Mid-life career change

Marketplace Staff Dec 15, 2006

Do you like your job?

I mean, really like it? Or do you find yourself daydreaming about, I don’t know, making surfboards for a living?

Now… What if you’re over 40?

After 20 years in the non-profit arena, one man in Northern Michigan is going back to school to be a nurse.

That’s right. He’s trading his laptop for a bedpan.

Interlochen Public Radio’s Tom Kramer reports.

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For the first time in decades, Mac Beeker finds himself sitting in a classroom learning about Chemistry.

Mac started his professional career in radio.

He spent some time spinning records before getting a masters degree.

That led to a career in public radio administration.

Now, after years of raising money for non-profits, Mac’s looking forward to a different kind of reward… a job with a product that he can see and feel.

Mac1 :21 “When you’re in an administrative position and you’re sitting in your office, doing work, there are times where you don’t get up for several hours unless it’s to go to a meeting where you walk in and sit down. All your work really is in your head or on a computer. And your ability to kind of interact with people and do something with your hands that has a direct, meaningful output is really limited.”

Dr. Ann Marie Love says it’s not uncommon for people, especially middle-aged professionals, to re-evaluate their goals… often mingling personal with professional.

Dr. Love is a psychologist who specializes in career counseling.

Dr.Love1 :20 “The most common reason I get for people coming in at mid life is they don’t feel like they’re making a difference in the world. And they want to go into something where, more of a vocation where they feel like they’re making a difference: they want to help with poverty, they want to help with finding a cure for cancer – those kinds of things. They don’t take this lightly.

The need to make a difference… Both Mac and his wife, Mary know about that.

When the couple talks about what kind of retirement they envision, right off the bat, they knew spending their days sitting in rocking chairs drinking lemonade was out… and so was golf.

What was in: doing something active to make the world a little bit better… maybe the Peace Corps.

But Mac worried how he could contribute considering his current set of skills.

Mac4 :06 “Well, I could manage a direct mail campaign and raise funds for the Peace Corps, but that’s not really what I’d like to do in retirement.”

Knowing he was looking for an active retirement… just 20 years away… Mac decided it was time to make a change.

At 42 years old, Mac fits perfectly into a recent study says the median age of people changing careers is 43.

But where does he start.

Paul Sutherland is a certified financial planner who has helped several clients take a fresh look at new careers.

Sutherland1 :14 “You do see people that will change careers in their 40’s. I heard a dentist, he said, ‘You know, Paul, I let an 18 year old decide what I would do as a career.’ And, he says, ‘You know, now that I’m 40, I don’t like, I’ve never liked being a dentist. At 18 it sounded cool. But now it sounds awful.'”

Suthlerland says when a person decides to make a career change or go back to school, it doesn’t have to mean a drastic change in lifestyle.

Sutherland2 :18 “You know, the main thing is you want to do budgets for the next two years to know they can feel comfortable about going to college. And everything’s predictable. They know what their mortgage payment is going to be and they can estimate what their phone and utilities are going to be. And they can see if they can live on the spouse’s income. And if not, where’s the money going to come from.”

In Mac’s case, they’re in good shape financially.

Both he and his wife have retirement savings from previous jobs.

And Mary continues to work full time.

Putting all of the pieces together; Mac’s desire to work with his hands, looking at a career that can carry over into life after retirement, and the desire to make a difference in the lives of others, Mac decided a career in nursing may be the answer.

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So now Mac finds himself in a college classroom full of 20 somethings, his professor handing back last week’s quiz as the periodic table looms from above the dry erase board at the front of the room.

But for Mac, it beats continuing in a profession that was no longer satisfying.

Mac8 :22 “A good friend gave me advice he said, ‘Don’t be afraid to quit your crappy job, there’s always another crappy job out there.’ And, it was like, ‘Oh. You’re right.’ If you’re unhappy with your work, try to change your work. And see if you can influence that to be better for you. And if you can’t, don’t be afraid to make a change.”

I’m Tom Kramer for Marketplace Money.

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