Am I too old to start over again?
August 9, 2012 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Unable to find consistent work since 2009 I'm thinking of reskilling again. I'm 38. Is this too old?

I went to university in 2005 when I was 32 and came out in 2009 with a first class degree in product design. since then I have tried and failed at being a freelancer, failed at getting any design-related job at any level and now feel like I am too old for people to take me seriously.

I don't think that I will ever be offered a regular job again as my age vs skill level doesn't balance well. I've gotten all cynical with product design and no longer as passionate about it as I once was. And so I believe I will have to strike out on my own to achieve something with my work life.

Because of this I am thinking of reskilling AGAIN and learning Blender (open source 3D modelling / animation software) so, when I am skilled enough I can teach it, write books on how to use it and to use it in a freelance capacity (maybe). I feel passionate about this product and the open source ideology behind it and the strength of the community.

I predict that for deep knowledge of the product (enough for me to write and teach it) it will take me 4 years. I will be 42. Is this too old? I feel this is too old.

No idea what I am doing with my life and this feels like this might be clutching at straws / last chances / etc.

Advice welcome. Thanks. x
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
for what it's worth, last year, I interviewed a 42 year old guy for a software consulting team that I run. We're a Java hosted application\SaaS shop and his tech skills were a little stale (database\SQL was ok, but all of his development background was MS-centric and eight years ago) He had spent the last eight years being a project/product manager, before getting laid off and wanting to get back to being more hands-on.

While he was a bit of a risk insofar as he'd have a steep learning curve, I hired him anyway because of attitude and chemistry. I believe, that even when we're past 30, we can still be trained up on the tech stuff. Being a good person, having sharp communication instincts, and possessing a sturdy work ethic -- that's harder to impart. And also because, at 42, he had the maturity and experience that mellowed out the 28 year old hotheads on my team.

So, no, in the eyes of some of us, you're not too old. You just became old enough.
posted by bl1nk at 7:01 AM on August 9, 2012 [7 favorites]

I don't know that age is so much an issue as your credentials. Having a degree/the skill-set is one thing, but when people hire experts to teach them how to use something or are looking to buy books from someone, they tend to look for people who have been in the industry for awhile.

As a freshly-minted Blender expert, I would think you'd be considered entry-level for awhile until you have some experience under your belt. How to go about doing this is the hard part.
posted by xingcat at 7:02 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

That is definitely NOT too old. My husband is 41 and just started working on his degree. When you think about it, in the US at least, retirement age isn't until 65 or older. So, for my husband, that means another 25+ years of working. If you started working at 20, it means at 40 you're not even half-way done working yet.

20 more years of work for you at least.

I have a coworker who is 63. She started out as a phone operator, then was a math teacher, and is now software technical support with some programming. And she's only done the last bit for 15 years.

You've got a lot of years in front of you yet. :)
posted by jillithd at 7:02 AM on August 9, 2012

There is no such thing as too old. There is such a thing as being unrealistic in your approach.

Most people who think about becoming conversant in a particular program don't go from knowing nearly nothing about it to teaching it and writing books about it.

How about the step where you actually use it and design stuff with it? Where did that go?

Is it possible that your approach is all skiwampi?

You got all hot and bothered about product design, and as a noob, you decided to freelance? Typically, you start with some grunty, entry-level job, get a portfolio, THEN freelance. After you've got some contacts, etc.

Having a degree isn't a magic key that lets you skip the entry-level steps.

Now, being older and trying to get into entry-level jobs can be challenging, but it can be done.

I got an admin job where I would learn a program I knew nothing about. After about 6 months I became a proficient administrator, after a year I was doing development work. Now I do Admin and Analysis for a muli-national company using the software. I had to be willing to step back and actually use the stuff.

My suggestion is to find a job using the skills you currently have while simultaneously allowing you to learn Blender. Then leverage that experience.

I'll be 50 in December.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:14 AM on August 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

Simple answer: hell no.

If in five years you haven't done this, you'll be smacking yourself and thinking "damnit, I could have done that in these five years!"
And in those five years you'll still think that NOW you're too old, but five years after that you'd be kicking yourself all over again.
You're not too old. You'll never be too old. Grandma Moses started painting in her 70s.
She was discovered and became a famous painter at the age of 80.
She kept right on painting until her death at the age of 101.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:14 AM on August 9, 2012

I don't think you're too old to re-skill, but are you sure your lack of success isn't due to just not being very good as a freelancer? Is the skill itself really the issue?

I say this because if you're headed down another freelance direction and you don't have the freelance mentality (salesmanship, always chasing work, time management, valuation, self-promotion and working networks) then another freelance skill isn't going to help you.

I mean, it's great that you want to strike out on your own, but before you do, I would make sure that you have what it takes to succeed on your own. Otherwise, perhaps learning a skill/credentialing with the intention of an organizational position is a better focus.

I say this as someone who wasn't very good as a consultant but is very good as an organizational asset; it's not necessarily about the skills you have, so much as whether freelance fits you or not.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 7:17 AM on August 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

Well I just turned 47 and am just getting started in the world of Creative Suite, so no, 38 is not too old.

However, you sound like you're making a change based on being discouraged, rather than because you're inspired. If you haven't had success freelancing in this field, what makes you think you'll meet with success in the next field?

I have tried and failed at being a freelancer,
failed at getting any design-related job
feel like I am too old for people to take me seriously.
I don't think that I will ever be offered a regular job again
I've gotten all cynical
No idea what I am doing with my life
this feels like this might be clutching at straws / last chances / etc.

These feelings will be there waiting for you after 4 more years in school, unless you address them too. In fact, I would suggest you take on the shorter, less expensive option of changing your perspective before you take on the expense and commitment of changing your skillset. Good luck.
posted by headnsouth at 7:18 AM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you too old to start over? Yes and No. Practically speaking, as jillithd mentions, you've got a long time ahead of you and so you are not actually/literally too old to make a switch.

However, in a manner of speaking, you are too old. Or at least, your post hints around your motivations here and they don't indicate that switching would be an appropriate path for you now. You don't mention that you HATE product design and can't stand it and never ever want to do it again in your life. You're cynical. Which is totally appropriate for your situation. But never wanting to do product design again would be a valid reason to start over. Your post seems to indicate that you are financially insecure and/or not comfortable in your career standing at the moment. Starting over will not get you on a faster track toward whatever financial/career goals you have. Starting over will just set you back THAT MUCH FARTHER from achieving them.

In the current economy, we must all be keenly aware of the opportunity costs associated with our decisions to pursue additional training/education. The four years that you are thinking about spending learning a new skill are valuable years for you. The value of Four Years of Experience VASTLY outweighs Four Years of Learning. (Which I think you've actually already discovered via your degree in product design.)

What did you do before you were 32? I think you're simultaneously selling yourself short on your skills and experiences AND overshooting opportunities that are appropriate for you. At least, that's what it sounds like.

Aim lower.

I know that is horrifying to hear, and I'm sorry to have to say it. But if people wont hire you to do the things that you want to do, then you need to aim toward an appropriate place for you. It sounds like you tried freelancing. (Which, fwiw, is difficult even for people established in their field with years of experience.) If entry level wont have you, then do an internship. If an internship wont have you, then volunteer to do the work to build your portfolio. If nobody will let you work for them for free, then dream up a project of your own and build your portfolio with hypothetical projects for which you've done all the product design work to show off your skills.

You need experience. Starting over with Blender wont give you experience - you'll just need a different kind of experience.
posted by jph at 7:24 AM on August 9, 2012 [16 favorites]

Age on its own shouldn't be that much of a limitation.

I switched to my third career field, software testing, the day after my 40th birthday. I began testing in sort of an apprentice capacity, which was fine by me since it took the heat off while I learned the discipline. But I had to aim VERY low in terms of starting salary.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:39 AM on August 9, 2012

You are not too old, but your chances of building a career around blender are slim-to-none. Where is the demand for the service you want to offer?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:42 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm just a little short of that age, and I wouldn't think twice of doing it. Go for it. You're a proven worker, that'll count for a lot when your experience falls short. Good luck!
posted by Sunburnt at 9:12 AM on August 9, 2012

I switched into an entirely new career at the age that you are now and one of my primary concerns was age. After going through what I did, I definitely do not view being in your 30s or 40s as too old. The question that I would ask is why couldn't you find a job rather than pile on more skills on top of it. (Apologies in advance if I sound like a broken record, because every 2 weeks, I give similar info, just tailored a bit to the person).

Did you give it a good effort to find a job? I'm going to throw some things that would potentially help a person trying to break into a field steps that they can also do to break into a job. I will also put in some age-related stuff that you may be able to incorporate, but we don't know your entire background (fwiw you can buy a sock puppet to answer questions):

• What did all the other people do to get entry level design related jobs? Did you do those things? So when I wanted to break into a new field, I did info interviews, but primarily with people who held the job titles that I wanted. I actually approached them and told them my exact background (want to find more about similar entry level jobs, I have a background in X, little experience in Y, etc.). The people that I sought out had a similar background. Anywho, some of the info that these people provided were things like: search terms/alternate job titles for your desired field, terms that you should include on your CV or resume (because sometimes it is an HR person who reviews and doesn't know what half the words mean unless you match a key word), info about other similar fields, how they broke in, and other ideas for things that I could do to break in or that they did. If EVERYONE you talk to did an internship and you did not...start there. Or if they all took a class, start there. Let it come from the people who have your dream job now. More info as to how to do info interviews (find people, approach people, other things to ask here and here).

• Do whatever it is that people who hold that job tell you that you need to do (internship, class, whatever it is).

Maybe counseling or therapy? Sometimes there is something else wrong...that may or may not be the case with you, I don't mean to offend, but if it to someone and address those issues, too. Something that comes across in interviews? Have you held other jobs before and if no, why not?

• Did your former college/university offer job support services? Or is there a job seeking club in your community? (To be honest, it really, really helps to have not only people in your desired field give feedback, but other proofread your resume, give practice interviews, whatever it is...because maybe there is something small that you are doing that is leading to not getting jobs). Have other people help and make you into a great, presentable package for a job.

• This is age related; if you are 38 now, then you have a history of other jobs, right? Can they be tailored and matched to companies that do design-related work? You will find out through your info interviews and away. But I think that a lot of people throw away their past jobs and experience rather than build on it. It is almost always related. Try to change your perspective and see bl1nk's response above -- you may be hired because you click with someone in the interview or because of maturity. Take age as a characteristic that each person has, not something against you.

• Make a list of companies that do what you want to do. You can find these numerous ways - google, Linkedin,your library, people that you talk to in info interviews...but find a list of companies. Depending on your personality, call or write to each one. (I tend to be a bit of a coward, so I email)...but it has worked for me to drum up clients and I know people who got jobs this way, even when odds were against them.Look at it this way, the company is really, really busy...they need someone who can do X because person who does X walked out the door. They don't have time to interview...but look,there is this Cv and cover letter on their desk!

One small note that since you have not done anything in your field the last few years, my concern is that your skills may be out of assess from there as to what you may need to do.

I have tried and failed at being a freelancer

I'm also saying this as a freelancer. If this is what you wanted or want to do, it is the other way around. Get a job in the field for a few years, and then go into freelancing. There are many reasons why - 1) you have professional samples that companies use, 2) people will know from your job history (I gave this out as a freelancer) that you know industry standards, 3) you have contacts in the field who will throw you work, even several years later. I don't believe that a person needs all the other marketing stuff, but you need a reason for people to give you projects first. You don't mention why it failed, but if you had clients, what happened? If most clients are not coming back over and over again, then ...look critically at your process and what happened.

Instead of the plan you outline above (sell things to people on something that you teach yourself), if you are truly truly enamored by Blender, then 1)find people who do this in the industry and do info interviews (what do they say? How did they get there? Can you find lots of people who do this as a job) and then if you like the answers, do train yourself on it. Make a killer portfolio. Volunteer somewhere and make industry standard samples for them. Do all the steps above (info interviews, do what people in the field tell you to do to get the dream job) and apply for entry level jobs. Then after a few years revisit your goals--but if it is an open source program with open source learning material, WHY would someone pay someone who doesn't have industry experience to teach them this? I know that you may see samples of people who do this online, but the good ones that you find (emphasis on good, not some freelancer trying to earn a buck by "teaching you *secrets" have years of experience and those videos and books didn't required a lot of work. I do see where you want to go but you have many more steps in between.
posted by Wolfster at 9:13 AM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're not too old, but i wonder if your goals are appropriate to your age.

If you're going to re-train, why wouldn't you be aiming to just get a job at the end of the re-training, and then (eventually) teach and write about it? Aiming to do the The Thing Experts Do straight out of the gate seems like a recipe for failure. After retraining, aim to do The Thing Beginners Do, then do The Thing Intermediate People Do, then The Thing Experts Do. The first two Things can happen really fast, but you generally have to do them first - both so that you have the skills and expertise to teach/write, but also so that you have the credibility.
posted by Kololo at 1:24 PM on August 9, 2012

Also, what Ruthless Bunny said.
posted by Kololo at 1:25 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do not go into animation/video unless you are really really really good at it. You will have competition from 18 year olds who live and breathe gaming.

Email me, I have a good solution for you (i used to be a game animator and branched out nicely into another profession-i can give you some tips/classes names if you like)
posted by pakora1 at 3:11 PM on August 9, 2012

I was happy to work with a 50-year-old recent college grad at a previous job: But she understood that although she had 30+ years of work experience, she had no substantial relevant experience, and she demonstrated that she was happy to take a low-paying entry-level position and to prove her chops by learning on the job.

I was also happy to hire a 62-year-old with decades of experience into a more senior job and pay him appropriately.

I did not hire the 50-year-old who thought his age, alone, was reason to hire him at a more advanced level, regardless of relevant experience, and that because he'd made more money in a totally different field he should not be forced to work for so little when he started at the bottom of the ladder in the new field. I suspect he thought this was age discrimination, but I consider it entitled-attitude/unrealistic-expectations discrimination.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:33 PM on August 9, 2012

One thing to consider: if you don't like to/are not suited to freelancing - and many people are not - then it's a good idea to take a look at job prospects in your field and see how many people find full-time jobs working for a company, and how many are freelancers. There are fields where most of the jobs available are freelance, staff jobs are scarce and highly sought after, and it's the norm rather than the exception to be self-employed. If this is so then you might want to consider related jobs (the site Career One Stop has information on salaries, job outlook, related job titles/careers, etc. for the US), and asking people in your desired field what they would suggest to someone who really doesn't want to freelance. It sucks to fall in love with a field, educate and train yourself for it, and then find out that 75% of people in your field are self-employed when you HATE the idea of self-employment and freelancing.

Also - sometimes you can find freelance work through an agency, which will take a cut of the profit but will also do the heavy lifting for you in terms of finding you jobs, taxes and withholding, and other things that many people hate to do.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:28 PM on August 9, 2012

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