• Bruce

How Old Is Too Old to Switch Careers? Here’s What I Learned From Personal Experience....

I'm too old for a new career.

That was part of a headline I recently came across on a story reflecting the outsized job losses that have befallen America's 50+ workforce in the ongoing aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. I immediately understood the sentiment, recalling my own bout of joblessness a few years ago and the sometimes debilitating feeling that your paycheck-earning life is over.

Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt, I thought to myself.

And then I scrolled to the next story and continued my 18-minute walk to a coffee shop with a leafy courtyard here in Prague, where I like to spend my mornings writing.

I'm now at that coffee shop, with my iced latte and a croissant, and I'm thinking about what column I want to write…and that headline keeps popping into my thoughts. I realize that this moment—fearing you're too old for a new career—really is more than just the flippant "been there, done that" thought that I had.

It's truly a life-altering event.

Who we are—especially in the U.S.—is wrapped up in the quintessential cocktail party question: "So, what do you do?"

I used to answer that question with, "I travel all over the world to write about global economics and investment opportunities." I liked that description of me. I liked the backstory because it meant hop-scotching globally to write about topics I personally find interesting and, often, fascinating.

And then…poof.

The dream popped like a child's dish-soap bubble. Here one second, gone forever the next.

I look back now on that period after I lost my job and I realize that my thinking at that time—at least in the early days—was self-defeating and counterproductive. You go through these stages: You're first numb, incredulous, and incapable of believing that some uncaring company has given you your walking papers. Then you progress into anger. Then quickly slump into sadness and fear for your future. And that's where, I think, so many people get stuck: Amid the fear and sadness. They don't see a path to their next paycheck and, so, they convince themselves that there is no path.

But that's just not true. There is always a path.

You are the path.

I'm not saying that to sound like some touch-feely, lift-you-up-on-eagle's-wings, self-help jabber donkey. I mean that from a purely practical standpoint. When you can't rely on others, you can always rely on yourself.

Over the last few years, I've met or interviewed so many people who have lost jobs, thought "well now what?" and who have gone on to find and live their best life yet. They span age groups—40s, 50s, and 60s. I've mentioned my path several times—going back to film school to write screenplays and ultimately relocating to Prague for a great freelance opportunity. It's a career change that has left me with a lightness of being. Words can't truly capture the level of happiness and contentedness I feel.

Others I have talked to all share a trait similar to what led me along my path: Sensing that in their personal upheaval they suddenly had the freedom do and be whatever they wanted. And once you realize that you do, in fact, have that opportunity, a weight immediately lifts. Your happiness returns. The fog of self-doubt burns away. And you see your path forward.

I won't pump you full of faux sunshine and tell you it's an easy path—there's definitely effort involved in moving from "lost my job" to "love my life." But, honestly, it is an easy path in an emotional sense. When decisions you make come easily, and the pieces fall into place without hassles and impossible obstacles, then you know you are on the right path. And it becomes a joy.

I'll use moving to Prague as an example. People reflexively assume that uprooting your life in the U.S. and plopping yourself down in another country must be a huge, logistical challenge. And, sure, it can be, particularly if you are hesitant or unsure. But I knew in my core that relocating to Central Europe from Los Angeles was absolutely the right move.

I made the decision in August 2018. By the end of September, I was out of my beachfront apartment and, in early October, living temporarily in southern Ireland. By November, I had the exact kind of apartment I was looking for in a part of Prague I really wanted to live in, and a couple weeks later I had my Czech work permit. By early January 2019, I had my long-term residency visa. I say that not so much to note the process but to underscore how quickly all the necessary pieces fell into place.

It was as though the universe was my ice-breaker and it was steaming through the pack ice ahead of me, clearing the way. Honestly, I cannot think of a single obstacle that popped up. The move was right because this was the right path—the right opportunity to fashion a new career in freelancing.

The truth is, you're never too old for a new career. The opportunity to do what you want to do and be what you want to be…it's out there. Don't ever believe that it's not.

We have so much knowledge and so many skills after decades in the workforce or years pursuing hobbies and interests. Which means we have so many new paths open to us.

All it takes is accepting that who you were is no longer who you are, and that you now have the freedom to shape who you want to be.

Author: Jeff D. Opdyke.