Starting Late

by Stacey Stateler

A lot of people seem to have this feeling that if they haven’t reached their ideal career by a certain age that it’s too late to start. I’ve met people in their late 20’s and early 30’s who, though they want a specific degree, have decided with conviction not to enroll in school because they think they’re too old. I’ve known other people who feel that because they’ve been doing a certain type of job for so long, it’s too late to make the drastic career change they secretly desire. I’m here to tell you that these people are wrong. There is no point in living a life you find unfulfilling and subpar just because you think you’re too old to change it.

If you’re thinking about starting “late” in your career, you’re not alone. The average age to make a drastic career change is at 39, and 88% of people who make the change are happier for it (, and believe it or not, 10% of post-secondary students in 2006 were 40 or older (

Personally, I graduated high school a little late-at age 20 and didn’t start university until 22. This is still young, but I felt self-conscious about it. One day, a friend confronted me about my worries. He told me about a man he knew who was in his 50’s. When this man was in his early 40’s, he decided he wanted to become a lawyer and succeeded. He had no regrets; in fact he was happy he started late. I found this anecdote reassuring, and on days where I start to beat myself up for taking a little longer than average, I think back to the old lawyer and how he would probably laugh at me if he knew I was worried about that in my 20’s.

To gain some perspective from people who started “late”, I interviewed three people: Jean-Francois (31), Alison (55), and Zach (32)- who each have very different perspectives on the matter.

What were you doing before you started on your current path?

Jean-Francois: I owned a mechanic shop.

Alison: I did family portraits at Wal-Mart.

Zach: I’ve been in the window cleaning industry for about a decade.

What is your current path and how old were you when started?

Jean-Francois: I decided to get into social work at 30. Currently finishing an addiction counselling degree so I can get a job in that field while I finish my full social work degree.

Alison: I became an academic advisor at 40.

Zach: I’m halfway through my second term of a Bachelor of Communications degree majoring in journalism. I started at 31. I’ll be leaning towards documentary production in my specialties, so my career goal is going to be very project oriented. My long-term goal, freelance writing, hasn’t changed.

What made you decide to make this change?

Jean-Francois: The feeling I could do more for people and that I was wasting my skills and time owning this business.

Alison: I needed more stability and better hours.

Zach: I’m getting a little too old to be scrambling around houses and swinging from buildings. Also, I enjoy writing recreationally and took a couple journalism gigs over the internet. I found I really enjoyed that.

Do you have any regrets about starting “late”?

Jean-Francois: Yes I do. I feel like I could have made things easier for people before if I decided to go for the job I wanted rather than aiming at making myself rich. I made tons of money and hated my life, and I should have realized I needed so much money because I didn’t feel complete in other parts of my life- including my career.

Alison: Only that I won’t be able to retire as soon as I could have if I started earlier. I can’t retire with full pension until I’m 62.

Zach: Not really. If I had gone to school right out of high school, I can guarantee I would have failed or be on a second degree now. I feel like I didn’t have enough context on how the world works. I’m glad I waited.

Do you have any advice for those starting “late”?

Jean-Francois: Try to do it. Even if you don’t finish and go into something else, it’s worth getting the experience and education. Education is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you and it’s something you should actively work on daily, and that includes taking risks with your schooling. Go for the craziest dreams you have and don’t spend time trying to make yourself rich. Being rich isn’t a money thing; it’s about how much knowledge you can gain and share.

Alison: Take advantage of free classes on LinkedIn.

Zach: There is no such thing as late. You will bring your own existing perspectives and valid experiences to any lecture hall you go to. You might surprise yourself with what you already know. Just be prepared for a little rewiring.

As you can see from these interviews, starting “late” isn’t a hinderance. Though one person regretted starting late, he didn’t regret starting. Perhaps the best solution is to stop putting off your dreams out of fear that you’re too old. You’ll get old no matter what, but you’ll be happier when you get there if you’re doing what you truly want to do with your life.

Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

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