The Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) changed many things in the world and retirement is one of them. As the last of that cohort approaches later life, we are seeing a revolution in our working lives.
“The whole three-stage model of life (education, work and then retirement) has been upended,” says Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, a digital community for the over 50s. “The concept of retirement doesn’t work any more.”
A combination of better health in mid and later life, and the financial challenges brought about by our longer lifespan mean more of us are working on through our 60s and even our 70s. But increasingly it’s on our own terms.
Make your career work for you
“People are typically looking for more fulfilling careers,” said Lewis. “One of the most read pieces of content on our website is ‘rewarding career paths’.”
Later life has evolved into a portfolio of possibilities. Yes, there’s working; but it might be part-time, or seasonal. It could be self-employment or consultancy work. It might be combined with a role as a volunteer or further qualifications. Education could be focused on retraining for a specific job, or simply exploring a passion for a subject.
“We see an intrinsic link between employment, happiness and financial wellbeing, You see these links between health and employment, or social connection and work. All these different aspects of life are connected, and more so in this demographic than any other."
- Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less
What else does life have to offer
The over 50s are a very diverse group, possibly more so than any other age group, as three or four decades of life experience will have taken individuals in so many different directions. Some will be financially comfortable, with mortgage repaid and family that have flown the nest; others could be starting a second family or handling the financial fallout from a divorce. So the Rest Less platform, originally very focused on work and career switching, now offers much more – everything from arts and culture to dating and health.
The one element that’s common for this demographic is that this is a time of transition, where many of us start to look for greater meaning in our daily lives but often don’t know how. A first step is to invest time and effort in research. You might want to explore different options, perhaps using your interests and hobbies as a starting point. Could you turn a love of dogs into working for the RSPCA, or experience of raising a family into being a teaching assistant? You might have an idea what you want to do but need to plan the route. Will you have to retrain, gain experience by volunteering, or work in a related field that develops new skills?
“The idea of making a change can feel really daunting,” says Lewis. “Often if you break that change down into a series of smaller steps, things become a lot more achievable. Research is a great way of boosting confidence.”
Empower yourself with financial planning
That confidence can be key to successful later life career change, with many of us held back by self-limiting beliefs (sometimes due in part to the remnants of age discrimination in our culture). In tandem with research is understanding your financial position, being clear about your commitments and realistic about your savings.
“People often bury their heads in the sand but the more honest you are, the more financial freedom you’re going to give yourself longer term,” says Emma Byron, Legal & General’s Managing Director of Retirement Solutions. “Take the time to educate yourself and take stock of your finances, and remember to re-visit them regularly. There are lots of tools on our website to help with financial planning, as well as our free course with the Open University. If you’re struggling, remember you can also speak to a financial advisor.”
You may not be able to afford to retrain – degrees don’t come cheap these days – without maintaining a part-time job, or you may choose to increase your savings in order to be able to go part-time earlier (remember that pensions are a very tax-efficient way of saving).
Real life stories
We spoke to Jacky, who continued to work part-time while she studied towards a new career path. It wasn’t until she was in her 50s that she changed focus, completing not only a degree in Psychology & Sociology and a Post Graduate Degree in Education, but also a Masters in Forensic Psychology in order to achieve the new career she wanted, working with disadvantaged teenagers. “Once you’ve worked out what you want to do you have to get the qualifications that allow you to do it,” she explains. “You’ve got to follow that dream, but realistically.”
Don’t forget to plan your support network just as carefully as your career path and your finances. Further education is time-consuming, and you need to make sure your family and friends are onboard; if you have caring responsibilities, will someone else be able to take some of the strain? Will your partner be happy if you spend every evening at your desk, or aren’t able to go for a pub lunch at the weekends?
Changing careers in mid or later life means a complex set of very personal decisions. Only you can make the call on whether it’s right for you; but, says Lewis, it’s worth remembering that striving and stretching for new challenges sets you up very well for later life.
“There’s a lot of research showing that the more goal orientated and ambitious you are, the better your experience of the ageing process,” he points out.
So it seems that changing careers could benefit your health as well as your wealth. Now that is a revolutionary thought.