Career Shifts for Boomers

A police officer turned music agent. A Navy captain who became a circus manager. A botanist who traded plants for making chocolate. Those are a few stories of major career changes from the baby boomers and retirees I interviewed for my new book, “What’s Next: Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job” (Chronicle Books). Each one faced a different set of challenges. But their stories reveal common threads.

Many of these men and women were spurred to discover what really matters to them and transform their work (and, in turn, personal) lives by a crisis or loss that starkly revealed the fleeting nature of life. No one acted impulsively. They paused. They planned. They bypassed helter-skelter approaches and pursued prudent, well-researched moves.

Each person had flexible time horizons for his or her venture to make it. If necessary, these people added the essential skills and degrees before they made the leap. They often apprenticed or volunteered beforehand. They reached out to their networks of social and professional contacts to ask for help and guidance.

They downsized and planned their financial lives in order to be able to afford a cut in pay or the cost of a start-up. Several were fortunate to have a spouse’s steady income or had some outside investments, retirement savings, and pensions in place to ease the transition to their new line of work. But what really sticks with me is that they all share a clear confidence in the direction they have taken. They collectively work longer hours, but it doesn’t matter. They only wish they had done it sooner.

Ten Tips to Guide Your Way

1. Understand what’s behind your desire to make a change. 

2. Get your life in order. 

3. Be practical. If possible, make your move in stages. Take one class at a time if you need a degree or more training.

4. Find a mentor. Seek advice from people who have been successful in the field you are interested in switching into from the start.

5. Be prepared for setbacks. It’s not all-smooth sailing, but if you’ve laid the proper groundwork, you’ll get through the rough patches.

6. Volunteer or moonlight. You might try on several jobs before you find the one that’s right.

7. Upgrade your skills and education.

8. Start small. Give yourself time to grow and learn.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

10. Research. Check out job web sites like,,, to get a flavor for what others are doing and what jobs are out there now.

Bottom-line: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” No doubt you’ve heard this sage advice before, but it’s precisely what it takes to get this life-changing process moving forward.

Change comes from within, it comes from the heart, and it comes from action. Bit by bit, you weave together your future by making the most of your present day.

Your efforts will lead you there. They can be as tiny as a phone call asking for advice (sometimes hard to make), a day of volunteering, reading a book, enrolling in a course.

Changing careers can seem overwhelming. Don’t struggle to find an ideal starting point or perfect path. Once you have some picture of where you want to go, get things moving by taking small steps toward that vision. What really matters is that you do a little something on a regular basis.

If you give yourself plenty of time to change your career, you can try out some ideas and possibilities, and do a little bit of those things to see if that is the direction you want to go. You might know you want to do something different but don’t the courage to do it yet. Take a breath. Clarity and confidence will follow when you act with purpose.

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