Mid life career changes retraining
November 25, 2018 12:10 AM   Subscribe

Did you retrain and make a career change in later life? Tell me about it

After many years of working in art and design and later management and project management of art and design I am looking to retrain as a visual development artist by taking online classes at night, spurred by a couple classes I started taking this fall/winter. I’m 35 and have a lot of anxiety about this transition- I mapped out a plan to spend 3 years in developing my skills via online training/mentor ship and tons of self study, and want to break in as a visdev artist by 40. It’s a super competitive industry and I worry about the young’uns coming up through art school. I worry about being too old to make the transition successfully, being stuck in this management path I’ve been unhappy in just to be able to make a living, about failing at this new pursuit I’ve been excited about. This was something I was interested in early life but thought I wasn’t talented enough for, and the prestigious university I went to taught me how to be smart and manage up, which is how I got into the management track, but nothing about how to be an artist for something like the entertainment industry. I’m at an age now where I’m ready to put in the time and work to improve my skills to what I’d need to to break into the industry.

Id love to hear stories of people retraining in later life and being successful to help me manage some of the anxiety. Doesn’t need to be related to my field- it can be anything, like if you were a banker and became a zookeeper. I’m also going to continue working and retrain nights and evenings as taking years off work to go back to school isn’t an option for me financially, so would love to hear from anyone who took that route as well.
posted by raw sugar to Work & Money (13 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I had just turned 50 years old when I realised that the life I was leading as a self-employed business operator was not going to support me emotionally, intellectually or financially in my later years. So I enrolled in a professional masters degree, finished it in 2016 when I was closer to 55, and have been employed in a well-paying, highly-satisfying professional career for the past two years.

Both my parents took on new careers in their 40s and 50s so I had that model to inspire me. I never thought I can't do it, and realised that I would be in my mid 50s in 2018 anyway, with or without a new career, so what did I have to lose?

The only time it is too late to change your life is one second before you die.
posted by Thella at 1:41 AM on November 25, 2018 [16 favorites]

I am 43 and earlier this year I walked away from a site/program management position that I had been loathing for the past 10 years into becoming a computer programmer. Three years ago I started the online post-bacc CS degree at Oregon State University, taking classes as I could around my soul-destroying work. I still have not finished the program (one class left after this term). I read stories all the time about the sexism and ageism in the tech industry, think about the way my brain just doesn't retain information the same way it used to when I went to college the first time, felt terror at the thought of technical white-board interviews as described in articles and blogs, terror at the implications of the income hit I would inevitably take by rolling into an entry-level position in a completely new field, felt like a fool and a fraud for even trying; nevertheless, I changed the wording in my LinkedIn and other job sites to reflect my new skills late last year in the wake of a particularly aggravating set of circumstances at work-- still didn't indicate I was actively looking for a job or anything, just added a line in my "summary" sections that I was looking to make a career change into a more technical field. I started getting recruiters contacting me almost immediately, not a huge flood or anything, just messages here and there. Mostly I ignored them because I'd read the descriptions and think, you people are insane, I have no experience in this or that thing that you are talking about. After another indignation at work, in March of this year I contacted back one of the recruiters who'd sent a fairly bland, non-threatening message, "just for practice," since I'd have to start somewhere. Later that same week I had an offer in hand matching the salary I had been making as a program manager, with much better fringe benefits. I started my new job in June and I love it. For the first time in a decade I am not miserable and angry all the time. I still feel like a fraud, but check this out, another team where I work aggressively pushed to poach me from the team I was working with, with a $20K bump in pay and a "Senior" job title. "Senior"? Are you kidding me? I have 4 months of experience in this field. But I have 15 years of management and military experience, I know how to work, I know how to solve problems, I feel more decrepit in the brain than I know I used to be but still seem to be a quick learner enough for their purposes. So after all the fear and doubt and concern about trying to break into a young person's game in middle age, my only regret now is that I didn't do it 10 years ago.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 5:57 AM on November 25, 2018 [27 favorites]

I trained as a Registered Nurse Mental Handicap (as it was called back then) from 1985-1988. I stayed working in the National Health Service here in the UK until 2002. I was a Deputy Charge Nurse and had experience as a Charge Nurse too. I left for a few reasons - the politics, the way care was headed and a nasty manager. I was 38 when I left. The initial goal was to stay in nursing but life had other plans.
Two years later I started using WordPress and answering questions in the forums at WordPress.org. Two years after that, when I was 40, I was offered the position of doing Support for WordPress.com. I'm still there.

I've learnt tons of stuff - not just WordPress, but domains and many things DNS, CSS, how to use SVN, how to use Github, all about spam, using new tools that are constantly being developed, WooCommerce, communication skills (we all work remotely and most of my day is spent doing Live Chat support), problem solving and more.

It's still a 'helping' role, but not face-to-face and for very different reasons.

I love doing what I do. I love the fact that learning never stops. My job satisfaction is dialled up to 11.

Go for the change - you'll kick yourself forever if you don't.
posted by markx2 at 6:06 AM on November 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

At the age of 39, I quit my job, sold my house, moved out of state for the first time, and began a grad program to get a Ph.D. I had worked for years as a journalist and in public relations, and while I loved journalism, I had always had an itch to study media. I also had figured out I loved teaching the interns we hired at my newspaper. It’s 25 years later now, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a wonderful career as a college professor, not at a research university, but at a college where I get to work closely with the students and my colleagues. It was one of the smartest things I ever did.

It wasn’t exactly easy — things happened along the way — but that decision to go for what I wanted turned out to be a good one, and I was fortunate enough to be in a position to take the chance. Believe me, there were many times when I had doubts, especially early on. And there were several times when I was ready to turn in another direction entirely. But for me, it worked out, and I’m sure even if I had been forced to change careers one more time, I wouldn’t have regretted this.

Good luck to you.
posted by merrill at 6:31 AM on November 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I retrained at 36. I went from brand development/marketing to culinary. I started out taking evening classes while working. Even when my program required to me take daytime classes, I was still consulting when I had time.

I was in school with a lot of 18 yr olds, fresh from high school, which initially caused me a lot of anxiety. Turns out I had better focus than a lot of them because I knew how to prioritize, multitask, and didn’t have time to waste. I also had more general knowledge about food and the industry than many of them simply because I had been around longer.

Working my way up in the industry took several years. I like to think I was more careful and strategic with my choices. Some of my success was due to the fact that I while I wasn’t a young’un, I had a good understanding of the work world in general. In the end, I was able to leverage a bunch of my life and work experience to be better in my new career. While your previous work may not make you a better artist, it will make you better at managing your own transition. Your professional experience may help you break into this new industry as you may be more comfortable/experienced at networking, etc. Honestly, even the fact that I knew how to write a professional email was helpful.

Oh, and I also gave myself a serious talking to when I started school: I gave myself permission to change my mind &/or fail. I told myself that if I didn’t like it or if I wasn’t successful in the new career, it was enough that I had finally gone to school to follow my passion. It would be OK if, down the road, I decided to return to my previous career.

I never looked back. It was hard and it took longer than I expected, but my personal and job satisfaction is so so much higher than before.

I say try it. Even if you don’t stick with it, you owe it to yourself to try. That alone is worth it.
posted by jenquat at 8:09 AM on November 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

A few years ago I retrained from computer networking to Big Data. My programming skills transferred but otherwise there isn't much overlap.

I enrolled in a program designed for professionals, all once a week night courses. I was taking three courses at a time because I wasn't working -- most people took two. I did a certificate but if I were going to do it over I would find a longer term program that gave a Bachelors.

One thing that was notable was how easy it was. I was a terrible student when I was younger (never studied, never did homework, basically did the minimum). Years older with much more discipline and experience I turned out to be a pretty good one. Watching younger people struggle was bittersweet, but ultimately I felt pretty good about myself and my abilities -- and if I'm honest my ability to cream them in job interviews.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:19 AM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

My wife went back to school in her late 20's to switch from graphic design & publishing to environmental science. It was a gradual transition, tapering off the freelance work while developing connections in the environmental/bio world.

After a decade as an increasingly unhappy mechanical engineer, doing music & theatre as a hobby at night, I had an opportunity to jump ship & do music/theatre/improv/education as a full-time job. (Or more accurately, as a sufficient quantity of part-time jobs to make ends meet.) We knew we had a kid on the way at the time, and the jump would mean a big pay cut. We did the math & decided we wouldn't starve, and that it's better for me to be a happy person who's home with my kid more, with a little tighter budget.
posted by jeffjon at 9:37 AM on November 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Back in 2014, when I was 39, I started the process of leaving my soul-wrecking corporate career to try and find something that felt meaningful to me. With Metafilter's help I decided upon the field of speech-language pathology. It required two years of part-time undergraduate classes (while still working my corporate job part-time) before I had the credentials necessary to apply for a graduate program, and when I did apply I was very nervous because of the many things I had read about how difficult it is to get into graduate school in this field. I applied to 11 schools, got into 9, with 3 scholarship offers among them. In 2017 my wife and I moved across the country so I could start my Master's program at the University of Oregon. I am the oldest person in my cohort but everyone here is amazing and I have seen multiple times that my previous experiences - both professional and life - have helped me in my interactions with my clients.

Back in 2014 when I was thinking about all of this, the road between me and this new field seemed SO long; I am now two weeks away from being done with classes, and after I complete my externships this winter/spring I will be graduating. I can't yet speak to my prospects in the job market as an older lady but based on how things have been going so far I am optimistic.

This program is one of the most exhausting and intensive things I've ever done but every time I think about what I'd be doing if I'd stuck with my corporate job I am SO IMMENSELY GLAD to be working towards something that is so much more meaningful. At 43, for the first time ever I am actually excited about my career!
posted by DingoMutt at 10:01 AM on November 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

At 37 I successfully got my employer to send me back to grad school. I Got a professional masters in a tech field. (My orginal focus is a different stem field). I am now Applying for an internal position in my new field.
Going back to school with a bunch of 24 year olds was unusual, and I was the only parent in the program. But I did really well, and am nervously excited to switch tracks by the time I’m 40.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 11:20 AM on November 25, 2018

I'm your age and three (omg) weeks to graduating from nursing school. I have a BA in from a fairly prestigious university and used to work as a federal contractor (in geographic information systems) before moving out of the DC area in 2013. I pretty much hated my former career from jump street - it was pretty much a stereotypical bullshit job, but we couldn't afford for me to pursue anything else while still paying DC rent. (Also, I really had no idea what I wanted to do otherwise.)

I actually didn't intend to go into nursing - I started taking health sciences pre-reqs at a community college with an eye toward dental hygiene because I, and I quote, "didn't want to clean up shit and work 12 hour overnight shifts." I eventually decided to switch to nursing because I got increasingly gun-shy about my job prospects in dental hygiene, and HOO BOY was it one of the best decisions I ever made.

Of course, nursing school is notoriously difficult, and I've had a hell of a time keeping up with the twenty-somethings in my cohort. (Plus, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in our second semester. Awesome! I'm ok now, though.) That being said, I'm nowhere near the oldest person in our class--one of my classmates is a grandmother--and I'm actually excited about my career for probably the first time in my life. Also, my previous college degree gives me a leg up in study skills, paper writing and skipping some of the requirements for my BSN. It's been hard, but I'd do it again every day and twice on Sunday!
posted by timetoevolve at 2:44 PM on November 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for sharing your inspiring stories with me!
posted by raw sugar at 11:27 PM on November 25, 2018

I started medical school at 37. It's been interesting, but I don't regret making the switch.
posted by 8603 at 2:00 PM on November 26, 2018

When I was around 33, I was working 9-to-5, flat-40-hour-a-week jobs, and didn't love what I did; it was frustrating, and not ticking much off as far as fulfillment. It was a software job outside the software industry; basically building software for people working in an office.

Near as I can figure, through a series of mistakes, I wound up getting a nearly entry-level job as an engineer at a much, much faster paced company. It took me 3+ years to get up to speed, and some folks there could run laps around me, but it felt like I wasn't wasting my life going to work anymore.

Eventually, I burned out there a bit... and went somewhere else even faster paced. But with the several years of learning already under my belt, I avoided burning out in round #2. I like what I do, quite a bit. I'm curious what would have happened had I found it at 23 instead of 33, but that's life, and at this point, I'm curious what 53 will bring.
posted by talldean at 5:25 PM on November 29, 2018

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