Sorry, but the careers literature starts to define you as an older worker around the age of 45 years – but in some ways it’s a bonus because it’s a strong message that it’s time to rethink and revision your career so that you have the options you may want for the future. Good career management is intentional and strategic. It’s not about rigid planning but flexible strategies and finding an approach you connect with, one that brings empowerment and motivation.
If you’re approaching the mid-40s or older it’s time to think about your approach to the next 20 years. What are the key ideas to consider?
• Career management is about self-direction, designing your own career where you can and creating the success you want – success that fits your aspirations and your life – and understanding that these aspirations change over time.
• Learning is no longer something we go to but a way of being; it can be without boundaries, happening anywhere, anytime in innovative ways.
Midlife learning is a key plus for later life options. In fact, that updated or new credential is almost an essential ingredient for choice.
• Check you understand the concept of building career capital, investing in yourself, and putting your own time and money into career assets because this not only offers benefits to employers, it builds your own expertise and employability. The investment pays off in longer-term options, earnings and career confidence. The single most significant issue older workers (usually in their 50s) bring to me as a career counsellor is the desire for options in later careers – the chance for change, freedom, flexibility and autonomy in their lives. These are best prepared for earlier with learning and investment.
• The vision of success has changed. Many older workers have begun their career in a more traditional environment when the vision of success focused on the career ladder. It was always vertical, and had clear external indicators – financial rewards, titles, office size, getting to the top. They’re still strong drivers of success for many, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, but the paradigm today has so much more flexibility. People can move up, down or sideways depending on their personal goals, or their industries’ needs. We see success differently. The 21st century career is about what’s meaningful to you.
Connected to revisioning success are the developmental changes we see in careers, and none is more interesting than the drive for career renewal at mid-life. Typical of many in their mid-40s onwards is a desire for renewal that, bottom line, is a search for a renewed self or a desire to reconnect with self.
In the frantic world of achievement, especially in the world of executive careers, the self can get disconnected. There’s a gap between the inner being and the external reality; they are out of harmony, and this is a strong message for many that rethinking and revisioning is needed. The connection between self and work is at the heart of our best work, our best contribution; many would say we’re only truly satisfied when our career behaviours are integrated with our life and our self, our identity.
So midlife or later life renewal eventually asks the question “what do I really want for the next 20+ years, how do I make this stage of my life productive, and have a life worth living?”. The new flexible concepts of careers and success say okay, go for it. You can change if you want to. It helps when you know that as your career expands, so does the self. Learning is transformational, and so are the challenges of a fast-paced and changing work environment; and we have to form new concepts of ourselves over time to adapt to these changes. This is our career identity and a healthy one can grow and change. The self always wants to grow, it doesn’t care if you have got to the top or not. It still wants to grow. This gives new meaning to the expression “please yourself”. But it really means please your self, because in doing so paradoxically you do your best work.
The later years of a career are, for many, about finding richness in life, not a narrow focus, but a broadening of experience. The 50s can be very concerned with freedom-seeking. The freedom to leverage our skills and experience to work in ways that suit the whole self. (We don’t have a work self, we have a whole self, and despite our efforts to keep these separate it doesn’t always work.) It may mean the creation of a new career identity. The worst thing that can happen at the later stages of our life is to become fixed in a vision that can’t change.