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How to Set Great Expectations for Your Late-Stage Career


June 3rd, 2019

- Updated on

June 6, 2019 - 5:05pm
One day, you may find yourself without a job or thinking about leaving a job in the later stages of your working life. This scenario is often due to company realignments; personal fit with a boss; or when early retirement packages are offered that are hard to refuse. Or you’re just burned out.
Heightened emotions, especially for those of us who are more senior, may include fear of finding a new position, our value to an organization at our age, and our contribution to maintaining our family’s lifestyle. Our ability to be relevant is also a concern as younger employees move into the workplace and up the ranks. 
Step back and review the big picture. What do you really want to do now? 

Taking Hold of My Future Career

I transitioned to many positions over the course of my 35-year career. At times, it was lateral and other times, it seemed monumental because my whole work dynamic changed. 
Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to work with A.J. O’Connor Associates (AJO). I met with Career Coach, Katie McGinty, who helped me evaluate my strengths, weaknesses and importantly, recognized the emotional turmoil that I was experiencing. The transition was an upset to my physical world, for my family…and to my ego. She listened with sincere compassion, provided guidance and was the pillar that helped streamline my thinking. 
AJO Career Coach Katie McGinty“I’ve been in the situation where I had to re-invent myself,” said Katie. “I’ve experienced that turmoil where nothing fits. Working with Gail gave me the opportunity to utilize my own knowledge and experience to help her in changing her paradigm of who she was and identify who she wanted to be -- and then develop a plan to go after it.” 

A Career Coach and Four Life Lessons

Katie’s first question was the hardest, “what did I want to do?” It was a daunting challenge because I had only ever done what I knew I could do – corporate communications. 
New mindset new results graphic
Adjusting expectations was the first step. Here are some of the career lessons that helped me get there.
  • Lesson 1 – I needed to separate the past from the future. Katie from AJO helped set my future employment apart from past employment by clarifying that I wasn’t going to just accept someone else’s view of my fit in an organization. I was going to assess my own fit. It wasn’t for them to decide. It was for us to decide. 
  • Lesson 2 – I wasn’t being interviewed for jobs. I was seeking a career change. Therefore, anyone I interviewed with had to dig deeper and ask meaningful, thoughtful questions that were appropriate for a senior candidate. For me, it was being completely honest with myself and forthcoming with them about what I saw in their organization that fit my senior career goals.
  • Lesson 3 -- I did my homework. I made the pro and con list. I reviewed my skills and took the necessary courses to bring them up to speed. I looked at many different solutions, some complementary, some very different from my experience. I narrowed the field of options. 
  • Lesson 4 – I thought long and hard about what would really make me committed to this next career. What did I need to make this change happen and be successful? Was it seeing my contribution clearly in the organization? Was it money? Freedom of thought? Flexibility of time? Being a writer again? Free of long commutes? 

My Decision – Let Go of Corporate America 

This was the hardest part for me. Katie helped me find my comfort zone, the sweet spot, the career I wished for and that fit with this time in my life. I began to execute a long-term plan. 
I wanted to accommodate my desire to make a contribution to society, to volunteer more, work from home, and make time to learn about different industries. Websites like Idealist were helpful in showing me what kind of charitable organizations had jobs that needed my skill set. There was a great deal of research and preparation. 

Making My Career Move

I finally did it with the help of my family, friends, and Katie. My spouse and I downsized our home, reduced our annual budget, reviewed our career goals together, and launched a plan that was going to give us less time in the car, more time for our charities and still maintain our relevance in the business world. These were our priorities and we were lucky to have options. 
After decades of managing others, living in meetings and overseeing communications efforts, I have returned to my roots. I was trained as journalist and today I am a freelance writer and editor for a variety of industries – allowing me to learn something new every day and enjoy my original love of writing and words. I work for animal rescues, hospitals, non-fiction authors and others. 
Why didn’t I do this earlier? Because I wasn’t ready. I believe each transition comes when you’ve reached a pinnacle, a soundness, a desire to see the next version of yourself at work and in life.
Apparently, my experience was far from unique. Using data from the Current Population Survey (2011-2018), Nathan Lau noted a sudden increase in job-switching at age 65, which he attributed to a new interest after retirement, or more likely, a need for a new source of income. It's worth mentioning that only 45 percent of people aged 60 plus say their savings for retirement are on track so need and desire appear to be drivers in late-stage career decision-making. 
Switching careers by age graphic
Source: When People Find a New Job by Nathan Yau

My Courage Coach

AJO's programs and Katie made sure I was looking at both sides of the equation. It was no longer about climbing the corporate ladder but finding a service that helped others and satisfied my need to contribute to society with the skill I valued most. It was a life lesson that I will always carry forward. The clients I work with today recognize the value of my experience and the enthusiasm I bring to my work, and their organization. It is a win-win for everyone. 

Recommended Reading and References

  • The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life by David Brooks (2019). This #1 New York Times Bestseller explores the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose: to a spouse and family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith, and to a community.
  • Idealist is all about connecting idealists – people who want to do good – with opportunities for action and collaboration. With more than 120,000 organizations and 1.4 million monthly visitors to its English, and Spanish (idealistas.org) sites, Idealist helps people move from intention to action all over the world.
  • FlexJobs was created in 2007 to provide a trusted, more effective, friendly, and overall better way to find professional remote and flexible jobs. FlexJobs has become a leader in the flexible job movement that's currently disrupting the traditional workforce. 

Gail Petersen HeadshotGail Petersen is an experienced communicator providing clients with strategic planning, writing and project implementation to engage and maximize the impact of messaging on target audiences. She practices and promotes quality written communications, mentoring and collaboration in all her projects. She lives in Easton, PA with her husband and two house rabbits; is on the Board of the Safe Haven Rabbit Rescue; is the grant writer for a dog and cat shelter and edits nonfiction books.