| Works for Me |

“Too Old to Go Back to School?”

“I believe someone who is mid-career is at the ideal age to become a social worker”

I’ve been an insurance broker for the last 18 years, and in the last few years, I’ve really been feeling burnt-out. After much deliberation, I’ve realized that I really want to help people, and am considering going back to school for social work. The problem is I’m already 40 years old. The program is five years long; if I graduate at 45, I’ll be left with only 20 years to actually work in the field. It just doesn’t seem worth it. What’s your take?
Too old for school

A simple calculation shows that you went into the insurance field at age 22. If you had asked my opinion on becoming a social worker then, the answer would likely have been: You’re a bit too young.

Go get some work and life experience, then think about using it to help other people. In fact, I believe someone who is mid-career is at the ideal age to become a social worker, and many programs specifically market to the “mature” adult.

As things stand, you’ve spent close to 20 years in one profession — and I’m guessing you have a lot to show for it. It provided you with an income, colleagues who are likely friends, extensive knowledge, and a vast network of professional relationships. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and you did it all in less than 20 years. Would you say it was a mistake? Not worth it? I’d imagine it was the right thing then, and with the passing of time, you’ve changed and your life goals have changed, and it’s time for something new.

Forty is a typical age to reevaluate one’s career choice. You’re at the next stage of life, and who you are should be different, which often calls for a change in what you spend your days doing. You have another solid 20 years to climb the next mountain, and that seems like a very legitimate amount of time to warrant dedicating a portion of your resources toward it over the next five years.

And… who says you’ll only have 20 years to work in the field? We were all raised with the assumption that we’ll retire at 65. But I’m not sure that in another 25 years that will be the case. Will you be able to afford it? More importantly, will you want to? If you’ve developed yourself into the kind of person who taps into natural skills and channeled them into a career, will you no longer want to do so once you reach a certain age?

The opposite is more likely true — by 65, after having spent years developing your expertise, you’ll have so much to share. It may be time to change your schedule to a more relaxed one, but why would you expect your experience and wisdom to suddenly become obsolete? Older people have so much to offer.

Think about the older business people you know, or even those from the outside world, such as Warren Buffet or Donald Trump. Did they throw themselves a 65th birthday bash and call it quits?

In general, when choosing a second career that will hopefully grow with you into your golden years, I recommend considering something that will provide flexibility in terms of schedule and availability. Social work certainly fits that criteria, as once you’re established, you can choose your days and hours to fit your lifestyle, income, and personal needs.

In terms of the financial challenge of changing careers, I’d recommend maintaining your job as long as possible throughout schooling, which most programs accommodate. If doable, continuing in insurance until you’re able to earn a decent salary from your new career would make the transition smoother.

Hopefully, growing older will allow you to embrace and develop your interests, and this new career will ideally enable you to also pursue the other parts of your life that become more valuable with age.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1009)

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