Changing Direction Later in Life

Changing Direction Later in Life

Here’s the paradox: over the age of 50, change gets harder, and yet it can also seem more urgent.

For most of us, life is settled and patterns of behaviour firmly engrained. We may have lived in the same house or town for many years, been together with same partner for just as long and worked in the same field all that time. But just as the notion of retirement begins to loom up ahead on the mental horizon, circumstances or natural processes often conspire to throw us off the track.

I remember a much older friend telling me many years ago that going through the menopause induced a strange feeling ‘like being in love, but without an object’ as she described it. My own experience now tells me the truth of that peculiar sense of separation from previously held assumptions which can often provide the impetus for major change. Over-50s women may also be experiencing the empty-nest syndrome, suddenly free of the demands of young adults and so all the more determined to take their own life back and run it differently.

Other triggers, often more powerful for men, include redundancy and early retirement. The sudden change of status and often of self-perception that comes with finishing work can easily throw us off balance and propel us into major change.

This usually involves a process, starting when dissatisfaction with the status quo sets in. If this isn’t resolved by discussions or renegotiations with others directly involved, then the mental acknowledgement of the need for decisive action gets the ball rolling.

There’s a lot riding on later-life change, and it’s not only fears of financial insecurity at a time when income is likely to diminish. It can be emotionally scary to leave a long-term relationship, with niggling thoughts of never meeting anyone else and spending old age alone (and unloved in the worst mental scenarios that tend to haunt decision-making at this stage of life).

Even what may be seen as more positive choices, like moving house or going to live abroad and enjoy retirement in the sunshine can bring added stress-factors at a certain age. What are the chances of making close friendships in a new place when we’ve left behind people who’ve known us for thirty or forty years? How will we ever manage to learn a foreign language when we can’t even remember the names of people we met yesterday?

And the possibility of it all going wrong is even more daunting, because trying to go back may be a change too far without the same energy and careless confidence of the young.

So change in later life may be hard for many reasons. But none of these are strong enough to make it a bad idea if the seed is truly sown and we know deep down that current circumstances can’t be adapted to make life as happy and fulfilling as we’d like – and, let’s face it, we damn well deserve after a long hard-working life.

It is never too late to change. I know of 80 year olds moving from England to France to start a new life, and good luck to them. I have a friend who, nearing 60, left her country, home and job of decades to live with a new partner and forge a very different life in a small country town. I myself have moved abroad and later decided to leave my marriage despite a precarious – let’s be honest, positively hair-raising – financial situation. Do I regret my decision for major change in my mid-50s? Not for a moment. I’m alive and I’m kicking.

Photo by Un ragazzo chiamato Bi

Wendy Thomas

This post was written by Wendy Thomas.

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15 Comments

  1. I will be 50 in June and see some of this. I still have a teenager at home but have lived in the same town for years. I’d love to move elsewhere but probably here for the duration.

    Reply
    • Hi Pamela
      That sounds like a very self fulfilling assumption! If you think you are ‘probably here for the duration’ then you probably will be! How about reframing to ‘I’d love to move somewhere else and I am am constantly exploring the possibilities to make this happen’
      Cherry
      Your Career Change Guide

      Reply
  2. i do respect a lot old people who begin a new life, i know of some people too who did that , they always give me hope in life, thank you Wendy :)

    Reply
  3. Agreed Wendy. I’ve heard stories of people in their 60’s getting their PhD’s and I can’t help but be inspired. Age should not be an excuse for not squeezing the most you can out of this life.

    And yet it is almost like a scripted norm that with age comes the pattern of routine. Drastic and unpredictable is for the young while certainty and complacency seem to be the signature moves for the aging. I think it’s time to rewrite this code of conduct.

    I think Farouk said it, this post is definitely one that gives hope – it is never to late for change, you can always shake things up a bit.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  4. I love the examples you shared with this. It’s very inspiring to see people 60 and 80 years old making such courageous decisions. That makes me want to kick myself in the butt for ever thinking I’d waited too late (age 30-34) to start making major changes. Hahaha

    Reply
  5. Wendy,
    The mindset of get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, retire, live like a hermit is just a model.
    We can literally change the model to a more empowering one that keeps us fresh and alive.

    We need to discourage the mindset of not changing or growing as we get older.

    Reply
  6. It’s not easy to change in a career later in life. When things are not goiong as you’d like, the best thing you can do is change. It doesn’t matter how old you are, following the same path will only lead to the same result.

    Reply
  7. Change is the unknown and with it comes fear. I think that once we get our lives mapped out at a young age, we then see any deviation from that initial (and often naive) plan as scary (or hair raising as you mention above). Fear is often a big enough factor to keep us in our current situation because although undesirable, it is safe. Developing confidence and quieting the saboteurs/gremlins/naysayers in your head, helps to produce change and move actions forward. A nice read–thanks

    Reply
  8. I also love examples you shared, Wendy. I’ve always been inspired by stories of people in their 40s, and 50s (for me, in my 20s at the time they were, ekhm, ‘later in life’) who after a major blow, e.g. job loss, marriage breakup etc, were able to get up, shake it off, leave everything they had behind and start from scratch. I’ve a collection of stories like that I tell others and myself, to keep in mind that change is possible at any stage in life – ‘if there is a will, there is a way’.

    Reply
  9. Thank you all for your helpful comments. I absolutely agree that a fixed model of later life attitudes is often a stereotypical mindset, but I hear it so often from those in that situation contemplating change that it needs to be taken out in the open and given a little shake! I hope on my blog to give inspiring examples and encouragement for those in later life to believe that anything is possible.
    Very happy to hear any more points of view here or on http://www.late-change.blogspot.com
    thanks, Wendy

    Reply
  10. Nice article. Very practical. Thanks.

    Reply
  11. This was a great article. I couldn’t help but reflect on my life and changes that have recently happen. It just goes to show we are constantly evolving and changing and that we have the ability to. I have to agree with those that have written posts before me, in regards, same path same result, and also the effect fear has on all of us and how we handle it. I also found this article inspirational, in that those senior to me aren’t giving up hope and still are forging a path ahead.

    Reply
  12. I love these stories and adventures. I was 53 when my marriage of 30 years went to the wall. I spent a year or two settling into life as a single, then I took a teaching job in Japan and moved there for a year, living on my own for the first time ever. It was challenging and at times very lonely. But when I look back on that year and if someone asks me about the experience, I am so proud of what I did and realize more and more how it has shaped my outlook on life. What an experience!

    Reply
  13. Great article and comments.

    Reply
  14. I remember in my 20’s meeting a lady in her 80’s who was travelling around the world for the second time alone. What was remarkable about her was that she was born into slavery in the Deep South of America and despite no education and extreme poverty brought up her children to be professionals, put herself through uni and started traveling to experience life. Her stories and wisdom were remarkable and now That I turned 60 this year I must try to capture some of that sparkle and be fearless myself!

    Reply

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