Originally published in February of 2020 – just before we learned that a multi-year pandemic would rock all of our lives – it seemed timely to refresh this article. If there is one thing that I’ve heard expressed over and over again since then, it is that of increased appreciation for the value of life, learning, and longevity. With that in mind, I offer this to my loyal readers once again.

In my work with professionals in planning mid-career transitions, I often wonder why career reassessment and redirection at mid-life and later is so challenging. Why is career change after years of successful performance not considered a reasonable next stage? It seems to me that we focus much more on the years completed than the years ahead.

The longevity experts project that more people than ever before will live to be 100 years old. Even if this seems hard to imagine, it is a sure bet that people will live longer, and that suggests the need for a rethinking of the traditional arc of our careers.

Traditional Career Model

The current view of a career is that there are about 25 years of early education, followed by 40 years at the grindstone and then, for the financially fortunate, up to 30 years of leisure. I see this model breaking down because of increased longevity. The result is that we need to finance a longer lifespan and want to use our experience in new careers and endeavors.

The whole “retire at 65 and rest until death” mythology had its origin in 19th century Germany when Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had to pick a retirement age at which he would begin to pay pensions to the retiring soldiers. He picked 65 because it was so far beyond the average age at death that he was pretty sure that the treasury would remain solvent. Somehow 65 took hold and became the basis of the sturdy gold watch mythology.

Better nutrition and medicine allow most people to maintain full control of their faculties through their 70s and 80s and beyond. This expanded period of vitality requires an entirely new approach to managing one’s career arc.

Experience Matters

First, we can expect many more people to have at least two and sometimes three distinct careers. My clients are often in their 50s. They are seeking a new professional stage that will prove meaningful now that their primary financial responsibilities, such as their children’s education, are complete. Many individuals return to an earlier vision they had of contributing to solving issues facing humankind. They want to make sure their experience matters by using all the professional skills that they have gained during their first career. The banker who becomes a teacher. The salesperson who channels her persuasive talents into lobbying for children’s rights.

Education and Career Choices

Secondly, the whole idea of continuing education becomes essential to provide the basis for fluid career choices. Colleges and graduate schools are now admitting increasing numbers of grey-haired students as they retool toward a new vocation. So the aging population will continue to be a significant force as many seek to bolster retirement savings or to use their experience in a continuing and significant undertaking.

I predict that it will not be uncommon soon for people to begin to think of their initial careers as just that, initial on their way to discovering new ways to contribute their experience and talent and pursue emerging interests. Mid-career changes will become routine in paving the way for multiple careers spread over a lifetime. We will discover how much our experience matters when selecting and transitioning to new careers.

Peter Sherer is a nationally recognized career coach who offers clarity and confidence to mid-career and senior executives in transition. In just two short days, his rigorous assessment tools enable his clients to identify a meaningful assignment that uses all of their skills and experience. Learn more and get in touch with Peter today.