Ages and Stages in Your Career Life

I had the good fortune to be interviewed recently by Teresa Bryan Peneguy, an editor with the Wisconsin State Journal.  The subsequent article “Ages, stages are factors in education, career” was published in the newspaper on 12.10.12.  It was at the back of the Sports section under the heading “Education for Life” and I thought it might be helpful to share it with you.  Here it is in full:

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.”  –William Shakespeare  

The average American now works close to 50 years.  That’s a heck of a long time to do something you detest.  Luckily, you don’t have to.  Even in today’s economy and job market, you don’t have to feel trapped at a job that makes you want to run screaming for the exit.  Nor do you have to feel hopeless if your career is threatened by changes in technology and society.

Whatever stage of life you’re in – whether you’re new to the workforce or a seasoned worker – you have options in education and occupation.  “You just have to find out what you really want to do, know what your talents and gifts are, and figure out who needs what you have to offer,” says Madison-based career life coach Dee Relyea.

Your 20s

Although some people are questioning whether or not college still offers a good ROI, labor force data still reveals that the college educated do earn more than their peers without degrees, and the higher the education attained, the higher one’s earnings over a lifetime.  The times of spending seven years in college for a degree in Medieval Literature may be gone, but college is still a smart choice as long as one’s chosen career path requires a college degree.

An awesome thing about being in your 20’s is that you may have great flexibility at this stage of life.  Relyea talks about Sally, who attended college in Minnesota and earned a liberal arts degree.  After she returned to her home state of WI, she went to work in an off, “which didn’t suit her,” said Relyea.

Because she had a roommate, which lowered her living expenses, she had some wiggle-room in terms of her salary needs.  So she worked part time in retail and part time providing marketing for a martial arts school.  “She began trying on different workplaces,” says Relyea.  “She discovered she really liked social media, and since she had no need for a steady paycheck, she decided to do that (and be a freelance writer) full-time.”  Since all of her work was done via computer, she was able to live anywhere – so she moved to Denver.  It was the perfect scenario for Sally.

Your 30s

Another client of Relyea’s; Bob, got a computer science degree, went to work at Epic, where he had “no trouble getting his foot through the door.”  He loved his job, until his position changed and he was required to travel frequently.  This was a problem because he had dogs, “and he was miserable with the travel aspect of his job.”  Bob realized that his favorite thing was teaching computer skills to other people, so he stared a home business doing that.  He needed to earn a little more, so he picked up a part time job at the Apple store.  (Addendum to this story from Dee: “which evolved into a full time career and where, incidentally, he met the love of his life and is not only fully engaged in his work, he is engaged to be married!”  The universe works in wondrous ways…)

Your 40s

Betsy had a high-end marketing job at a Fortune 500 company.  As technology advanced and Betsy was required to carry a smart phone, “she found she had no respite from the office whatsoever,” says Relyea.  Betsy was a single mom with two adolescents, and she was working 70 hours a week.  Then she heard the company was going to be bought out.  “She came to me to create an exit strategy,” says Relyea.

Betsy completed a career assessment (the MBTI) which revealed her natural personality preferences and transferable skills.  She discovered she wanted to teach.  She had a master’s degree in marketing, but she needed to go back to school for a teaching degree.  When she was laid off, she got a severance package – which gave her the time (and the money) to get the education she needed.  “She was prepared and thrilled when she got that pink slip,” says Relyea.  Today, Betsy is a high school teacher and loves what she does.

Your 50s and 60s

In middle age, many people find themselves discontented with unfulfilling jobs.  “They want to do something they are passionate about,” says Relyea.  “Sometimes they have been downsized, and (sometimes) they want to respond to an inner calling.” 

You have a right to enjoy what you do for a living, says Relyea. “It’s really not a luxury,” she says.  “We don’t have much time on this earth.  You shouldn’t have to do something you don’t like.”  Often, people in this age range have “golden handcuffs” – they’re held hostage by a big house or a fancy car or expensive recreation.  “But you can choose to downsize your standard of living,” she says.  “People have successfully done that to find more fulfilling work.  A lot of people in their 50s freelance or consult, and work part-time in retail (or whatever) to make ends meet.  Multiple streams of income are the way to go.”

Relyea has answers for any questions you may ask.  For example, what if you want to start a home business but you need health insurance?  “You do have options,” she says.  “If you have a spouse, you may get it through them.  Umbrella group policies are available:  the Chamber of Commerce may offer insurance as do almost all professional associations.  You might be able to get COBRA to tide you over until insurance is easier to purchase through the Affordable Care Act.  You can find a way to do what you have to do.”

The bottom line is that you do have choices.  There are many paths available: just decide which one you want to take.  “I’ve seen some people achieve some amazing things,” says Relyea.  

I’d love to hear stories of your career experiences.  Please comment below.    —Dee