It’s true: Reinvention is different later in your career. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
I was manning a booth at the Harvard Club, which recently hosted New York’s authors’ night, when an older woman approached and picked up a copy of my book, “Reinventing You.”
She paged through it for a moment, and then put it down. “Too late for me,” she said abruptly, and walked away.
Over the past six months of my book tour, I have heard one question often: Isn’t professional reinvention just for young people? What if I’m too old? How can I spend years training for something new when I’m already near retirement? It’s true: Reinvention is different later in your career. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
After speaking with hundreds of baby boomers (and beyond) who want to reinvent themselves but fear it’s too late, I’ve identified several key points for older workers who hope to make a transition.
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You have enough time
Some people think it’s not worth it to undertake any major changes later in life. If money isn’t a concern, there’s no reason you can’t explore wildly new areas. If you’re still earning for retirement, you can still pursue reinvention, but you may want to consider more subtle shifts — such as taking classes on the side to expand your skills — rather than taking several years off to get a doctorate.
You’re overqualified; own it
Once someone has been a powerful executive, it’s flummoxing to understand why that person would settle for anything remotely less prestigious (short of true economic desperation). Wouldn’t he or she be resentful all the time? Instead of ducking the issue, I advise older professionals to lead with it.
For example, you could say: “You might wonder how I’d respond to being managed by someone younger than me, when I used to manage a large staff. That’s exactly why I want this job and part of the value I bring. Having been a manager, I understand the pressures and frustrations they face, so I can be an even better employee. And I’m eager to learn about this new area from someone with real expertise in it.”
Get with the times
Why should you be active on social media? Because it is no longer optional. It’s even more critical for executives over 50 to have a social presence, as it’s increasingly viewed as a proxy for staying current professionally.
Connect with the past
We all know that professional opportunities are likely to come from our existing network of contacts. But many don’t realize that some of the most valuable information and opportunities come from “dormant ties,” or people we’ve lost touch with.
Make a point of taking on an unexpected leadership role, taking a class in a new subject such as computer programming, or explicitly requesting an assignment that intrigues you. Your boss and colleagues may have grown to think over the years that they “know what you’re interested in,” so it’s time to prove them wrong. Make them stop and question their assumptions about you.
Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant and the author of “Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future.”