If you think it’s too late in life to try something new, think again. Many people successfully pursue what’s called a “second act,” either by switching careers or going deep into an avocation in retirement.
A second act can be whatever you want: personally fulfilling and creative, professionally driven, or even altruistic. All that matters is that you take a chance and go after it—the only way to fail is not to try.
Finding your second act
There are many different paths you can take to create a second act. Read about a pair of professionals who changed gears to find more satisfying pursuits after their initial careers.
Contractor to practitioner
Steven Hoffman, LAc, Dipl. OM, had worked sixteen years in environmental contracting and owned his own company when he decided to go in a new direction. His business, which removed outdated underground fuel storage tanks, was lucrative, but he found that it wasn’t always fulfilling. “People were never really happy to see me because removing a leaky storage tank can be expensive,” he says. “It was draining even though I was doing a good job.”
Hoffman had studied martial arts for years and originally wanted to open his own martial arts studio for his second act. But an injury opened his eyes to a whole new career possibility. One day, his martial arts master spotted his swollen thumb in class and pulled him aside. “After he inserted some needles, I almost had full range of motion in my thumb again,” Hoffman shares.
Inspired, Hoffman studied acupuncture and herbal medicine over the next five years, using the proceeds from the sale of his business to work on his degree full-time without having to take out student loans. In 2011, he finally opened his practice, Princeton Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine, where he treats patients’ anxiety, depression, pain, stress, and sleep problems. “It’s very rewarding seeing them recuperate from even serious illnesses and get their lives back,” he says.
Painting new landscapes
Plein-air painter and art instructor Debbie Pisacreta first discovered her love for painting in an art class in college. But it was only just before retiring as a graphic artist that she considered pursuing painting more passionately. “I always wanted to paint, but I didn’t know how to make a living out of it,” she explains. She took painting classes while she was still employed, began teaching at the Arts Council of Princeton in New Jersey, and was juried into the Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville, New Jersey, before she retired.
Today, Pisacreta loves being part of a community of like-minded, artistic people. “We all get each other,” she says. “It’s hard to talk about art with people who aren’t artists because they don’t understand; their eyes glaze over.” She also sells her paintings each year at the gallery, which covers the costs of taking more classes and traveling to paint in beautiful locations like Maine, her favorite locale to capture on canvas. “Painting is meditational for me,” she says. “It’s a passion. I get so much out of it and am always trying to improve—I’m driven!”
Start your second act
Do you want to make a midlife career change or pursue a hobby in retirement? Whatever your choice, follow these steps to help ensure a smooth transition.
Do your research
Before embarking on your new journey, determine how doing so could potentially impact you financially. Also consider other details, such as whether you will need to learn new skills, relocate, or pursue additional education. If you can, consult with individuals who have already taken the second-act leap to get advice.
It can take a fair amount of time and money to change careers. One option you could consider is continuing your career a little longer so you have time to save up, make plans, and acquire the knowledge, degree, or certification you’ll need.
Test it out
You could also dip your toes in the water before diving in to ensure your new path suits you and that you’re willing to commit to it. You could work at your new passion or career after hours, as a volunteer, or part-time until you know it’s a good fit.
Find your niche
If you don’t have a specific second act in mind, take a close look at your skills and interests. Consider completing a career aptitude test, seeking the guidance of a career or life coach, or tapping into your own personal and professional networks for advice and support.
No matter how much planning you do, however, you have to be willing to go for it. “Don’t hesitate to take the leap,” Hoffman says. “You don’t always get another shot. You might have to take a salary cut or take out a student loan, but doing something fulfilling is a reward in itself.”