Mid-life Career Change


Thrive, what a perfect word to describe a positive way of aging that we can strive for.

“Through wise eyes: Thriving elder women’s perspectives on thriving in elder adulthood” is an article that grabbed my attention this past weekend.

Its author is Beverly Hardcastle Stanford, a professor emerita of Human Development. She starts by saying that “the rising wave of elders alive today promise(s) significant changes in how we view and live out our old age.”  She summarizes various studies and notes the need for society to look at old age as a period of creativity and productivity, a time when people have more time (sans homework, career work, driving kids around, etc.) to use their accumulated knowledge and wisdom to mentor and care for others.

What else is involved in thriving?  Feeling well, even if you’re not.  At first I thought, what? But, she explains that subjective feelings of wellbeing are more important than objective ones.  Your doctor might tell you that you have this or that disorder, but if you believe that despite all that, life is great, then you are more likely to thrive. “I’m happy to be as active as I am,” said one study participant, for example.

A group of elders was asked to offer advice to the next generation.  I’m going to include the whole list of themes because I think we can discuss them in more detail in future blog posts.  The elders referred to:

(a) vital involvement and service; (b) desire to continue
learning, (c) appreciation of family, health, home, and financial
security, (d) valuing honesty and responsibility, (e) a positive attitude,
and (f) a reliance on faith.

(I highlighted item b because that theme seems to come up often.  Lifelong learning, my personal passion.  I know that’ll be an easy one for me to focus on as I grow older.)

The author asked the study participants why they were thriving, some said that
thriving needs to be intentionally sought“.  I thought this was powerful and amazing advice!  You have to make a conscious decision to thrive, to choose it when other options are available (being miserable, giving up, withdrawing, refusing to learn new things, etc.).  ” It’s very easy to get into a slump and just sit around the house
and watch television,” said one woman, who “pushes herself” to volunteer and go to museums and movies.

Were the women in the study just lucky to have had easy lives, making it easy to be so positive?  No.  The author interviewed them in detail to learn that most of them had experienced various types of trauma and loss throughout their lives.  The key point was their intentionality to thrive.   Thriving in older age doesn’t just happen.  You have to work at it.

There’s so much in this article to discuss further, so let’s keep referring back to it!  For now, tell me about what intentions YOU have to thrive as you get older?  Which of the themes (a) to (f) above seem to resonate most strongly with you?  Post your comments below!

(The English teacher in me requires I give the full citation for this article:

Stanford, B. H. (2006). Through wise eyes: Thriving elder women’s perspectives on thriving in elder adulthood. Educational Gerontology, 32(10), 881-905. doi:10.1080/03601270600846709)

I came across an article (no magic to that – I’m always researching things!) called “The phenomenon of later-life re-careering by well-educated baby boomers”.  I stumbled across it while doing my homework for an online university program I’m taking.  It’s in their academic journal databases, so if you have access to anything like that you can find the article in the Journal of Psychological Issues in Organizational Cultures (Volume 6, 2015).

If you don’t, don’t worry, here’s the general gist:  The author, Candy K. Rice, notes that there’s “a critical need to embrace a new paradigm of work activities in positive aging.”  Up until recently, studies of older adults has focused on the idea that people will have a primary career and then bang, retire.  Retirement might include some volunteer work, or “just for fun” part time work.

Now, though, it seems that more people are extending their working lives by choosing a second career= recareering. Why?  Simply because they don’t want to retire=leaving the professional world for good.  The study participants all really enjoyed their second careers, even if the job required them to work more hours than their primary careers did.

How did they get these new careers?  Generally, Rice tells us, through the networks the people had from their primary careers.  Then they enjoyed extending those networks with new connections. The people wanted to continue meeting people on a professional level, as they had done all their lives. Volunteering is a great way to meet people, of course, but the relationship is not the same.

The study participants said they want to stay engaged in meaningful, fulfilling work and to continue learning.  My favourite quote from the article, in fact, is:

“Participants valued continued growth, were hungry to learn, and were eager to embrace change.”

Wow, lifelong learning, put into practice!  Extending their working lives was viewed as continued growth–not a burden or chore.  In my own years of work, I’ve never heard anyone ever say they were “hungry to learn”.  I’m so fascinated by this!  Could it be that the pressures we have in our primary careers make us focus on “getting it done”, rather than on actually enjoying what we are doing?  In later life, when many professionals can relax a bit about finances, child-raising, mortgages and such, can the focus switch to pursuing personal fulfillment?

What are your thoughts on this?  Are you eager to retire, or do you want to extend your professional life with a second career?  Are you looking to embrace lifelong learning through work?  What kind of second career do you see yourself in?  Comment below and let me know!