Outside the Box: Changing jobs midcareer? How to find fulfillment without going broke

The idea of retirement stirs a range of emotions in people. Some can’t wait. They plan to travel or lower their handicap, or maybe they’ll even wing it and see what each day brings. That’s one end of the spectrum.

The other end could not be more different. Perhaps you really like your job and want to keep going in the role you are already in. Or, maybe you’d like to take all of your skills and experience to a new role, perhaps a nonprofit that really could use your help. That might even be something you’ve always dreamed about.

How do you get there? How do you go from your current role to that brave new world?

You could, of course, just dive into the deep end of the pool and see what happens. Blow out the candles on your retirement cake and then get busy figuring out Life II.

The truth is, there are some gentler ways to arrive at a satisfying second half. There are tools that will help to start the transition now so that Day 1 of retirement is not such a shock. These are also useful for someone who happens to have a long runway before retirement. Even if you still have years left, you may want to start putting some of these into practice. And, truthfully, they can be helpful advice for any career transition, not just retirement.

So, with all of that in mind, here are a few of those tools that we would recommend. And remember, you can’t use every tool at the same time. Reach for the one that seems to fit the situation you are involved with as you take steps toward your second half journey.

Low-cost probes. Instead of diving headfirst into a new season of life, make some careful forays into areas of interest that could develop into your second-half mission. For example, let’s say you are interested in doing something for inner-city youth. Your ultimate goal might be to purchase an old building, turn it into a youth center, and begin offering a variety of services to help young people prepare for college. Before you take out a second mortgage on your house, go out and volunteer with an existing youth program to gain some experience and perspective. It will not only confirm whether or not this is really what you want to do, but it will plug you into a network of contacts that will be helpful should you eventually decide to take the plunge.

Parallel career. This is probably the best way for a person dependent on an income to successfully move into the second half. A parallel career is really a gentle plan for holding two jobs. It often involves renegotiating your working relationship with your employer so that you have blocks of time to invest in your second-half career.

The parallel career option is especially compatible with the professions (law, education, medicine, etc.) where employees have some autonomy in determining their workload. An attorney, for example, can arrange to carry fewer clients (at a commensurate reduction in income) so that she can devote one or two days a week to a second-half initiative. Public school teachers could conceivably use their summers to launch a second-half career that eventually could supplant their teaching income, thus serving as a very convenient transition out of halftime.

I am convinced that the parallel career concept could help most of the people who feel as if they are stalled. It’s really a win-win: you get to keep your job, which means you will still have your identity as well as a source of income. If your new endeavor doesn’t work out, you won’t be out in the cold and you’ll have the resources to try something else. And most employers would much rather keep a valued employee on a part-time basis rather than having to recruit and train a brand new one.

Do more with less. Another option for people who want a second-half career yet depend on a regular salary is to develop a downward mobility plan. This is just another way of answering the question “How much is enough?” There’s a certain leveling off that occurs in midlife that allows people to live on less income than they did during the child rearing years. It is not by chance that the second half and the “empty nest” approach at roughly the same time. That convergence allows you more time available and you have more discretionary income (theoretically). And there are some concrete things you can do to lower your expenses even more. A smaller house could give you up to an additional $500 a month in savings/income.

Do you really need that boat, or could you rent one the two weeks out of the year you use it?

Do you really enjoy belonging to those clubs or are you doing it because of certain expectations?

For many people, their second half is the best time of their lives. There’s more fulfillment and joy, and there is time to dream and pursue new and exciting adventures. Hopefully these tools and those I will share in next month’s column will help you prepare and help you find your next role and finish well.

Paul McGinnis is the chief operating officer of the Halftime Institute, an organization dedicated to helping people lead more purposeful lives.

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