Would you have the courage to change your career and go back to school if you were in your early or late 50s? Could you study for and pass a college exam?
Both Jack and Sam, who are in their 50s, chose to make major career changes by becoming teachers, one of high school science, the other of elementary age children.
Layoffs and business decline led to thoughts of, “What do I do now with my life?” Jack had worked as a chemist in his first career and even has a master’s degree in chemistry. During his years of employment at one company, Jack took on more and more computer duties and eventually transitioned out of chemistry into Information Technology. Years later he was laid off from another company as the head of the IT department. The idea of teaching never crossed his mind until a friend suggested he apply for a six-week position teaching chemistry.
“Twenty five years ago I would have laughed at the suggestion of becoming a teacher. The biggest surprise is that I really like teaching.”
How easy is it to make a decision of this magnitude? Sam, who is currently 59 years of age, wishes he had done it ten years sooner.
“I wish someone had blown in my ear the words, ‘you have the ability do this’ and maybe I would have considered it earlier.”
Although he owned his own business for many years, it had not been very satisfying. Finally, economics helped him decide to close the business and search for something that had more meaning. As a former captain in the Air Force, Sam found a program for veterans that helped him with the cost of his education for his new career.
Jack had the assistance of a career coach who helped him see possibilities and stretch out of his comfort zone.
“I can’t emphasize too much that without my coach I would still be sitting at home, sending out resumes.”
Search for meaning and purpose
For both men, money was not the sole motivator in their decision to turn to teaching. Rather, a search for meaning and purpose led the choice.
“Teaching is always different and challenging,” said Sam. “The elementary kids are fun, interesting and always smiling. Money was not an issue, so my motivation is how can I help them in some form by asking questions, offering guidance, giving answers. This certainly is not boring and is very self satisfying for me. No day is the same even if I am teaching the same thing.”
Sam went on to say that he found teaching so much more important than selling a product. His job provides an opportunity to be innovative as he makes great efforts to keep his classes interesting and not repetitious.
Both men started their exploration by doing some substitute teaching to see if this was truly an option in their career path. Sam also taught business courses at a local community college. He found, however, that he preferred working with elementary children instead of adults and had more patience with the kids.
Working with the challenges
Although both men are happy with their decision to return to school, this process has not been without challenges.
“The first semester was rough,” stated Jack. “It had been 26 years since college. I had to learn how to study and organize myself and it took a while to get into a plan. It did not come back all of a sudden. I had to get through the initial confusion and the classes were not easy. The other students had just come out of high school and knew how to study and take a test.” Sam agreed that studying for and taking tests is a big challenge. “It takes me longer to learn and recalling information sometimes is a challenge.”
And what is it like to be in a classroom, learning with students who are 19-21 years of age? Jack is surprised at how well he has been accepted by the younger students. He did have an incident when he taught his first lab as a teaching assistant. One of the students assumed that he was a professor and addressed him as one. Jack was quick to let the student know that he too was a student.
Even with the average age of first retirement at 57, neither man foresees retiring in the near future. As with most baby boomers, these men are choosing to continue working. Sam feels that teaching offers him some flexibility and options in later retirement years. For example, if he chooses to relocate, he would be able to get a teaching job in the new location.
Jack advises, “I think that you have to have an open mind at my age to say that I may need to do something else to move forward with my life.”
Related reading: Searching for the meaning of life – Author & speaker Erwin McManus asks in this short video exposition: Do you crave meaning?
Retirement Options Inc. is the Retirement Life-Planning, Assessment and Training leader dedicated to helping people lead enriched lives in their retirement years through the Retirement Success Profile (RSP) and Retirement Options Coaching Program.