Worth the risk

Career moves often made by older workers

Posted: Monday, July 17, 2006

Older workers who find themselves out of work - whether it's voluntarily or involuntarily - around the age of 50 don't have to re-enter the job market looking for the same career. In fact, any forced or chosen career change might be a good time to re-invent yourself and pursue a lifelong dream or goal.

At 48, Thomas Ingrassia retired from a successful 25-year career as a higher education administrator.

"I knew that changes were coming, and I could read the writing on the wall," says Ingrassia, now a motivational speaker in Holden, Mass. "I decided to be more proactive and make a move before I was moved by someone else."

Instead of looking for a job in the same field, Ingrassia decided to do what he had wanted to do since he was 11 years old - work in the entertainment industry.

"I took a job at a considerable salary reduction and with no benefits working as the assistant to a celebrity," he says. "From there, I used the contacts I was making to start my own entertainment management business."

Today, in addition to his speaking duties, Ingrassia manages the careers of nine eclectic artists ranging from a concert organist to an a capella doo-wop group.

"The point and the centerpiece of my presentation is that it's never too late to pursue your dream," Ingrassia says. "And what better way to do that than with an early retirement, whether by choice or by being forced to do so. All too often we put off the things that are really meaningful to us, maybe for fear of failure or lack of courage. However, if your dream is really important to you, you will find a way to make it happen."

New playing field

Some good news for older workers looking for a career change: There are career options that exist today that were not around when you were entering the job market years ago.

"Many people have also developed skills and hobbies that they would like to spend more time doing that could turn into profitable experiences," says Julia Barlow Sherlock, director of career services for Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich. "Some re-tooling may be necessary, such as taking a class or participating in an available training opportunity."

Career moves often made by older workers

Retail sales clerk l Call center/customer service cashier l Greeter l White-collar clerical or office support, reception, administrative assistant l Skilled or semi-skilled labor l Inside sales (telemarketing) l Real estate sales l Outside sales l Guard or security work l Owning a small store l Starting a business l Consulting l Franchisee

The first step once you decide to pursue a second career is to choose and commit to a goal. Think about what types of skills, abilities and interests you have and how they could fit into the world of work. Once you do that, think a little bit about what kind of risk you're willing to take, if any.

Taking chances

"Understand the difference between a risk worth taking, a risk that will probably fail and a risk that's worth taking now," says Helene Lerner, author of "Smart Women Take Risks" (McGraw-Hill, $22.95). "Evaluate your tolerance for risk then calculate and determine your risk quotient. Move forward with confidence when you have a risk worth taking."

Staying focused and confident while you pursue your goal will be key. There are a few ways to ensure this happens.

"Start by building a strong support team so you have at least two risk-taking allies as you move forward," says Lerner. "Who will give you honest feedback? Then, when you're ready to move ahead, stay focused and don't let self-doubt or other bad habits get in the way."

Baby boomers are realizing the fragility of life more and more these days, says Ingrassia.

"I know from my own experience that I didn't want to find myself 10 or 15 years from now wondering 'what if,'" he says.

"When the opportunity came along, I fought to make it happen and I have never looked back."

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