If you could start over, what direction would you take?

Ok, I’m middle-age, my job of 25 years is playing out, and I have an Associates degree (with 16 hours of chem) and live near a major university. I am thinking about living off my savings for a year or so and completing my degree. What field would you suggest? Outside of engineering and accounting, which seem to favor fresh out of home grads. What has the best value with security? What are your experiences (and folks you know) with changing your career and direction in life?


That it’s a bad idea to pursue degrees and careers based on money or social pressure. Figure out what you’re passionate about and maybe you’ll find something to do that’s more than just a job.

First, recognize that most people switch careers several times over. Secondly, I agree with the above - focus on what you enjoy doing and extrapolate from there.

Agreed. And this cannot be stressed enough. Try not to listen to the so-called realists who are going to show up in this tread telling you it’s too late to change gears and no one ever gets what they want, you shouldn’t have taken so many liberal arts courses.

I know several people who have changed direction in their mid-late thirties, and beyond. The latest of which is a friend who went back to school at 51 and is now a Professor, happily doing her thing. The key is to pick something you love to do. If you can’t imagine doing what you’re doing now for another 20 years, then go do something else. Life is too short to be doing work that doesn’t nourish you. It’s okay to be scared.

I can appreciate that, Ryan, but at this stage I want to weigh all the factors–pay, security, education requirements, demand; and winnow it down to something I can enjoy/tolerate. I’m not dismissing your advice, though. High on my list for 2nd careers is something I can really pour myself into.

I know several people who have changed direction in their mid-late thirties, and beyond. The latest of which is a friend who went back to school at 51 and is now a Professor, happily doing her thing. The key is to pick something you love to do. If you can’t imagine doing what you’re doing now for another 20 years, then go do something else. Life is too short to be doing work that doesn’t nourish you. It’s okay to be scared.

Thanks, that’s very encouraging. That would probably be my first choice, a history teacher.

This is absolutely true. There should be a course given to all HS students before they graduate that underlines this fact. First and foremost, pick a job that you will like, and at worst, ‘not mind’. If you think accounting is mind-numbingly boring, then do not get a job in it, no matter how much in demand it may be.

The second rule is, after you have your list of things you like to do, then narrow it to something that actually has a real demand. If you think psychology is interesting, do not get a degree in it if you plan on just getting a bachelors, or possibly even a masters. The same with biology; The only thing a BA in biology is good for is a starting qualification for a better degree.

The last rule is do not go after anything for which you lack ability. If you think physics is awesome, but you suck at math and can’t handle basic calculus, then your not going to be getting a degree in physics.

With respect to is it ‘too late’ to change? I would say not unless you plan retiring in 10 years because you will not see much of a benefit in a degree in that time. When I went to school, there were plenty of older people there. In my CS program, there was a group of women who were from 45 to 65 years old just STARTING to get a CS degree. There were a few older men too, although it was odd to see so many older women. I asked a few of them and they said they wanted a better paying career. Software engineering was not a physically demanding job, so they could easily see themselves working in the Field for many years afterward.

I have a degree in chemistry, (as well as a couple liberal arts subject that aren’t any good for jobs) and I switched industries to computers 3 or 4 years ago. So far, it’s been working out pretty well for me. Good pay, interesting work, laid-back friendly co-workers, (by and large) and this industry is very receptive to people with unusual or non-typical backgrounds. (e.g. being a chemist definitely did not give me any programming skills)

Downside is that you’d probably have to re-locate to one of the coasts, which probably wouldn’t suit you, given your political & social views.

Oh… background: I was a chemist for 5 or 6 years, and hadn’t been able to really get my career off the ground. So when I switched careers @ 27 (28?) I wasn’t giving up much of anything. My dad was forced to switch careers late in his life, when he was in his mid 50’s, because the oil company he worked for as an engineer laid him off. He became a financier of some sort for a year, got laid off from that, and he’s been unemployed for the past 10 years. But then again, my dad didn’t (doesn’t) have a passion for anything, so I think the problem is him rather than something inherent with switching careers.

I switched very late in university from one low employment field (English language and literature) to another (journalism).
But writing was where my heart was (and the reason my English studies didn’t go to well - reviewer showings of movies had a tendency to coincide with classes).
When I finished Journalism school unemployment for the newly finished journalists was at a record high for the country (close to 50% - 15% for all journalists) but after six months and 65 applications I landed a job and things have worked out well for me since.
I was 27 when I decide to switch and 31 when I finally finished school - even though education is free in Denmark, that much education isn’t. So it wasn’t a finacial safe choice and I’m still paying off the debt.

That was the longwinded version of: “What Ryan said”.

Anything in medicine – including pharmacy, nursing, and hospice care – is sure to be gold, IMO.

I went back at 35 to get a 2nd degree in accounting. It is already paying off and I am doing audit work and really enjoying it. Figgerin’ may not be your thing, but an accounting degree and the CPA designation soon after can be applied to multiple positions in multiple industies/businesses.

Good luck to you.

Seconded- health care will be big as the population ages. You can also choose your level of patient interaction, ie obviously nursing=huge patient interaction, but lab or biomedical engineer=much less patient interaction.

Public health.

It’s this kind of dangerously bad advice that leads thousands of people every year to piss away the cost of a 4 year degree so they can get a bachelors in classics or psych or film studies or some other useless piece of paper.

In my experience there’s a lot of factors in job satisfaction that are irrelevant to the work field. Quality management, good people to work with, good company culture, etc.

Yeah, personal likes/dislikes should be used to rule out fields if the work seems totally unpalatable but the whole “follow your dream” crap only works for the really obsessive people. The rest of us should pursue a career in something we at least don’t hate and then try to find satisfaction in a good work environment.

I would be much more conscious of giving myself specific skills that a) there is a market for, and b) not everybody else has. Either that, or if I was going to get a useless liberal arts BA (as I ultimately did), I would move right on forward into grad school to give myself an educational background that would actually be of use.

Sorry metta, but as you know I am not enamored of the whole liberal arts thing. It left me with no “armor” in the real world. I am in very real, very palpable, and abjectly terrifying danger of being one of those guys who works a shitty $9/hour job while making snarky comments to customers in order to show that he is really “cultured.”

I think our educational infrastructure is woefully inadequate when it comes to preparing us for the reality of the working world. At 17 I was basically sitting on a ticket to anywhere (great school, great grades, great SATs), and I totally squandered it based on a bunch of “follow your dreams” bullshit about going off to USC and learning how to be the next George Lucas. In part I blame myself but in part I blame guidance counselors and officials and school curricula that really didn’t give me a goddamn clue.

I still have hopes of making it in the field that I love (I am looking closely at ways to give myself the technical skills that would really allow me to make it in film/video post production), but the key absolutely has to be the acquisition of specific trainable desirable skills and the concomitant certifications, if any.

I know, Gordo, and I’m sorry about your situation, which we’ve chatted about at length. My film profs hammered into us that we’d better leave the film program with some hard technical skills, because it was likely almost none of us were going to be screenwriters or directors. And your film profs…didn’t.

Know that it’s not too late. Know that the industry needs good post production people and if you’re not set on being Walter Murch you can make a very lucrative and rewarding career. Borrow some money, take a breath, and enter a technical school to learn the Avid or Pro Tools or whatever you think you’d be good at. I’m confident, if you work hard, and don’t mind working in television, you’ll be employed three months after graduating.

I agree with the advice already given about choosing to pursue something you have at least a mild interest in, as otherwise you’re going to get bored quickly and probably not even finish the school portion of the career change.

Since you’re posting to QT3 I assume you have at least a passing interest in computers? Do you think you would be interested in growing that from a hobby into a career? Contrary to popular belief, not all computer jobs are being outsourced to India or China, and there are actually many experts in the field who are lamenting the fact that young people have forsaken the IT field as a career choice. Enrollment in computer science and IT related degree programs at universities across America is way down, and as baby boomers retire there will be a marked lack of people to fill skill positions in the IT field.

The positions aren’t neccessarily programming jobs, which is what most people tend to associate with IT and the jobs most likely to be outsourced. These positions are things like IT Management, Data Security, Network Infrastructure Engineers, Telecommunications Engineers and others whom companies depend on for the day to day adminstration, security and maintenance of their computer networks. It’s very difficult to outsource jobs like this to India or China. Many professionals holding these positions now are people who are likely to retire in the next 5-15 years, thus creating a shortage of qualified candidates. It’s not going to be the crazy IT boom of the mid-90’s with fresh-out-of-college 20-somethings grabbing six figure jobs with insane perks, but it will be a rich job market for experienced professionals with the right mix of technical skills and business acumin. I don’t know if this kind of stuff interests you, but if it does it’s something to think about.

I think that different people may have different meanings behind “follow your dreams.”

Some of the advice here, which I think is good, seems to amount to, “Do not pick something that you will hate doing just for the money.” That is just solid advice, but is more pragmatic than “following your dreams.”

If you hate coming into work everyday, I think nothing less than obscene amounts of money will make up for it. Unfortunately, most of the jobs where you make obscene amounts of money are, contrary to popular belief, those that consume most of your life. So you can not usually expect to trade just 30-40 hours a week for that sweet paycheck. Not liking the job is magnified by the amount of hours you have to put into it above and beyond the “ordinary” job to get the paycheck.

Following your dreams is great if your dream happens to be a job that is in demand that pays a healthy salary. At a minimum, something that you have a reasonable chance of obtaining. The problem is that many people who have followed their dreams really are not doing exactly what they want. They are leveraging something they enjoy, or at least do not hate, into a profession where the skills are applicable.

Think of how many writers would rather be writing the next great American novel, but their job is writing blurbs for DVD box covers or some such. They might enjoy their job, and they are using the skills they enjoy using, but they are still not really “following their dreams.”

Sacrifices need to be made. My “dream” consists of sitting around playing video games and reading books for enjoyment, when and as I see fit. No one is going to pay me for that.

I understand the pressures. With one daughter approaching college age, and another going into high school next year, there are pressures that often preclude us doing what we’d ideally love to do.

On the other hand, don’t go into this thinking that you’ll find the one ideal job/career. Within the limitations of your current situation, explore what’s out there.

Back when I was in tech marketing at HP, I spent a lot of time fooling around with PC hardware and, eventually, doing some freelance writing about it. At the time, I never saw it as more than a way to make a little extra money.

Now, I’m doing this full time, and having a blast. But I’m starting to think: what’s next?

Which is another point – whatever you go into, think about what that might evolve into. You may get a degree, and start teaching, only to find yourself running the high school robotics club and then getting a job in robotics. Weirder things have happened.

Ok, as you guessed, I am interested in tech and computer subject. I believe I can be fairly happy as a CS major with an IT job, very stimulating. I could see that.

Edit: My answer was pretty short for such good info, thanks. It gives me something to research and think over.

Downside is that you’d probably have to re-locate to one of the coasts, which probably wouldn’t suit you, given your political & social views.

I can’t relocate due to family reasons, more than political views (which would not matter anyway, we have liberals in Texas, too).