Making the most of your late career - RSA

Making the most of your late career

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  • Picture of Ann Thorpe
    Ann Thorpe
    Facilitator, partnership manager, design thinker and convenor of Mission On! Late Career Alliance
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Education and learning

How do you harness your potential in the last chapter of your career? Ann Thorpe explains how the Late Career Alliance could help to craft your career narrative, impact and legacy.

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I’m 59, yet I struggle with the notion of being ‘an older person’. I don’t feel different to when I was 40. If anything, I now have more energy for my work, fitness, and creative outlets. Meanwhile, more than any time I can remember, the world around me needs more help with innovative solutions, active participation and informed discussion.

That’s why in this last stage of my career, the last five to 10 years of work, I want to do more to harness my potential. I want to be innovative in developing a mission-oriented late career.

You might ask why, at this age, older people haven’t already harnessed their potential. And it’s a good question. For some of us, parenthood, caring for ageing parents and maybe divorce (or all three) have necessarily caused us to stray from a straight, harnessing-potential path. Having come through these chapters in life, now we need to rediscover our path in the context of our many experiences and a changed world.

Some of us might have always purposefully explored different potentials and it’s natural for us to continue this approach now. Yet others may have taken a straight harnessing-potential path only to arrive at or near the top of a given field, but feeling burned out, bored or impatient with said field.

Late career challenges

However you arrived at being an older person (while not feeling like one) and wanting to do more to explore and harness your potential, you might encounter some of these challenges:

1. Healthy ageing

How can ‘healthy ageing’ be a challenge, you may wonder. Our ‘health-spans’ and our ‘vitality-spans’ have lengthened, but the challenge is that society and work have not really caught up. There’s no instruction book or positive social practice for devising a late and longer career for impact. Official national pension ages are creeping up, but given health and vitality in older age, many people are fine to work five or even 10 years past these pension ages. And that’s welcome for those of us who are energised and like engaging with the world through work, but potentially difficult when it challenges long-held expectations.

2. Ageism

As older people, we start to encounter social attitudes and assumptions. For example, there may be a general perception that older people are ‘less’ – less adaptable or curious, less committed, less ambitious, less physically able. Older people, if not perceived as ‘less’, may instead be perceived as obstacles to the growth and development of younger generations. Even if older people can also grow and develop, maybe they’ve had their chance and should move on.

3. Finding peers

If you have an entrepreneurial, ambitious or innovative attitude about harnessing your potential, and you’re an older person, you may find that many of the people who share this attitude are younger. In my experience, more younger people, than older people, attend meet-ups and online platforms like ‘Lunchclub’. While it’s great to connect with and be inspired by younger people in this area, it can also be difficult because in practical ways, you are in an undeniably different life phase.

For example, you have grown-up kids, and one way or another are more established financially, for instance, not trying to buy your first home. You’ve been behind the scenes in a number of different types of organisations. So while talking with younger people about harnessing potential, there can sometimes be a disconnect. You may fall into the role of mentor because you have experiences to share. You may evaluate opportunities very differently now than you did when you were in your 20s, 30s and even 40s.

4. Your personal network

Another challenge you might encounter is attitudes amongst your friends who are other older people. They may not care about trying to harness their potential, and, worse, may discourage you from doing so. They might not even think of themselves as having potential. They may focus on how bad it is to grow older and they may not be able to see a future opening up with possibility.

All of these challenges can make it hard for older people to find like-minded peers to connect with on the path to harnessing their late career potential. I know those peers are out there, but where do I find them?

Some of us might have always purposefully explored different potentials and it’s natural for us to continue this approach. Yet others may have taken a straight harnessing-potential path only to arrive at or near the top of a given field, but feeling burned out, bored or impatient.

Late career innovation

This is why I’m beta-testing a Late Career Alliance, for people aged roughly 55 to 65, where you join an accountability team of peers from a similar stage of life with similar energy. You meet every few weeks using a professional meeting structure to keep each other on track, and enjoy stimulation from connecting with relatable people who are on a similar journey of late career innovation. (For clarification, it’s not about helping people find jobs.)

Have you encountered any of the ambitions or challenges mentioned here in your own experience of late career? Let me know in the comments.

Ann Thorpe is a facilitator, partnership manager, design thinker and convenor of Mission On! Late Career Alliance (Molca). You can find out more or join the beta-version here.

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  • Love this idea, Anne... ...or at least I did until I got to your preferred age range. Am 65 myself and therefore a bit miffed that that age is your upper age limit :-). Shall I join your beta group now for the remaining 6 months of being 65? What happens then? Would I get expelled? Perhaps a better idea would be to set up a late career group according to biological age rather than chronological. As a longevity hacker (my biological age is ca. 22.5 years younger) I might get to stay in your group for a bit longer. Cheers. Looking forward to seeing your revised, less ageist concept.

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