Say you find yourself deep into middle age or even closing in on retirement but dissatisfied with your career (or involuntarily pushed by circumstance to find a new line of work). Is it possible to reinvent yourself, or are older adults stuck with the careers they've built over decades?
There is admittedly reason for folks in this situation to be skeptical of their ability to change careers. Surveys show older workers regularly face age discrimination and reveal that many people hold negative stereotypes of more mature workers. Self-reinvention can seem like a young person's game at first glance.
But even though science shows there are hurdles to starting over in midlife and beyond, there is also a ton of science (and plenty of role models) countering these stereotypes and offering plenty of reason to believe that you're never too old to change careers. Insead Knowledge recently ran through them in a post that should encourage those dreaming of reinventing themselves, no matter how many candles were on their last birthday cake.
1. Contrary to stereotypes, older people learn just as quickly as younger ones.
Many people believe that while age brings wisdom, it also slows learning. That's why we have the expression "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." But, according to science, this common understanding is flat wrong (except for learning a foreign language). People do not get any less creative or mentally agile as they get older. As Insead notes, "Research by management consulting firm Korn Ferry showed that there is no correlation between age and potential: Learning agility remains constant, regardless of age."
What changes, if you allow it to, is that older people, burdened by more life responsibilities, often have less time to explore new ideas. But that's a factor under your control. If you keep plugging away at learning, there's no reason to suspect that your brain will somehow get in your way. "What truly matters is your attitude. Do you see yourself as an adaptable person or do you put limitations on yourself?" concludes the post.
2. You are part of a worldwide trend, and employers are going to have to get used to it.
In the developed world, populations are aging. That means there are fewer youthful workers to go around. "By 2050, the number of people over 65 years old will triple worldwide and those over 80 will quadruple. Some countries will be more affected than others, but this demographic change is inescapable," reports Insead.
That also means that, faced with a talent crunch, employers are going to have to get over any irrational preference for youthful employees they may have. "The result is severe skills shortages, which are already impacting employers. Companies will need to understand this change and prepare to survive," continues the post.
3. Experience is worth more than you may think.
Even in youth-worshipping Silicon Valley, startup founders over 50 have close to double the chance of starting a successful high-growth company than ones in their 20s, research has found. This proves a fact that really shouldn't be all that surprising, but which we sometimes lose sight of: Experience is incredibly valuable.
"Traits of mature workers include flexibility, confidence, cool-headedness, resilience, and objectivity," notes Insead. Sounds like someone I'd really like to work with (or for).
Inspired? Check out the complete post for practical advice on dealing with age discrimination and finding your feet in a new field.