Am I too old to change career?

Updated: Feb 6

Whether you’re in the early stages of your working life, or you have decades of experience, research shows that probably only around 20% of people love the career they’re in and are passionate about the work they do.

That means an extraordinary 80% of people feel they have made the wrong career choice! Couple this with the reality that we are living longer and facing longer careers – most people now will be working for up to five decades – there is a compelling reason to take some positive action when you know you’re in the wrong place – no matter what your age or career stage.

As a Career Coach and HR Consultant I work with clients at all stages of their lives who have decided to make a career change. I support them through the process – using my toolkit and drawing on years experience to help them explore where they want to go, and establish how best to get there – providing direction and support every step of the way.

In this article I explore some case studies of people changing career at different stages of their life. I’ll explain the process they went through and how they overcame some of the blocks and challenges they faced – and it might surprise you to know that a lot of the perceived obstacles are either in our heads, or wrong or outdated assumptions.

Is it too early / too late for me to change career?

The simple answer is ‘No' but the fact that the question is asked at all, means there is an underlying belief or assumption that there is a perfect point in our lives when it is OK, and that’s simply not true!

So if there really isn’t a right or wrong time to change career – and you’ve realised you’re not as happy or fulfilled as you believe you should be, or would be in your perfect job. You owe it to yourself (at least!) to do something about it sooner rather than later.

When we're not happy at work it spills over into other areas of our lives and impacts other people as well.

Changing career early in life

Sam was 29 when she came for career coaching. She explained that she had "taken the wrong degree’’ and as a result was hating her job working as a junior scientist in a laboratory.

While to the outside world it appeared that she was set on her perfect career, she was very unhappy. She dreaded going into work and this had an impact on other areas of her life.

She explained that at the time of making her choices for further education, her well-meaning teachers at school had encouraged her to do a science degree, ‘’because she was good at science”. And because she didn’t have any other ideas, that was the path she took.

Why so many of us take the wrong path

We make career choices very early on in life, before we really have any idea what options are open to us and it can feel that our choices have narrowed before we’ve even started.

Children have always been asked ‘What they want to be when they grow up?’ and of course, the implication is that you already know what’s out there to choose from. And that you are already equipped to choose your career path. Ridiculous really!

The purpose of schooling is (or ought to be) to prepare us for life – to provide the knowledge and skills we need and for us to discover what we’re good at and what we really enjoy. But before we’ve reached our teens we’re having to make subject choices that start to shape how we see ourselves, the world and the opportunities that are out there for us.

Why we find it so hard to change career

In earlier generations, perhaps our parents’ or grandparents’, there was a concept of ‘a job for life’. You’d leave school and go into a job or career and you’d stay with the same company until retirement. And that seemed to be the blueprint for a perfect life.

The lucky ones are very happy with the choice they made. But often – more often than we realise – we're not happy with the path we've chosen.

Of course, there is security that comes from having one job and not having to think or worry about finding new employment. But staying in the same job simply to avoid change – when you know there’s no chance of becoming any happier or more fulfilled – can be soul-destroying. Especially when you suspect there may be jobs out there that you'd love!

Finding your passion

In Sam's career coaching sessions we explored what was important to her and where her passions lay.

She loved the outdoors, she was passionate about nature and the environment and more specifically, loved plant life. When she spoke about this, her passion was evident – her eyes lit up and she spoke excitedly about how alive she felt in that environment. Before long she had discovered her ideal career – Horticulture - combining her love of science, nature and the outdoors.