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  • Rachel Schofield

Dogged by feelings that you're out of time?

How to ditch the idea that you've left it too late to make a change ...

Have you ever stopped to consider the deep irony that the more time you waste wondering if it’s too late to overhaul your career, the older you get?

Two years ago you were probably wondering about a change but concerned you were too old. Looking back now, you wish you’d just cracked on, because now you’re two years older. Go figure.

How does the Chinese proverb go?

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

But if you’re struggling to get over the thought that you’re too old and you’ve left it too late, what can you do?


Take yourself to the top of a high abseiling wall. Your hands are sweaty, your heart is racing. You can have one of two voices in your head:

1) “I’m so scared. I can’t do this, I really can’t. I’m going to fall. The rope isn’t secure. I’m not going to be able to get down”

OR this one:

2) “OK, this is pretty high. This is going to feel scary. But I’ve done scary stuff before. I can be brave. I’ve got this”

Which inner monologue is going to maximise your chances of success?

It was the American industrialist (and, come to think of it, billionaire) Henry Ford, who said "Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right."

And whilst there are always circumstances you can’t control, he surely had a point.

If you’re not one for inspirational quotes, then check out the scientific theory of Self-Efficacy, first proposed by psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1970s.

Self-efficacy is the belief we have in our own abilities, specifically our ability to meet the challenges ahead of us and complete a task successfully. Put very simply, the idea that what you believe about yourself determines how you think, behave and feel.

Believe you’re too old? Believe you’ve left it too late? It might just be your own attitude that’s going to scupper your chances of success.


That said, you may be looking at the world and be genuinely convinced that employers won’t take you seriously as a 45-year-old career returner or career shifter ... That such-and-such an industry isn’t welcoming to older staff ... That you’ll look flaky without more experience.

It’s time to get clear on the difference between facts and assumptions. Where are you getting these views from? Where’s your hard evidence?

If one old colleague has told you “There’s no enthusiasm for returners in PR these days”, that’s an anecdote.

Just like “Oh my sister’s friend had a nightmare trying to get back into law”.

OK. So where are the details? The context? How credible are these stories? How indicative of the wider picture? And, if there is any truth in them, what can you learn, rather than decide it's all a waste of time?

If you get knocked back after a couple of approaches, that’s a disappointment, not a sign that the game’s up. If you get the same message when you’ve spoken to 10 reputable professionals, then you might take more notice.

So set out to properly test any assumptions you’re making and use the “data” you gather to shape your approach accordingly. Information is powerful and can help you make alterations to your CV, your target sectors or the way you use your network, rather than simply throw in the towel.


The great news is that life expectancy for women in the UK is around 83. If you’re 42 or even 52, that’s some way to go! You’ve got decades to fill, so think about how important it is to you that work – of whatever kind - features in some of them. You might still have 10, 20 or 30 years to gradually reshape a fulfilling career, even if the first few steps take a while. So why not start now?

You may have more choices. Whilst it’s not true for everyone, a career redesign later in life may mean you have a financial cushion you didn’t have when you were 20. It may mean you can invest in some retraining or support. That you can listen harder to your heart than your bank balance.

And whilst there’s a tendency to see your age as a barrier, how about reframing it as an asset? Think of your 21-year-old self, setting out on her career and how little she knew. Blimey she was clueless!

Starting a new career in midlife sees you equipped with a whole host of experience, wisdom and skills that – let’s face it - were nowhere in sight when you did this first time around ... Remember that abseiling scenario ... you've done scary stuff before. You've got this.

That morning, he was afraid of becoming old, and it was a very specific kind of old age he feared, one which had nothing to do with the number of years since your birth. He feared the premature old age of missed opportunities. Daniel Alarcon

#careerreturns #nevertooold

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