Starting a new career at 50

Posted on February 19, 2016 by Eleanor McKenzie
Business man leaving suit behind and diving into a dock

The year before last I downloaded a book to my Kindle called Achieve Anything in Just One Year by Jason Harvey. I recommend it for the simplicity and good sense of Jason’s approach, although being a person with “sprinter” tendencies, I did find it quite challenging to only focus on one day at a time. I could have read all 365 days at once.

Make a list of what you want

But, I did find the notebook where I’d started to focus my thoughts about the direction I’d like to go in with work and what I’d like to achieve in other areas of my life and I can see that many of them have come to pass. In less than two years I am in a very much stronger position in all ways. I know from experience that this is a benefit of focusing on a list of things you want to achieve, rather than just having a vague notion and hoping for the best. There is power in writing down what you want, and it’s not just New Age types who believe in this. Harvard MBAs and other top achievers do as well.

50 isn’t too old to change

One thing that you might want to change this year is your career. I’m not saying you have to, but if you feel stuck—something that Jason Harvey talks about in his introduction—and you have a little devil on your shoulder telling you: “You’re too old to start a new career now,” then let me introduce you to some people who only really got going with a successful business or new profession after they’d reached 50. You might be surprised by some of them!

Colonel Sanders

The man who rescued me many a starving Friday night on the way home from after work drinks didn’t become the KFC mogul we see him as until he was 65. Okay, he did have a restaurant chain on a highway that became disused with the construction of a bigger interstate that meant drivers bypassed his places. Rather than give up he practised frying chicken in his special batter recipe and then went on to create a franchise. The rest, as they say, is history.


A writer jotting down ideas

Laura Ingalls Wilder

I like this one for two reasons; she’s a writer and I have fond memories of “Little House on the Prairie.” I admit to liking it and The Waltons. As a writer of a certain age it’s always encouraging to hear that the author of the very popular “Little House” didn’t publish her first book in the series until she was 65, and then she managed to produce 12 books. So, there’s no reason to think that you can’t be a published author just because you’ve hit some imaginary age at which you’re deemed unpublishable. Beside, you can always self-publish!

Tim and Nina Zagat

This is a bit more American than the others in that the Zagat Restaurant Guide, which is somewhat like Michelin, is less well known in the UK, although there is the Zagat Guide to London. Here’s a story of two lawyers who started writing their restaurant guide as something of a hobby that they turned into a business, whilst still practising law at a very high corporate level. Tim left the legal profession in 1986 to concentrate on the publication when he was 51 and Nina continued to work two careers for a while longer. In 2011, Google bought Zagat Restaurant Guides for $151 million. The Zagats were in their 70s then, and that’s a very nice result for something that started off as a hobby sparked by a conversation with friends around a dinner table. It should give you something to chew on!

Grandma Moses

Have you heard of the American artist Grandma Moses? She’s a major name in folk art, or Modern Naïve, and if you like the work of L.S. Lowry, you may really enjoy her work although it is primarily rural, whereas Lowry is urban. She was born in NYC in 1860 and died in NYC in 1961. Originally she was an expert embroiderer until arthritis prevented her from holding a needle. So, at the age of 76 she started painting because she could hold a brush. Her works became hugely popular and by the end of her life she was able to charge $10,000 for a painting, which was a long way from the $3 that she started out with as an asking price.

These are examples from the USA, but there are undoubtedly people in other countries who have switched careers, or launched a new business after 50. I hope you feel inspired to take a new path or turn an existing hobby into a business and that you remember that 50 can be the starting point, not the finishing line, if you want it to be.

Starting a new career at 50+

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.