Career Change Opportunities at Every Decade of Life

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No matter how old you are, changing careers is a difficult thing to do. There are tons of questions to consider from lifestyle, to your finances, to your family, and even just whether you actually like what’s coming next. What makes these questions even more difficult to answer, though, is age and life stage. The same career change questions will have wildly different answers if you’re 20 versus 50 or 60. 

In this article, we’re taking a look at the key considerations and key opportunities associated with career changes – for every decade of life. So no matter how old you are, if you’re thinking it’s time for a change in your career, keep reading.

Your 20s: Career change opportunities are everywhere

Your 20s are a vibrant, magical, and often struggling time of life. Sure, you’re young, but with youth often comes inexperience, concern, anxiety, and not always being sure that you’re on the right path. 

In your early 20s, the biggest changes you should look for in your career is the opportunity to learn. A few years in, though, in your mid and late 20s, you might start to realize that it’s time for a change. 

Key considerations for a career change in your 20s: 

  • The professional world is vast. Keep that in mind as you explore new potential opportunities. 
  • Change could be vertical (more experience), horizontal (different experiences), or a whole career pivot (changing a fundamental element of your career path). 
  • Even though it can feel like you have to get everything done right now to be set up for success, you’ve got time to explore. 

Opportunities available to you: 

  • Entrepreneurship.
  • Side-hustles and side-projects. 
  • Completely re-skilling or going back to school. 

As you think about your career in your 20s, the theme should be about learning and exposure. Gain as many skills and perspectives as you can – it will serve you well. 

Giving back: 

In your 20s, volunteering is the best way to practice a new skill and grow your network while simultaneously giving back to your community. If you can afford to donate money, do so, but don’t feel bad if it’s not a big number. At this stage of life, your time and effort will be more valuable than your wallet. 

Your 30s: Solidify your foundation

If you jumped around in your 20s, then your 30s are a great time to build the foundation. Conversely, your 30s can also be a fantastic time of discovery and creation in your career. The right balance of having most of your career ahead of you while also having a decade of experience puts you in the perfect spot for a major career change or pivot. 

Key considerations for a career change in your 30s: 

  • Your career ambitions may be altered by family plans and other major life decisions, such as buying a house. This doesn’t mean you can’t take risks, it just means you’ll need to be careful and plan.
  • A lot of growth at this phase comes from vertical movement – getting promoted or moving to a new company in a more senior position. If you go the entrepreneurship route, you might be well-poised to either raise money based on your professional experience or launch a successful consulting company if you’ve cultivated subject matter expertise. 
  • Ultimately, career changes at this stage should set you up for the rest of your professional career, whether in the form of a specific path or broader skill sets. 

Opportunities available to you: 

  • Promotions and entering leadership roles. 
  • Beginning to max out your earning potential as you climb the value chain. 
  • Growing your business if you started one already. 

At this stage, the key focus is on supporting the life you want. If you didn’t lay that foundation in your 20s, do so now. 

Giving back: 

In your 30s, giving back should be focused on the causes you truly support and working to make an impact. That could mean donating more money, joining boards, helping with fundraising, and otherwise leveraging the network you’ve been building for the greater good. 

Your 40s: You’re prepared for a major career change

Your 40s are a time for focus, execution, and taking advantage of every opportunity coming available to you (not that you shouldn’t at every age). You’re more settled in your career, hovering around the 20 years of experience mark, and probably have a strong sense of what your life is going to look like for the foreseeable future. 

Making career changes at this stage, then, needs to be about propelling you to maximum earning potential and lifestyle in the shortest amount of time. That could still take years, but it’s about being as efficient as possible. 

Key considerations for a career change in your 40s: 

  • If retirement isn’t on your horizon, it should be. Whether retirement means golfing all day or simply working because you want to, not because you have to, you need to know how your current path fits your future desires. 
  • Take stock of the moves you’ve made in the past – and the results you got. Do you still want to be moving around a lot? Or perhaps you’ve not moved at all and you want a new adventure with your last 10-15 years in the workforce? 
  • Focus on maximizing the life you want, no matter what step you take. 

Opportunities available to you: 

  • Senior leadership or executive roles. 
  • Becoming an advisor or investor in startups, if you didn’t have the time or capital to do it in your 30s. 
  • Making a major career pivot into (or out of) entrepreneurship if you’ve built up an emergency fund big enough to support you.

The importance at this phase is to never stop learning. Fight against becoming entrenched in your ways. Always continue to read, learn, and talk to new people. Don’t let your world get smaller just as you’re ready to take the reins. 

Giving back: 

Hopefully you have the money to be very generous with the causes you care about. But you also have the experience at networks – social capital – to make genuine impacts in people’s lives. If you haven’t already, start mentoring people in your industry, profession, or other entrepreneurs if you went the business route. You likely have a lot of history and experience to share – and it’s a great way to ensure you keep learning from those who are new to the field. 

Your 50s: Make sure retirement is set

It’s official: you’re starting to get senior discounts. You might see your friends retiring – or perhaps even you’re planning a retirement of sorts. If you want a career change in this decade of life, the biggest concern will be ensuring you’re set up for the days when you may not be able to work anymore. Or, if something happened, that you and your loved ones are covered. 

Key considerations for a career change in your 50s

  • Making sure that you’re setting yourself up for retirement / the time when you don’t want to work anymore. That might mean lifestyle changes as you build up your retirement fund. 
  • Thinking about mentorship and helping others. In many cases, it’s a roundabout way to helping you further succeed as well.
  • If you have any extended family that rely on you, making sure they are covered and protected.

Opportunities available to you

  • Choosing between seeking leadership and maxing out being an individual contributor. 
  • Taking up hobbies and trying new adventures in your career because you can. 
  • Mentoring others. 

At this stage, your goal should be both maximization and preservation. Maximize your enjoyment and earning while preserving your lifestyle. Now’s the time to get any potential regrets out of your system.

Giving back: 

While you need to make sure you’re set up for the future, this is a decade to be as generous as you can be. You’re reaching the peak of your career – so share that success with others whenever you can.

Your 60s: You have a choice between career change and staying the course

A lot of people don’t think of changing careers in their 60s – it’s more about ending a career. But the reality is that many seniors are actively working in retirement, whether in part-time, unpaid, or even full-time roles.

Key considerations for a career change in your 60s

  • Your physical ability – it’s not likely that you can do the same jobs you did when you were 20, 30, or even 50.
  • Your financial situation. If you’re not working full-time, making sure any career changes you want don’t impact your expenses much. 
  • Volunteer and unpaid opportunities. If you can afford to do so, volunteer “jobs” can be incredibly fulfilling. 

Opportunities available to you

  • Mentorship. 
  • Volunteering. 
  • Consulting or working part-time. 

Giving back

Like your 50s, your 60s and beyond is a time to make sure you’re set up for success but otherwise be as generous as you can. 

Moves can happen at any time

It’s a common misconception that you have to be young and spry to make a career change. That’s simply not true. You may not want to make a full-scale career pivot when you’re a year away from retirement, but at the same time you can make smaller changes that give you the life you want. 

When people seek change, it’s because they want a new adventure or because they don’t like their current reality in some way. If that is how you feel about your career, don’t hesitate to make a change. You might have some considerations based on your age and life stage, but the reality is anyone can make a change if they want to.