Career choice decisions are no longer limited to the under-25s. Many people are finding that later life, often a time when we’re freed from the emotional or financial drivers of our earlier years, is the perfect time to explore a second or even a third career.
But it may take a bit of planning – something embraced by Jacky, whose first career at British Airways took her to the top in human resources and as an operational manager.
Going back to university
“There’s a lot of life to be lived,” she says. “Necessity often drives our early life, but later on there’s an opportunity to work out what you want to do with those many years going forward."
Jacky’s business career was prompted by advice from her parents. They felt that her first love, psychology, wouldn’t provide a sufficiently stable foundation in life, so she went into business instead. It wasn’t until she was in her 50s that she changed focus, taking not only a degree in Psychology & Sociology and a Postgraduate Degree in Education, but also a Master's in Forensic Psychology.
“Once you’ve worked out what you want to do, you have to get the qualifications that allow you to do it,” she points out.
She started volunteering at a local prison, working with young offenders, but quickly became a paid member of staff. That developed into teaching vulnerable students who had been excluded from school and were on the cusp of criminal activity. “If they swore at me, I made them learn how to spell the word!” she says.
Jacky also uses her skills at the University of Reading, where she teaches forensic psychology. Her pleasure in lifelong learning and supporting young people and children at risk shines through her conversation. She takes good care to maintain a positive mental attitude, which helped her through treatment for breast cancer, not to mention other family issues.
“You cannot go through life on an even keel,” she says. “Positivity helps you go forward. The important thing is [to find] what you enjoy doing, because that lifts your spirit.”
Enjoy the flexibility of later life
But she is realistic about getting older. “Although our brains may be able to remain active, our bodies may not,” she says. “I took on a teaching role that was less demanding, because I realised I was tired. The joy of being this age is that you can pick things up and if you don’t enjoy them, you can drop them and try something else.”
And try something else she has – she’s now into her third career, as a local politician. From parish to district to county councillor, Jacky is flourishing in local government, and bringing all her skills and experience to bear.
“I work with vulnerable children and disadvantaged families, ensuring they receive the care and support they need – it’s right back where I wanted to be. But I had to change my mindset again; making decisions by committee is very different from what I was used to.”
It took her about ten years to achieve the right niche in local government; as she said at the outset, planning is a key part of changing careers. “You’ve got to follow that dream, but realistically,” she advises. “The plan can change. It might work out as less exciting or not quite what you wanted. Don’t see change as a failure – it’s an opportunity to try something else.”
When we spoke, Jacky was busy campaigning for re-election to West Sussex County Council and realistic about the stiff competition. But, in line with her positive philosophy, “if I don’t get in, I’ll just focus on writing my book."
A book? Is this career number four? “I don’t think I’ll ever retire. Not even when I’m 100 – that’s what my kids say. We may not be spring chickens, but we can contribute a huge amount in the world,” she says. “Actually, it’s not a book, it’s a trilogy.”
Of course it is, Jacky. Of course it is.