Reinventing your work life

January 24, 2013

The ISHN BlogI was reading something yesterday where the writer described a person as being at that point in their life where they are saying, “been there, done that, is that all there is?”

ISHN reader surveys have pointed out what’s already well-established: the EHS professional ranks are top-heavy with graying baby boomers beyond age 50. By that stage, you’ve been a lot of places, done a lot of things, you see the window slowly shutting on your career opportunities, and so yeah, you wonder, is this it? Is this as far as I go? I’ve made a difference in my own way. But I’ve got years left. What’s left to accomplish that I haven’t already done?

Perhaps you’re feeling the urge to shake things up. Perhaps your nest is now empty. You have more freedom and flexibility than at any time since your 20s, especially if you’ve been good at planning your financial future into retirement. And honestly, you’re burned out after 30-35 years on the job.

It could be transition time for you. Not that we want to lose your EHS institutional memory, your volunteer spirit, your leadership. The EHS field is already losing too much of all this through forced transitions – layoffs, plant shutdowns, consolidations, restructurings and so on.

But according to an article in The New York Times (December 9, 2012), the urge to move on to something different can be particularly acute to those who have dedicated their lives to making a difference and may be experiencing burnout. Ah, that could be your safety and health professional. Or a teacher. A physician. A spiritual leader. A social worker.

Most cannot afford to ride off into the sunset at age 55 or so. But as The Times article says, “As people hit their 50th and 60th birthdays and realize they are far from done with work (or not particularly adept with a tennis racket or nine iron), millions are moving into new careers that combine making a living with making a difference.

I’m sure you’ve read about some of these change-over stories. Since the Great Recession and the more or less lean times ever since, these anecdotes seem to be staples of newspaper and magazine coverage.

Career reinvention doesn’t come easy, as I’m sure many of you have contemplated. There’s age discrimination. The need to find time to network, not only with your LinkedIn contacts but perhaps with friends of your children. Bridge the generation gap.

Many people over 50 need retraining or education to do the work they want to do. Fortunately, on-line classes are booming, so the chances are less you’ll sit in a room with kids younger than your own. And moving into new work very often means taking a financial hit, especially if you are moving to a job more focused on mission than money.

Plus, according to The Times article, the average midlife make-over to socially-motivated work takes about 18 months, during which most people don’t earn an income. You might have to spend money going back to school. You have to have your financial house in order before taking that leap of faith and parachuting into a new line of work.

Perhaps there is some solace in numbers. The idea of changing careers in mid-life is more accepted today than decades ago, and the sheer size alone of the baby boom generation ensures that there are and will be more career reinventors than ever before.

Got the itch? Think it over. Talk it over. Google it through and through. As a safety and health pro, you’ve spent your life protecting people. You might be surprised how many opportunities exist to change people’s lives for the better – including your own.