3 tips on how to change careers later in life

Key Points

  • Many people over the age of 45 dream of a career change but don’t follow through because of fear.
  • Understand your motivation and your strengths to find your career “superpower”.
  • Save, plan, and work with an advisor to help make your career change a reality.

Have you ever dreamed of quitting your job and starting an entirely new career? You’re not alone. According to a 2015 study by The Conference Board1, a whopping 80% of people over age 45 consider changing careers — but only 6% actually follow through. Why do so few people make the leap?


The primary reason is fear, according to Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work. “They like their job well enough and it’s providing a decent income, so it seems illogical to try something else,” says Johnson. “But from a deeper emotional and psychological perspective, the job is not meeting their needs.”

Johnson says that when she left Wall Street to become an entrepreneur, people thought she was crazy. But for Johnson, that jump landed her on the 2015 Thinkers50 list, a global ranking of management thinkers sponsored by the Financial Times. She is also a best-selling author.

"I’ve got status, prestige and money. So I’m jumping to do what?" -Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work

Career change advice to help you make the leap

According to Johnson, the first step in the career-change process is to figure out why you’re seeking a change and understand if you are “promotion-focused” or “prevention-focused.”

After determining what’s motivating the desire for change, use that insight to home in on new priorities. “This really helps you figure out what to focus on in a new career,” says Johnson.


By the time people make the leap and change jobs, they are often hungry for something completely different, according to Johnson. But it’s important to choose a second career that still plays to your strengths.

“Think about what you get compliments on — those characteristics and skills that are as natural to you as breathing — or that very thing you do best,” says Johnson. “This is your career superpower.”

"Make sure a new job takes advantage of your distinctive expertise." Whitney Johnson

Johnson recommends saving at least one year of living expenses, preferably two, before leaving your job. “Without this safety net, you’re going to start panicking and making bad strategic decisions,” says Johnson. “I learned from personal experience that I needed to adjust spending and saving habits, and it was harder than I thought it would be,” says Johnson.

  1. Discover what's driving you

    • Excited about new opportunities? Then you are promotion-focused.
    • Preoccupied with thinking about how your net worth might decline if you stay on your current career path? Then you are prevention-focused.
  2. Find your career "superpower"

  3. Get your finances in order

Talk to your advisor

Once you’ve decided to make a career move, it’s a good idea to include a financial advisor in the planning. “You need someone knowledgeable and experienced to help with the financial impacts and ramifications of the career change,” says Johnson.