How old is too old to start over?
November 13, 2005 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Another 40 year old in need of a new career.

A bit of background - I've been doing marketing in the music industry for about 15 years. I no longer enjoy the industry on the whole and it's completely unstable these days. In fact, for the last 5-8 years I've been moving from various job to various job just trying to keep my head above water. I don't really enjoy marketing and to make matters worse, the kind of marketing I specialise in is just not very applicable to other products which makes applying for other marketing jobs very difficult.

What I'd really like to do is start over. I'd be willing to go back to school for something for a few years if I knew that it would lead to a good job and a career with long term security but I just don't know what that is. I will be buying some of the books that previous posts have mentioned but want to also ask for advice.

What do I do for enjoyment? Well, I still love music and I also like technology and working on computers. I have no programming experience but would be willing to learn a few languages if I thought I could use that to go in new career direction. I enjoy working with graphic programs like Photoshop and even thought about going to school to learn graphic design. However, when I'm honest with myself I realise this idea may be based more on the attractiveness of working creatively on a computer all day rather than any particular passion for graphic design. So that's probably not a good idea and anyway, at my age, I'd really rather avoid fields that are so competetive that it just leads to future instabilty.

Apart from any suggestions, I'd really like to hear stories from anyone who has started a completely new career later in life. Has anyone applied to med school after 40 years old or perhaps become a lawyer or an architect? I know conventional wisdom says it's never too late to start over, but practically speaking, how true or realistic is this?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
medicine and architecture take a little too long to start late. maybe not impossible but it takes years until the slope of getting there starts leveling out. my father started medicine at thirty and was considered rather old to do so. later this effected the choice of field he went into (he chose a field that wouldn't take forever).

i have met quite a few people who have taken up law later in life successfully. actually they're usually happier than the ones who chose it as a first choice (me) and then found out what it was REALLY like.

a good direction clue mentioned in a similar MeFi thread is to try and imagine who you would like to work with.

good luck!
posted by mirileh at 9:27 AM on November 13, 2005

oh and don't do the computer thing unless you're really a computer freak. there's a lot of age bias there. many people think that teenagers and twenty-somethings make better programmers (totally not true). this won't make a difference if you're great, but if you're less than great you might find instability there.
posted by mirileh at 9:36 AM on November 13, 2005

I would not suggest a programming career. For anyone. Ever.
posted by cmonkey at 9:45 AM on November 13, 2005

I know a lot of back-to-school nurses who started in their 50s.
posted by xo at 10:00 AM on November 13, 2005

Think of things you love to do - and consider finding a way to make a living at it with a small business.

posted by Independent Scholarship at 10:24 AM on November 13, 2005

People go to library school at this age all the time. Librarianship is a very popular mid-life career. I'd recommend working in a library for a year or two first, though, to see if it was anything you were interested in.
posted by MsMolly at 10:38 AM on November 13, 2005

I second the nursing career. Acceptable pay, flexible hours and you'll always have a job. It's been my experience that an RN with a computer background becomes a sought after commodity in hospital IT departments
posted by TorontoSandy at 10:51 AM on November 13, 2005

My mom is a data coordinator for a hopsital, where RN's sit on the phone all day answering patients calls about general stuff. She says almost no RN knows a damn thing about computers, and her job seems very stable.
posted by Dean Keaton at 11:00 AM on November 13, 2005

I went to law school in my thirties, and there are a number of people older than me in my class. Students who have real world experience are in a much better position to find a job after graduation.

How much debt are you willing to take on? I'm at a public university with a scholarship, and I still have serious loans to pay off. Determining how much financial risk you want to take will help you decide which direction to go in.
posted by birgitte at 11:22 AM on November 13, 2005

How about teaching in K-12? Most states have programs to allow career-switchers to become classroom teachers pretty quickly. Google for "alternative certification."
posted by LarryC at 11:35 AM on November 13, 2005

I've been seeing a lot of reports lately about what a serious shortage of pharmacists there is. Seems to me they get paid pretty well, have a nice stable career, and the schooling isn't too lengthy (4 years plus 2 interning, I think). Not too late to start at 40, IMHO.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:36 AM on November 13, 2005

I did a mid-life career change--went back to grad school at 40 and got an MA, and now work in academic advising. I'm happy that I did it, although I'm now, at age 52, trying to decide if yet another career change is feasible before I get too damn old for anything.

I would recommend the grad school route only if you have a pretty clear idea of where you want to end up and know that a graduate degree is essential to get there. Grad school is not only very expensive, but also represents some really significant opportunity costs at your stage in life, and if there's any way you can find a career path that makes you reasonably happy without it, your retirement savings will thank you.

Regarding career paths--I'd say steer clear of any health fields unless you really like, and are good at, math and science. Yes, some of those occupations are in high demand right now, but there's also a huge glut of kids trying to get into nursing or pharmacy, and they've become intensely competitive.

If you're not entirely clear on where your interests lie, another approach is to spend time very thoroughly and carefully cataloguing all the skills you've developed through all your years in marketing, and then thinking about where those skills would be useful. There are few occupations or workplaces that offer long-term security these days; frankly, your greatest security grows from having a very clear knowledge of (and ability to document) your skills, and the knack of seeing and articulating how they would apply to some particular employer's needs.
posted by Kat Allison at 12:09 PM on November 13, 2005

six years seems like a really a long time to become a pharmacist doesn't it?

Yeah, 'specially since I hear people in that profession become bitter 'cause all they do is count out pills, and deal with bitchy customers trying to thwart idiotic insurance restrictions and legal regulations. This is in the US, of course.
posted by Rash at 12:15 PM on November 13, 2005

If you already have a college degree you probably won't have to spend 4 years on pharmacy schooling. I think for undergrads its typically a 5 year program, along with there general education requirements. On the other hand, its still probably 3 years of classes if it was a second bachelors, especially if you don't have a lot of bio and chem courses under your belt from your first degree.

It pays well as a first job for someone in their mid 20s, offers flexibility with respect to the # hours a week you work and is something you could do in pretty much any part of the country.

Rash hits the downsides pretty well. Also, it seems like an industry that is ripe for a major restructuring. There is already a little bit of that going on as the big grocery/discount stores, which house a lot of pharmacies these days, have seen ownership consolidate. Hospitals are also consolidating. The high price of perscription drugs is driving a lot of consumers to seek savings any way they can, including mail order pharmacies, which, I'd wager, substitute technology and process for skilled and certified labor.
posted by Good Brain at 8:04 PM on November 13, 2005

six years seems like a really a long time to become a pharmacist doesn't it?

Yeah, 'specially since I hear people in that profession become bitter 'cause all they do is count out pills, and deal with bitchy customers trying to thwart idiotic insurance restrictions and legal regulations. This is in the US, of course.

to compensate for this, you can move to absolutely anywhere and still have a job with plenty of cashmoney. i have some pharmacist cousins who moved to las vegas right out of school and were topping $100k, easy.

another good thing about pharmacy when you're getting up there in years is that it doesn't change. my dad ran his own store for 10 years (sold twice, now works for a non-busy chain pharmacy where he sits around and reads books all day) and swears he hasn't learned anything since he graduated. once he had a 60 year old man work there for a month or so who was working on getting his lapsed pharmacy license back! you basically just compare NDC numbers on the prescription label to the one on the bottle your technician counted the pills out of.

when you're taking so much to the bank and there's such a constantly high demand, you can also quit and live off of your savings for a while and not fear coming back and struggling to find a job. nice combination of job security and salary if you don't mind a little boredom. i have no idea why i am a coder right now.
posted by soma lkzx at 10:53 AM on November 14, 2005

I'd be willing to go back to school for something for a few years if I knew that it would lead to a good job and a career with long term security but I just don't know what that is.

The problem is that there is NO type of degree where you can (a) easily get accepted into the program; (b) finish the program relatively quickly, and (c) have a guaranteed good job and long term security. (There is no such degree because, by definition, such programs would be flooded with applicants.)

Pharmacists are in high demand at the moment, and nurses (RNs) have been in short supply for years. But in both cases, there are limited spaces available in professional schools, and the programs are lengthy.

On a more positive note: you have marketing experience (with all due respect, that means you do know something about marketing in general, which is transferable); you know the music industry (which is why being a music lawyer would make sense if you liked law, which isn't at all clear), and you like computers and computer graphics. Why not look for jobs that leverage those skills. For example, what kinds of companies design record/CD covers and marketing materials?

Also, you mention that you did college lecturing and did enjoy aspects of it - what particularly did you like about it? (I ask because if you disaggregate the experience, that can offer clues as to what sort of work you'd enjoy.)

Finally, do you know others who did work similar to what you do know, but have left the field? What do they do now?
posted by WestCoaster at 1:10 PM on November 14, 2005

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