At the beginning of February 2017, a new government strategy encouraged the over 50’s to take full advantage of the opportunities that work can bring. The Fuller Working Lives Strategy listed being healthier and wealthier as just 2 benefits of working. But what if you’re not happy in your work? How easy is it to seek a new career when you’re approaching mid-life?
To be fair, if ever we needed reassuring that age is no longer an issue when it comes to pursuing our careers, we got it last year on the catwalk in Milan. 73 year old Lauren Hutton walked in the Bottega Veneta show, alongside and united with 21 year old Gigi Hadid. Neither outshone the other, both reeked with professionalism, beauty and savoir-faire.
I am pleased that in 2017, ladies are free to continue pursuing their career for as long as they wish.
For many, following years of putting their children’s needs first, middle-age is the first opportunity ladies have to follow their own dreams without distraction. For others, the tables are turned and middle age is a time when careers, once blooming, take a back seat and the dream job must be replaced by something new; something more fitting with apt hours and flexibility. Maybe for some ladies, one career just isn’t enough and when they reach a time in their life where they start to self-examine and take stock, they realise that change is imminent.
But whatever the reason for a change in the career path, doing it can be daunting and off putting. For some, the overwhelming prospect of starting again can just be too much to bare, for others the echoes of discontentment are overpowering and the leap into the unfamiliar becomes inevitable.
Meet 4 very different, but equally courageous ladies, who decided just that;
Natalie Read, 42, moved from TV Producer through to Teaching Assistant. She is married with 2 young children and lives in Hertfordshire.
Before I had children, I was a TV Producer making shows for terrestrial and satellite TV in light entertainment. The shows included live magazine shows, reality shows, makeover shows and shows about the Paranormal.
I had a couple of years off when the children were little and then I returned to work producing YouTube videos for several well-known high street brands.
It was a conscious decision to change my career. I was fed up with commuting to London without being able to enjoy the fun stuff that the city has to offer. And, I felt awful about getting home and being excited to see the children but basically just having to tell them it was bedtime.
I knew that I wanted to do something that fitted in with my kids better. Working in a school was an obvious choice but I wasn’t sure if I liked other people’s children! I decided to volunteer at my children’s school and see how I felt. And I found that I really enjoyed it.
A job came up in another school as a teaching assistant working one to one with an autistic boy who also suffers ADHD and speech and language difficulties. To be educated in a mainstream school he needs support. I wrote a very honest letter about why I was good for the job and hoped for the best. I must have said something right because I got an interview.
I was aware that I didn’t have much experience; only my volunteering work. However, my daughter’s best friend has Asperger’s so I quizzed her on what she thought I needed to know. I also read masses around the education of children on the spectrum and studied the schools website. In addition, I talked to other teaching assistants and devoured as much information on autism as I could. When you’ve worked in TV, research is second nature.
The interview was really strange for me; I had been at a stage in my former career where a new job involved an informal chat and coffee, or a glass of wine with someone, rather than a formal interview with a list of questions to answer. But I did it and was offered the job.
Changing career at 42 has made me feel braver. I feel more likely to take on new challenges. I would never have considered working with children before but now I am thinking of doing a teaching qualification to work with children with special needs.
Most of what I have learnt in my new role has come directly from the little boy I work with. There are comparisons to my old job though; I learned to watch my little boy and be sensitive to his triggers and anxieties – much the same as I had to be sensitive to some difficult celebrity talent in television.
There is one negative; I earn considerably less than I did in the media. Many teaching assistants have to get second jobs to make ends meet. I have been lucky – I could make the switch because I have a husband who works very hard and earns enough to support the family. We could get a bigger house or go on better holidays if I was earning more, but instead I have chosen to have more time with my own children and do a job that makes me feel good.
I’m really glad I found the courage to change career and step out of my comfort zone. I love my new job and I love knowing that I’m doing something to improve the life of a child and his family. I’ve also gained a whole new friendship group. I’ve met teaching assistants with PHDs in Engineering, semi-professional cheerleaders, and teachers who have busked their way round Europe. With such varied backgrounds, there are always fun conversations in the staff room!
Maureen Wray, 50, worked as a classical musician and now runs her own yoga studio Yogayourself. She is married with grown up children and lives in Greater Manchester.
I trained as a classical musician and worked as a violinist on a freelance basis for orchestras in the UK. Mainly I worked for Manchester Camerata, BBC Philharmonic, Opera North and the Northern Chamber Orchestra.
Eventually I started to feel as if I was coming to the end of this part of my life. I didn’t feel as if I had anywhere else to take it; I had played every piece at every concert hall that I had ever wanted to. In addition, I was starting to tire of the unsociable hours and the travel.
I had already started to learn yoga and had become hooked and intrigued. I decided that I wanted to become more involved
The Iyengar system of yoga has very strict training and teaching standards and guidelines. Training to be a teacher involved 5 years of sustained and careful study with a few scary exams along the way.
I finally made it though and things just grew from there.
I’ll never forget teaching my very first class of beginners and looking at the very small amount of money that I had made. I remember wondering how it was all going to work out but I had a very strong feeling that it would.
As I increased my commitment to teaching regular yoga classes, I started to wind down my concert schedule. I finally did my last concert at the Royal Albert Hall and hung up my violin bow in 2009. I was 43.
Now I have my own yoga studio Yogayourself. I deliver weekly Iyenger yoga classes for people of all abilities and I also deliver yoga workshops and weekends for those who want to study the subject of yoga and develop their practice.
My experience as a performer has certainly been incorporated into my teachings. Being a musician taught me the importance of practice and self-motivation. I have learnt to convey this, alongside passion and enthusiasm, within my classes. It help my students to stay interested and motivated.
I think the wonderful thing about being a little older when you change career is that you can call upon all your life experiences to help you. Every skill is valuable and can be applied to whatever you choose to do.
Since I changed my career I am much happier in myself. I spent a long time knowing that I wasn’t in my right place, and it wasn’t a good feeling. Even though I still have days when things don’t go to plan, I don’t ever feel that frustration now.
I really enjoy and value what I do. I’ve grown something all by myself from a tiny little seed and I feel very positive about that. I now have a business that I can nurture and develop with. Who knows where it’s all going to take me? I really have no regrets.
I think that the best way to change your career change is to take lots of small steps. Start with what you’re interested in and pursue it with passion and dedication. Everything that you do will take you in some sort of direction and gradually you will move closer to where you want to be. Keep open minded though, it might not be exactly where you expected it to be! And don’t be scared to make mistakes. Just start somewhere and do something.
Changing your life doesn’t mean that you have to throw everything in the air in a dramatic fashion! It doesn’t have to be that terrifying. Take a deep breath and have faith.
Kirsty Scullion, 43, worked as a manager of Children’s Centres and now works for a national charity as a Major Grants Fundraising Manager.
I was 39 when I changed my career. I had been an area manager for 4 Children’s Centres. Children’s centres offer parenting help and advice. They cover a wide range of subjects including health, finances and getting back into work. Many families rely on them for support.
My role had involved managing a multi-disciplinary team, budgeting and producing the policies.
In 2011 the City Council began to ‘downsize’ its Children’s Centres and I became part of their cull. I suppose that this forced me to consider the path that my career had followed and when I did, I realised that for a number of years I had felt as if I wanted to do something different.
Although I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do next, I did know that I still wanted to help people and that it was important to me to be free from bureaucracy. I wanted to do something in which I could be creative and develop projects that would make a difference to others.
I had already worked a number of years volunteering and I had started my career in 1997 working for a homeless charity in London. I had really enjoyed this and I had developed a connection and empathy with the client groups. Whilst there are a number of the individuals who do take advantage and chose to remain in poverty or prefer the chaotic lifestyles they lead, there are also a significant number who do want to break the cycle and address their issues. Issues such as alcohol dependency or drug addiction. I had valued working with and helping these people.
So when the council ‘downsized’ the Children’s Centres, I decided to move into the charitable sector and I started working on supporting community groups in fundraising and setting up Charities – I then applied for a role which fundraised and developed homes for Veterans.
I am now the Trust and Major Grants Fundraising Manager for a national charity working with people who are homeless. I have a directorship role for the Veterans fundraising; developing grant opportunities to progress supported housing for ex-Service personnel. These people have been in the forces and have ended up homeless. As a result of combat, they suffer with problems such as drug or alcohol issues, PTSD or other mental or physical health issues.
The interview was liberating. It was nice to be on the other side of the interview table; I had spent 11 years in local Government interviewing others and the interview technique had been very constrained. The questions had all been presented in identical manners and we hadn’t been allowed to paraphrase any questions.
The interview for the charity was the complete opposite. It was open to exploring ideas about what I could offer the job and it was very much more a two-way conversation, rather than a set procedure. It created quite a relaxed atmosphere and for me, it clearly worked; They not only offered me a job, but one that was of a more senior position than the one I had applied for.
Some of my experience for my new role came from my voluntary work but I also transferred useful management structure skills and organisational skills from my old job.
I have always been a confident person but I feel revitalised being in a job where I am now free to challenge my confidence into the flexibility of my new role. I no longer feel restricted and I really feel as if I’m making a difference to people’s lives.
Even though there is a lower pay potential within the Charity sector, I have no regrets. There is little prospect to significantly increase my wage without becoming the CEO of a major Charity but the work life balance is preferable and the satisfaction I get from the job far outweighs any 6 figure salary.
Dawn Brown worked as a Senior Data Planner and now has her own business, The Fabulous Footstool Company. She is married with 2 children.
At 35 I was made redundant from my job in London as a Senior Data Planner for a Direct Marketing Agency. I was on maternity leave at the time with my second child and being made redundant really knocked my confidence.
I wasn’t sure what to do next but I quickly realised that the practicalities and cost of starting a new full time career in London was not going to work for me. I had 2 children and my husband travelled a lot with his work. I also knew that I no longer wanted to work full time whilst my children were young. Ideally I wanted to work for myself but I had no idea what I could do.
Whilst I was at home with the children, figuring out what my next move would be, we decided to extend our house. Being at home, I oversaw the project management. It was whilst I was engrossed in the house revamp and furniture renovations that a friend suggested that I try an upholstery workshop.
I remember how proud I was of my first project; a chair that I had reupholstered for our new kitchen. I had really enjoyed restoring it and had delighted in the ‘attention to detail’ renovating the piece had required. I started to do a few other projects for friends and I loved it. It got me thinking that maybe I should try and make my own small furniture.
I shared my idea with a woodworking husband of a friend and we discussed working together to make bespoke pieces of furniture from scratch – him doing the woodwork and me, the soft traditional upholstery. I had already realised that footstools were a viable piece of furniture as they were wieldy to make and proved very adaptable pieces of furniture in people’s homes.
We came up with designs and made sample pieces. Then we looked at how to market it as a business. My business partner’s management consultancy experience and my marketing background were very useful and we complimented one another.
My marketing experience felt very rusty though initially. I lacked confidence, especially as I was used to marketing other people’s businesses and its very different when it’s your own! Marketing had changed a lot in 6 years and I had previously been very specialised in database marketing. I decided to take an online social media marketing and analysis course to get me up to speed and help me set up our Facebook page , which is where we planned to start our venture.
Time management has proved crucial to working for myself. I have to sensibly manage my time between making the items, acquiring new customers and managing the administrations of a business. Somehow I also have to make this all fit into a school day.
I have always doubted myself but working on this venture has made me feel more confident in my abilities. I like getting feedback from my business partner and satisfied customers
My long term friends were really surprised at my career change as they never saw me as “creative”. I was quite academic at school and was brought up thinking that you could only be one or the other. Starting The Fabulous Footstool Company has made me realise how much I enjoy making things and seeing the results. And the appreciation of customers is energising. My new career has unlocked a creative side in me that I didn’t know I had.
I still worry though; even after a flurry of orders and satisfied customers last year. I know I have to give my business time to develop but I’m impatient to see the results. On the plus side, I love the flexibility the business gives and perhaps, most importantly, it has reminded me that I am not just a mother; that I was actually good at my job and that I will be again.