Finding the Courage to Start – Again, Part 1
A four-part series on older adults starting new careers
Over the past year, I have been among the many older adults considering or pursuing a new career trajectory in the midst of Covid-19. As the pandemic unfolded, I found myself in a state of hypervigilant doomscrolling, hunkered down at home. Yet, the crucible of sustained solitude and contemplation turned out to be fortuitous, prompting me to face my fear and uncertainty about starting over after a career of nearly four decades.
It helped to know I wasn’t alone. Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans pointed out, “In the U.S. alone, 31 million people between the ages of 44 and 70 want what is often called an ‘encore’ career – work that combines personal meaning, continued income and social impact,” as reported in their best-selling book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.
Even in the best of times, fear and uncertainty accompany any career transition. For my Finding the Courage to Start series, I consulted entrepreneurs, authors, and counselors who offered advice on how anyone can summon their courage and embark on a new journey, successfully.
Carroll King Schuller, career, life, and business coach and founder of Organic Blueprints in Richmond, Virginia, says, “Uncertainty and fear are so much a part of life. For months many of us have had time to reflect and consider options. In the past, life’s structure might have dictated our decisions, creating a path with less choices. Now, opportunity is created by one’s talents and figuring out how to use them in our world.”
Those of us who are in the midst of transition know the feeling of trepidation over investing time, financial resources, and training into a second career. Her advice: “Accept the discomfort and uncertainty.”
Accept the discomfort and uncertainty.
When Paulette de Coriolis retired from her career as an engineer, she soon found herself looking at a second career as a therapist. “After not being in college for 30 years, my first doubt was, ‘Can I do graduate school?’ Then came other doubts, ‘Will I be good at being a therapist? Will I enjoy the work of being a therapist?’”
Build a matrix of support.
When de Coriolis needed to summon her courage, she drew on her network of support and intentionally fortified her internal resources. “To deal with uncertainty and doubt, talk it out with trusted people, gather information about the requirements of the career (and of the requirements of the schooling if schooling is required). I talked to friends, to people I knew already who are therapists, to a student in grad school about my age, and to my therapist.”
Test options before taking a leap.
King Schuller advises research, conversation, and testing. “Spend time in areas of your interests; that way you can visualize yourself as part of that career. This might look like taking a class or two (it’s acceptable to quit the class if it is not exciting), spending time with a person or group in that profession, or actually jumping in and taking a risk so your direction can be tested in real time.” I tested the waters by attending one writing class. I was hooked.
De Coriolis researched her second career through service. “I found a volunteer activity, the local crisis line, which although was not the same as being a therapist, it gave me more confidence in my direction.” She completed a master of arts degree in clinical mental health counseling from Antioch University, Seattle, and now, in her 70s, she runs a mental health practice in Redmond, Washington.
“Look at your resources to carry you through school and the possible lean times early in your new career,” she advises. “Then, feel the fear and do it anyway.”
Discomfort and anxiety are our companions during any courageous undertaking, but with supportive friends and new acquaintances in our field of interest we can test the waters and thrive.
Despite all its challenges, a second career is worth the risks for millions of people. As King Schuller ended our interview, “Engage and enjoy the journey!”
In my next installment of Finding the Courage to Start, I’ll share advice from inventor Jeffrey Nash that helped him launch his first product from idea to over a million sales and Alma Katsu, who transitioned from a career as an intelligence analyst to an award-winning novelist and television producer.
Paulette de Coriolis, MA, LMHCA is a mental health counselor specializing in serving transgender people. She is a volunteer facilitator at the Ingersoll Gender Center’s drop-in support group and a volunteer phone worker at the Crisis Clinic. She retired from a career as an engineer, then completed a master of arts degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Antioch University Seattle and runs a mental health practice in Redmond, Washington.
Carroll King Schuller, CCM, owner of Organic Blueprints, Inc. is a business, career management, and life coach for fast-thinking adults.
Rev. Dr. Brenda Walker is the author of the forthcoming Martine: A Memoir, which tells of her transformation into a trans ally as she discovers that her oldest sibling, who died in 1982 under mysterious circumstances, was transgender. Share your thoughts on second careers and connect with Brenda.