One of the primary concerns that can come up with those looking to graduate to the next phase in their professional lives is the thought of being irrelevant, brushed aside, or idle if they decide to slow down and create more flexibility in the quantity or type of work they want to be doing. While the rapid pace of change and work means that our timeline to make a bigger late-career transition can be more compressed than it was even 10 years ago, we can still find ways to make life meaningful, regardless of our age, whether voluntarily or if we’re being thrust into it by an employer.
When considering (or needing to make) a move, it’s a good idea to spend some time identifying the skills and strengths that have served you well up to this point, along with what you most enjoy doing, so you can begin to clarify how those skills and attributes can transfer to different settings and which to bring with you as well as those that you’d like to leave behind. We can often put ourselves into a box, limiting possibilities for what’s next, when we only stick to the roles and environments we know. Instead, think in terms of both your interests and the value you bring. This approach, as opposed to tunnel vision on job titles and roles, can open up your thinking and lead to a longer-term view of what you can do.
Do a bit of online research and talk to people who’ve recently transitioned into something different or a new situation to learn what’s out there and where you may be limiting your options. It’s amazing what we don’t think of and can discover when we have a variety of conversations to gain perspective. There’s no harm in asking someone to have a half-hour call with you. The worst that can happen is they’ll decline. It seems that most people, though, are happy to talk and share their experiences and connect, especially if it’s been a long time since you last spoke or saw each other.
In terms of options, here are a few possibilities for leading a fulfilling life during a slowdown in our careers or stopping regular work altogether.
- Volunteering: Any non-profit, charitable organization, or membership association runs on volunteers. The key is finding the right opportunity for you that matches well with your skills and interests and the types of tasks you most enjoy. What type of content, causes, hobbies, or life circumstances resonate with you? The answer can be a good starting place for investigating volunteer opportunities. With current events, goodness knows organizations aligned with race and social justice initiatives, public health, homelessness, poverty, teaching/education, the arts, and unemployment services could probably use a lot of help these days. Check out sites/organizations like Catchafire (https://www.catchafire.org/), RetiredBrains (https://www.retiredbrains.com/volunteer.html), and VolunteerMatch (https://www.volunteermatch.org/) for inspiration. Virtual opportunities are available during these times of social distancing too.
- Board Work: Paid or not, these same non-profit or charitable organizations and membership associations all need board members to function. Publicly-traded companies need board directors too. Your particular skillset and background could lend itself well to board positions and provide a way to get involved while staying sharp, growing your network, and learning something new. Take a look at AdvisoryCloud (https://www.advisorycloud.com/), Boardwalk Consulting (https://boardwalkconsulting.com/), and BoardSource (https://boardsource.org/about-boardsource/) for ideas and information about board service or providing advisory help to organizations.
- Consulting: Lending your skills and experience as a consultant or coach, whether part-time or full-time on your own terms, can be a great way to transition from what you’ve been doing into something that affords more flexibility, especially if you still need to earn an income. Be careful to not take on too much, though, if your goal is to decrease your workload and have more time for leisure activities and family. Maybe your current organization or employer would be willing to hire you as an external consultant to get started. You can also check out organizations like Vistage (https://www.vistage.com/vistage-chair/) that brings on leaders to coach executives, Small Business Trends (https://smallbiztrends.com/), or the Small Business Administration (https://www.sba.gov/) for resources and information. Many staffing firms also specialize in finding freelancers and consultants for contract work and could be worth investigating.
- Flexible Work: Getting on with a new employer that provides opportunities for flexible, part-time, and/or virtual employment is also an option if you still need an income and would like to try a different work arrangement that provides additional flexibility. Take a look at sites like FlexJobs (https://www.flexjobs.com/), VirtualVocations (https://www.virtualvocations.com/), or Freelancer (https://www.freelancer.com/) as starting points to explore opportunities and browse job descriptions to broaden your horizons when it comes to types of roles and work you may be well-suited for that provide the best combination of income stability and flexibility.
Transitioning more deeply into your “slow-go” or “no-go” years doesn’t mean you fade into the woodwork and stop living your life unless that’s what you choose to do. While ageism is real, you can take on new challenges and opportunities to continue to add value to organizations and your community that provide fulfillment and that are a far cry from irrelevance or idleness, heading any physical or mental downward spiral off at the pass. One small step is all it takes to begin.