Is restarting your life career-wise worth it?
July 20, 2014 9:14 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone ever quit their jobs, went back to school and started a 2nd career later in life? How did it work out / is it working out?

I'm in grad school now preparing for a completely different career (one much more suited to my passions but will pay way, way less). I'm still single, in my 30's and I've spent all my savings for school. It's quite scary when all your friends have bought houses and having kids and you're at the same level as a 22 year old recent grad. Am I doomed?
posted by pinksoftsoap to Work & Money (29 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
All I can say is you're only doomed if you think you are, you can do almost anything you set your mind to, and comparing your life to others will always bring you down. Good luck. Live life to the fullest, as far as you know, it's the only one you've got. You might as well enjoy the ride.
posted by lunastellasol at 9:29 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Well, I'm in the middle of trying to figure out whether I should go back to work, again. To be detailed, I left work after 9+ years straight out of college, stopped for almost a year, went back to the same line of work for 5 months only to find that I still felt quite burnt out from work and really needed to do something else.

I then went to graduate school for like a year or so, but the harsh reality of not meeting a course grade requirement prior to the qualifying exam for the next year has put me in the situation of almost needing to go back to work. I'm living off a small amount of savings, and can't really afford to go another whole year of that same routine of leeching off the savings while in school.

And all this while people around me are doing what normal people in their 30's are doing: buying cars and houses, traveling, working a steady job. It is indeed scary, this feeling of being left behind.

I know I'm not exactly the perspective you're looking for, but I'm more of just rooting for you to make it. My perspective is that it's never too late to go and do something, and that it's part of living to stick with the results of our actions. You alone know what you are capable of. If things work out, it's great; if things don't, then it isn't the end of the world.
posted by FarOutFreak at 10:06 PM on July 20, 2014

I'm all about following your passions, but make sure that your head is screwed on straight. Is the grad program you're in going to help you once you're done? Are you in a program that will lead to a real job, or is it something loosey goosey and vague? And are you familiar with and prepared for the reality of working on your passions?

You only live once.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:13 PM on July 20, 2014

I was in a little different place than you, life-wise. At 40, with young children, I went to grad school to get my master's in teaching. It was an extremely difficult year, balancing class load and children. It was also very difficult financially. However, I have not regretted the decision for a second. I found a career I love at a school I love. I now have great friends that I would never have met, and I feel I'm finally becoming the person I was always meant to be, just a little later in life. It was a huge decision but the very best one I could have made. I wish you the best!
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 10:15 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I read the "later in life" thing above the fold, I was prepared for you to be in your fifties or something (which would be still be AWESOME, but I might offer slightly different advice). But 30s? You still have 30+ years in the workforce. Do something you truly enjoy as long as the graduate school is helpful and there are opportunities in your field.
posted by superlibby at 10:16 PM on July 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

(I would also encourage you to seek out a graduate program with a mix of different ages/backgrounds - I started a graduate program this year at age 28, and I was pleased with just how many folks of all ages there were and the diversity of experiences people had to offer.)
posted by superlibby at 10:17 PM on July 20, 2014

My boyfriend did this. He was in IT for a while, hated it, then after he got laid off from his last IT job, went to school for medical billing and coding. He's now a billing analyst at a hospital (he's been there for 10 years) and loves it.

It's not exactly the same, but I left college the first time without a degree, worked for a while, then quit my job and returned to school full-time to finish my degree. I was 28 when I got my BA. Of course I graduated in 2001, into a super-craptastic economy, and my work life has had several fits and starts, but I'm glad I did it. It does bother me a bit that I'm 40 and not in the same place in life as many of my friends, but then again I guess I'm just fashionably late. : )

Your question reminds me of the letter in an Ann Landers column years ago, where the writer wanted to go back to medical school and fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor, but worried about how old she'd be when she finished medical school in four years. Ann Landers' reply was simply: "And how old will you be in four years if you don't go to medical school?" I've always kept that in mind.

Best of luck to you!
posted by SisterHavana at 10:24 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Done it three times. From healthcare to university (student then staff), to IT. Worked well. currently 42.
posted by singingfish at 10:57 PM on July 20, 2014

I went from being an electrical engineer to massage therapist at age 36 (several months ago, actually, to make a long story short). Pays way less, and totally worth it. The meaningless 9-5 gig was destroying me.
posted by MillMan at 10:59 PM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm doing this also, also in my 30s :)

It's not really useful to compare yourself to others, because you can only move from where you're at right now. Lots of people start over, for any number of reasons, including because they have to (divorce, bankruptcy, immigration). It's pretty amazing that you're able to pursue something you want to do!

Your past won't be irrelevant, in a good way, I think. Unless you're going for something in a really youth-oriented sector, I think perceived maturity, work ethic, and reliability can be assets (in terms of hiring, if not money), especially if you also project energy and willingness to learn. That comes down to actually being interested in what you're doing, and having confidence in yourself. It really is a confidence trick -- you have to believe it for it to work :)

You might be surprised to find that people are rooting for you. That isn't something I'd expected, but it seems people like scrappy.

(Two things to bear in mind, or at least I'm thinking of them -- keeping health in check, because god knows it's easy for it to slip when you're studying, and saving for retirement as soon as that's an option.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:01 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My mom went back to grad school in her 50's....went fine! She LOVES her work. My grandmother also went back to finish her degree in her 60's.

My cousin is 36 and recently finished her graduate degree and got a job in her field, seems to be working out just fine!

And fwiw, we're doing the more 'normal' early 30's thing after heaps of travel and question it constantly, and are thinking about going back to school - one if not both of us.
posted by jrobin276 at 11:09 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My brother-in-law's sister (so I guess my sister in-law-in-law?) did this in her late 40s -- she taught college-level creative writing (and is a published writer), and she quit teaching to go to nursing school about 5 years ago. It was hard, but my sense is that she's found it really rewarding. (And she continues to write, too.)

I'm still single, in my 30's and I've spent all my savings for school. It's quite scary when all your friends have bought houses and having kids and you're at the same level as a 22 year old recent grad.

I'm in my mid-40s, never bought a house, don't have kids, didn't get really settled in my career till about 10 years ago, didn't meet my partner till 9 years ago... and, honestly, I have a great life, about as far away from doomed as I can imagine. The external details of my life aren't what I necessarily envisioned adulthood would be like when I was growing up (I, too, assumed there would be more property and progeny involved), and my life also looks a lot different from most people I went to school with, but hey, life unfolds at different paces and in different ways for everyone. Don't worry about the choices everyone else is making; just do your best in making the choices that work for you, and that manifest the qualities you value most in yourself and others.
posted by scody at 11:11 PM on July 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

I did it in my late 20s. After 6 years in the media (nothing glamorous, horrible pay) I went back and got a graduate diploma in Information Management. If you are in the US, there's no exact equivalent to a grad dip. Suffice it to say that it is a post-graduate qualification but less onerous than a full Masters/PhD. It took me one year full time and I got a job that paid more than I had in my media career. Still wasn't a lot, but it gives you an idea.

It was weird having what felt like a mid-life crisis when I wasn't yet 30, but it was definitely the right thing to have done. I was lucky in that I had the support of a partner at the time. I'm thinking I need to do this again, but this time I am single. Even if I manage to figure out what career to go into next, I'm not sure I'm up for the simultaneous work/study gig. Especially if it means starting all over at $30K/year when I've finished. Sigh.

The good news is, you have already made your decision. That is the hardest part. Now you can just set about making it work. Screw what other people are doing, even if you wanted their lives you only get your own. Do what you want with it! I think passion for the life you have chosen makes up for a lot. Good luck!
posted by Athanassiel at 11:16 PM on July 20, 2014

To me it's not a question of my aage, but it's a question of what I need to change in my life. I just turned 30 and finished a grad degree a yeaar ago. I'm slowly changing my career. It's taking longer than I thought, but that's OK for me since it's a major priority for me. Once I figured out a realistic goal I wanted, I no longer cared that I was a little older than my classmates or whatever because this is just what I have to do to get what I want. Because my other choice is, what? Not doing it and resenting the hell out of my career now?
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:06 AM on July 21, 2014

I had a relative who did this only he had a good 10 years on you. Went from an engineer to working in finance which involved a few years of unemployment and a stint in grad school as well. It was really a stressful time but it worked out well. It's totally possible, just budget carefully make wise choices and be persistent :)
posted by hejrat at 2:44 AM on July 21, 2014

My mum, in her 50s, recently completed a full-time BA in Illustration and totally aced it (student of the year!). Now she's doing what she loves for a living instead of working for jerks. it was a pretty big leap for her financially, but it seems to be working out okay and she's much happier.
posted by Drexen at 3:33 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I went back to grad school at 29 after a few years spent feeling utterly lost in the career I fell into after college. It has been a tough few years but I'm really glad I did it.
posted by killdevil at 3:34 AM on July 21, 2014

I worked in construction for many years until getting a degree in Computer Science when I was 34 and while it took me a few years to catch up, after that I was basically where I would have been if I'd beeing programming since I was 22.
posted by octothorpe at 4:10 AM on July 21, 2014

I'm doing this now as well and am so happy I made the jump. I haven't actually quit my job yet, just scaled back to part time, so I can compare and contrast really easily and see just how happy I am in school and just how bored and miserable I really am in this job.

I guess my main piece of advice would be that you shouldn't link every single aspect of life together in lockstep in your head. If you're single but you wish you weren't, you can date and find a relationship while you're in school. Restarting your career doesn't automatically zero out your maturity level and attractiveness to potential partners -- I've found a lot of people really respect that decision and think it speaks well of your character. Granted you might have trouble attracting a partner who is just looking for money, but that's not really a problem, right?
posted by telegraph at 4:17 AM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

while it took me a few years to catch up, after that I was basically where I would have been if I'd beeing programming since I was 22.

Seconding this idea- I started in a new area in my industry after 30 and I'm just as far along, if not further, than people who have been working in this area since college. My grad program did put me ahead of undergrads though, so I started a bit above entry level. That said, I think focus, maturity and passion for the function have been more important in my advancement. My prior work experience was totally unrelated, but I realized that I did learn a strong work ethic and to be really detail oriented (against my own instincts) in that prior work, and both of those traits have helped to be successful.

I, along with many of my friends, got married after 35 (some people after 40) so your romantic life is certainly not over either! I really feel like my 20s were a lot of wasting time (necessary for my general development as a person, but not super productive) and 30s have been non-stop action.
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:41 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Two anecdotes:

1. My mom, who was trained in agricultural engineering but was sort of a stay-at-home mom who found periodic freelance to do jobs that had nothing to do with her BA went back to get a Masters in accounting in her forties (when I was a tween and my sister was five). She graduated with really good marks, but due to a combination of factors, a lot of which were out of control, she was never, ever able to make a successful career out of it. She's now "retired" (although I suppose this word means someone who stopped working after a career spanning several decades, rather than someone who never had a career and eventually was no longer able to find work due to her age) and still doing odd jobs that mostly have nothing to do with with either of her degrees.

2. I went back for my MA in my late twenties. I finished almost a year ago. My family is not an entrepreneurial one by nature, but I decided to start my own business because I couldn't find any kind of a paid job in my field. Now I'm a freelance writer writing about stuff that is mostly related to what I did my Masters in, but also some stuff that's not. I'd say I'm moderately successful (I'm not making nearly as much money as I need to be, but it hasn't been a complete disaster, and I've written for some pretty prestigious publications, and business is still growing).

I guess my point is that everyone ends up having completely different outcomes. I don't mean to suggest at all that it's all down to pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, because everyone has different, social, cultural, economic, institutionalized and personal issues to deal with that may or may not serve as formidable barriers to getting the type of career you want. However, focus on the things you can control. You can't control, for example, people throwing away your CV because you have a black-sounding name, but you can network, you can start working your own independent projects, you can move to a city with better employment prospects.

And you're not at all at the level of a 22-year old grad, if you already had a career before that you stopped to embark on this one. Even if it's not directly related, it's given you years of experience in the working world that a 22-year can't compete with.

You are not doomed. Good luck!
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 5:26 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm also in the process of doing this. The only difference is that I'm married (no children). The lack of money is driving me nuts, but I feel like I'm doing the right thing.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 6:02 AM on July 21, 2014

Don't use other people's lives as a yardstick for your own. What's right for them, isn't necessarily what's right for you.

If you're happy, and excited about embarking on your new career, that's really all that matters.

When you're first out of school, everyone's off into the world on the same footing, as the years go by, the paths diverge and branch, some pair off and start families, some travel, some join the circus.

You may feel weird about the whole thing because you're about to graduate and here's where the rubber meets the road, you've got to get out and use your degree. Get a job, etc. It's daunting, but it's temporary. Once you get settled, you'll see that your decision was right for you.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:53 AM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just think most people tend to think of life this way - in terms of how far along you are on some pre-ordained path. But it's not like you get points docked at the end for not doing it "right" or not doing it just like everybody else. At the end, everybody gets exactly the same prize, no matter how many houses and cars they bought or didn't buy.

You should do your thing. I got a late start, and while I have bought a car, I haven't and may never buy a house. I have a great job that pays more than many of my friends make, but I also have a metric ton of student loans, so I'm functionally more broke than they are. How do you measure these things in terms of where you are vs. where you think you're supposed to be? I think the answer is, you don't. You just do what you want to do as much as you can, and hope for the best.

I would advise you, if you're going back to school, to pay attention to whether the job you're aiming for will be able to cover any student loans you may need. Because those things are like hellhounds, they will follow you wherever you go. But if you can meet the basic necessities of life with your job - if you're not going to school in like, graduate underwater basket-weaving or something - you'll probably be just fine.

You're really not doomed.
posted by kythuen at 7:19 AM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

In his mid thirties my FIL, quit his job as a promotions/fund raising manager (don't know what hsi official title was) for a very large non profit company. Went back to school got a doctorate & became a chiropractor. While chiropractics isn't everyone's dream job he loves it.

He had a family at the time, 2 sons & a wife that went through serious medical emergencies while he was studying (think cancer & brain surgeries) and worked 2 shitty part time jobs plus anything other work he could find & took out student loans to support them while doing it. We had a big party recently to celebrate him paying off all his student loans, he now owns his own business outright, owns his house put 2 sons through college & is pretty much debt free. It took him a while to get there, but his new career was what he really wanted to do so he worked his ass off to get it.

Just remember all those friends settling down & buying houses are looking at you going man I wish I had the guts to go back & study what I really wanted to do , but now I am stuck with house payments & family & it is so much scarier to try & change horses midstream. My father in law took a chance not just with his own future but his whole families, that's what makes the risks so much greater for your friends too. To me it sounds like you picked the best time to do it.
posted by wwax at 8:08 AM on July 21, 2014

Laid off from a newspaper at 30 with a child on the way, I went back to school for a year to learn financial planning. It's not quite 4 years later, and I'm about to become a Certified Financial Planner, and my income is slightly less than what it was at the paper. (I had been an editor at a big paper with a good union, so salaries were high.) The upshot is that stress and working hours are way better now, and the long term prospects for myself and other people in my position are very bright. I work with younger, more optimistic people, and there aren't layoffs every few months.

I too had a timeline in mind about what I was going to accomplish and when, and things didn't work out that way. I felt like I was being left behind by my friends as well. I wasn't. Some of them have gone back to school or changed careers as well. There's much more flux than I would have thought when I was younger.

Try to appreciate the flexibility and freedom you have now. Your risk tolerance is higher, and your cost of living is lower. You have fewer possessions. It's easier to make new friends. You're in a sweet spot for hiring managers who want to hire someone mature, but not old. You are making a life. The cost of making big changes in your present life, emotionally, socially, financially and professionally is much lower than it is for someone with a spouse, an established career, and a mortgage.

What accompanies this is anxiety about not having resolved the questions about partner/career/home/kids. But it's better to resolve these questions well rather than soon.
posted by thenormshow at 8:17 AM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is actually a really common thing. And 30s? Yeah, you've still got 30+ years of working life. All of those "normal life benchmarks" are kinda skeuomorphic really, not all that relevant these days. And the truth is - you gotta do you, you know? Don't compare yourself to what is 'normal' or whatever. There is no normal.

I'm 29 and I just quit my former career to go back to graduate school (for something I am so. excited. about.). I'll finish when I'm in my mid-30s. I'd much rather be working toward something I like and find interesting and rewarding than working a job I hate just so I can own a house.

You know, the thing is, and this will probably sound kinda trite or Hallmark or whatever, but people have a tendency to look at their lives through these really macroscopic lenses and sort of rate themselves based one just a handful of major events. But life really is about your day to day, down in the trenches existence. And if this is going to make your everyday working life better, and make you happier or more content on a minute-by-minute basis, then it is so, so worth it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:25 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I switched careers, almost by accident. I was headed down a science-y professor-y path, then halfway through a Ph.D. program switched out to the Master's to teach, then did Peace Corps, and after that experience I'm doing neither now. I'm in my mid-30s, and I'm not quite as far along in my career path as I would have been if I'd followed it from the start, but nor am I as far behind in it as you'd think based on the time doing other things.

It's working out. Pretty damn well. So that's one data point for you.
posted by solotoro at 3:53 PM on July 21, 2014

I did something like this when I was in my late 30s. Went to grad school for two years at a top public university, graduated, applied for some dream jobs, got rejected a couple of times, scored on the big one; now five months in and loving it.

Something to note: I elected to pivot my career — not reboot it. In other words, I went into interviews able to say 'here is all the cool shit I've already done, here's the degree I received, now I want to do some cool shit for you with all my leveled-up skills'.

Anecdotally, my classmates that did a complete restart on their careers haven't faired as well. But I think as long as what you are doing demonstrates some kind of clear narrative then you're on the right track. Good luck.
posted by quadog at 12:37 AM on July 22, 2014

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