Career Change After 50

Changing careers after age 50 can be tricky. Here are some thoughts on my experience two months into such a change.


For years, when people would ask me what I do, I would either tell them I was a history professor (because that was how I derived my primary income), or if I thought the conversation was going to be more than just polite small talk. I would say, “I teach, I preach, and I write.” I was a history professor at a community college, I did pulpit supply preaching when such opportunities arose, and I am an author.

In December 2021, I left my community college job so I would have more time for church work, more time to write, and more time for public speaking (which I do to market my writing).

Armed with two months’ experience in this brave new world, here are four thoughts I have on the subject:

Having a Plan

When one is young with few expenses and a relatively low income, the decision to quit a job and grab another can often be made more impulsively and with fewer consequences. The reality for those of us north of 50 though, is that we generally have more financial obligations, and some employers are not as interested in us. We have experience and job skills, but some of those skills are obsolete, we often have higher salary needs, and our longevity going forward in the workforce might be questioned.

My plan, as I left my job in education, was somewhat unique in that I was not wanting a new full-time employer. I still plan to teach, preach, and write. I am not moving from one career path to another; I am just changing the ratios of time I commit to my three interests.

As I mapped out what I wanted to do, I recognized that I needed to be flexible in my thinking. Obviously, this might not apply to someone who is leaving a job and has another one already lined up, but it is good to have a plan, and it is good to be flexible with it. As Dwight Eisenhower once famously said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Okay, it’s not quite that dramatic for job changers, but it does illustrate the point that preparation matters, and we need to recognize the possibility that unseen variables might force us to adjust.

This might seem like an overly obvious insight, but I mention it for two reasons. One, sometimes people make rash decisions when they are going through a lot. Two, for those of us who have risen to positions of leadership, there might be a temptation to think that a potential future employer will value us as much as our current employer does. In other words, we might think someone is out there just waiting to make us a good offer, but it might not be that easy.

Positive Change vs. Negative Change

One of the great things about this transition for me was I was running toward something, not away from something. I liked being a history professor. In fact, I still plan to teach some history courses in the near future. I had spent my last several years at Walters State as an assistant dean, and my last several months as a dean. I enjoyed the job and the people. I was not leaving because I wanted to get away from something.

The danger in leaving a job due to unhappiness is that it pushes us to maybe leap before we look. What if we are in such a hurry to leave a bad situation that we jump into a new job that is just as bad or worse? What if we are frustrated at our job, but it is really frustration about something else going in our lives that is spilling over into work?

I really liked my college job, but I wanted to see what I could become as a writer and public speaker. And I am interested in doing interim pastoring, but on my old schedule, I did not have sufficient time to devote to that.

The Importance of Patience

I knew I would need to be patient as I worked on finding preaching and speaking opportunities, but knowing it and feeling it are two different things. It was a challenge for me, especially at first, to just take a breath and let things unfold at their own pace. It is still a bit of a challenge, but some opportunities are falling into place, and, um, I am growing as a person.

The Importance of Structure

For those of us who are not jumping into a new and highly-structured job, it might sound attractive to not be bound by a work schedule, but many of us are more productive when we have structure. Without having someone else requiring certain hours from us, many of us would do well to write out a schedule or at least make a list of goals or tasks for each day.

It has been strange for me, more so at first, since I am not in a traditional 8:30-5:00 job. But each day is a new day to choose to be disciplined in our approach.

I still face some uncertainty about how things will unfold, but I am excited about the possibilities.