Changing careers after 50

Changing careers after 50

by Casey-Ann Seaniger.
Reprinted with permission, 50-something magazine, National Seniors Australia, October 2009, p. 32

With so many negative stories surrounding rising unemployment and a bleak outlook for jobs, it’s refreshing to hear inspirational accounts of people who have taken a chance on their career and won. Making the decision to plunge into a new career in later life takes true guts.Changing careers after the age of 50 involves risk, but if done right, the rewards can be massive.

Seven career changes

According to research from the Department of Education, Science and Training in 2005, most Australians will now change career seven times in their life. Reinvent Your Career managing director, Nicholas Ricciuti, says an increasing number of people are reconsidering their line of work in search for something new. “Reinventing your career is hard work but often worthwhile,’’ he said.
“Although financial issues are a reality, and to stay put may seem the most practicable way forward, the commitment to live your career dream is often the match that lights the fire within, developing opportunities and a sense of self fulfilment that most never experience.In my opinion, not to engage and discover a work life that you enjoy is the real risk.”
For Roy Stall, going from the four walls of a library to the high seas teaching maritime English, has certainly paid off. Roy has been able to travel extensively and now has a new lease on life.
After years of working the busy executive lifestyle, Helen Schofield was looking for a change. Little did she know that making dolls would be her new career direction.
Sandy Potter also recognised the perks of being your own boss and after more than 37 years working in superannuation at a life assurance company, Sandy went from white collar to blue singlet when he purchased his own lawn mowing business.

Sequence of events

Mr Ricciuti said for most people, it was not about having a ‘mid-life’ crisis, but rather a sequence of other events that trigger people to make a change.
“Career decision making is seen as a series of continuous choices across the life span, not a once-and-for-all event,’’ he said.
“Thus, careers may be viewed as a spiral sequence of all life roles, with changes triggered by factors ranging from the anticipated (marriage, empty nest) to unanticipated (illness, divorce, layoff, death) to ‘non-events’ (a marriage or promotion that did not occur).”
Other reasons people seek change are because their initial career was not their own choice, their original aspirations were not met, there is insufficient time for other life roles, or the present career is incongruent with changed values or interests.
Longer life expectancy, changing views of retirement and economic necessity are some of the other factors.

Roy Stall, RAN retired

In the late 1990s, Roy fell victim to ageism in the job market but instead of giving up, he decided to head in a new direction. After his job at a university was abolished, he started the tedious search of looking for a new job and soon discovered he could wallpaper his home office with the amount of rejection letters he’d collected. Roy, from Perth, decided to study a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course at a local college at his own expense. In the months and years that followed, Roy picked up quite a few part-time, casual, and relief teaching jobs at a variety of English language colleges in Perth.
Because he had an ex-Royal Australian Navy background, as well as a modest marine ticket gained in Hong Kong, he started to specialise in what is called ‘Maritime English’.
In the same way international aviators have to speak ‘aviation English’ when travelling around the world, so do captains of ships over 500 tonnes, when they converse with vessel traffic services, ships’ pilots, or other vessels on the high seas.
Roy has worked at a Tokyo-based maritime university and has undertaken three voyages on its 93-metre training ship, the Umitaka Maru, teaching cadets while en route.
Roy says his decision to spend money to up-skill was certainly worth it. “In recent years I have travelled to both China and Japan, to teach Maritime English, in a number of interesting locations, including Shanghai, Qinhuangdao and Tokyo,’’ he said.


Naval Officers Club member Roy Stall (dark shirt) teaches “Maritime English” to attentive cadets aboard Umitaka Maru.

Helen Schofield

Three years ago, Helen Schofield had had enough of her job as an executive assistant and decided she wanted a change.
While Helen was looking to buy dolls for her granddaughters living in the US, she noticed there was a real gap in the market for age-appropriate Australian-made dolls.
“I found the trend of popular culture via marketing, TV shows and music was to sexualise children so I decided in some small way to try to make a difference by offering an alternative,’’ she said.
After extensive research, Helen began a manufacturing business in dolls. Her business, Australian Girl, now supplies to over 30 stores around Australia and sells online via the website

Toy of the year finalist

Helen is at the helm of some exciting times for the business. The fifth doll, being released in November, was a finalist in the Toy of the Year awards at the Australian Toy Fair in Melbourne. Helen is also planning to publish an adventure novel based on her dolls.
“We have our first adventure novel for girls being published next year. We are planning on bringing some Australian history and Australian role models into the books.”
Helen also makes donations to charities and supports the work of Kids Free 2B Kids, Women’s Forum Australia and Wishes of the West.
“I am 60 now and feel younger than I did when I finished my last job,’’ she said. “I wouldn’t say I work less hours now, but I can say I work when I want to and the adventure of a steep learning curve has been exhilarating.”

Sandy Potter

Sandy Potter, 70, from Hornsby Heights in NSW, worked for the same life assurance company for 37 years before deciding it was time to move on.
As the years went by, Sandy started to feel more pressure, stress and an increased lack of job satisfaction at his work. “My focus was superannuation and tax changes were occurring almost as quickly as you could blink,’’ he said.

Lawnmowing franchise

Sandy decided to turn his love for gardens and the outdoors into something more practical. At the age of 55, Sandy purchased a lawnmowing franchise which gave him initial business support but then he went out on his own.
“I really valued being able to pick and choose the jobs I wanted to do, and this outweighed the hard work and long hours,’’ he said.
Although he faced a total lack of understanding from his colleagues when he decided to make the switch, Sandy hasn’t looked back.

No regrets

“I have no regrets about this change of direction, although it was at first a challenge to adjust from being an employee to being my own boss,’’ he said.
“And it may sound simple, but there is nothing like receiving a phone call from a client to say how great it was to come home and see the back garden transformed.”
Another totally unimagined spin-off from the gardening and lawn-mowing has been the growing of plants and selling at local markets. “This has brought us into a new world of activities and friendships,” he said.