—a band system that went from 1-10. I was a band 9. She wanted to promote me to a band 10, but I told her no. IBM was periodically laying people off, and the band 10 jobs were very vulnerable. Plus, I did not want to do the work most band 10 employees did.
I was as high as I wanted to go in my career. That was a defining moment.
I grew up in a family and a culture that told me to climb the corporate ladder and never stop. The corporate ladder was disappearing, organizational structures were flattening out, and there were more of us competing for fewer and fewer positions. So, the decision to get off the ladder was very freeing.
What is different in the 2nd half of life careers is that we care more about the purpose and meaning than climbing the corporate ladder.
I started Career Pivot after I was put in a highly unethical position by my manager at my last job. I bolded the last job because I do not plan to work for anyone else as an employee ever again.
I want to make enough money to support my wife and myself for as long as I can. I want to work on what I want to work on, when I want to work, and only work as hard as I want to work. I want freedom.
In Chris Farrell’s book, Purpose and a Paycheck – Finding Meaning, Money, and Happiness in the Second Half of Life he documents lots of stories of people who either want, or have, to work in the 2nd half of life. Many of us will still be working in our 70’s and some will still be working in our 80’s.
You can listen to my interview with Chris on the Repurpose Your Career podcast here.
Another example is Dr. Joel Dobbs, who carefully planned his 2nd half of life pivot to a portfolio of teaching at the university level, coaching and consulting. You can listen to my interview with Joel on the Repurpose Your Career podcast here.
Dr. Dobbs carefully planned out his transition largely on his terms. Not all of us are so lucky to have that luxury to leave on our terms. Check out the ProPublica article If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t be Yours.
Then there is David, in the Career Pivot Community, who has left his full-time job to be a part-time advisor at his local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). He is teaching one class online at a state university and he is looking to start a side consulting/contracting business. He is doing what I advise everyone in the community to do, and that is if you plan to work into your 70’s, you need to plan that NOW. It will likely not be a full-time job, but a portfolio of work that you can control.
My 2nd half of life career plan is to work less at something I love.
What is your 2nd half of life career plan?Marc Miller
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