What Are My Options if I’m Ready for a Change but Not Ready to Retire?

Bill Carroll answers the difficult question of changing your career while also moving closer to retirement
Bill Carroll, Carroll Applied Science, L.L.C.

I’m going to assume from the tone of the question that you are in that awkward age between about 55 and 65, and retirement is at least an option to be considered.  And it’s really important to know why you’re not happy.  Free-floating anxiety is not sufficient; have the hard conversation with yourself about what’s wrong, what needs to change, and what would be better.  If you can’t isolate those things, regardless of what you think otherwise, you may be “ready” for a change but you’re not prepared for a change.  Know yourself, and prepare.

I see about four options, and there may be variations on a theme, especially in these times.  First is “shelter in place.”  I realize you’re ready for a change and there may be a good time for that, but right now, at least don’t jeopardize what you have.  In a crisis, generally companies cancel travel and postpone hiring.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction.  Mobility may be tough right now.  It will eventually get better.

Second is a variation on the first.  With luck, you know your organization well enough to know whether there is anything there that appeals to you more than what you’re doing.  Also, if you have developed a solid reputation in your current role, they know you and value you.  Do your homework, target a job or an area and have the discussion with your boss.  If your annual review is coming up, it is a great time to have the discussion about putting you on a path to make the transition.  If your annual review recently occurred, I wouldn’t hold off until your next annual review – time may not be your enemy at this point, but it’s not your friend, either.  If the issue is hours, you may be able to negotiate a transition to part time.

Third is leaving the company for another position.  Frankly, this becomes less likely the further on you are in your career, and the more you want a different kind of position.  You will expect to be paid for your experience, and the company will expect that you make a contribution from day one.  In sports terms, you’re not a prospect, you’re a free agent.  It’s hard to change companies and change areas at the same time.  Your entire pitch has to be:  “Mr. New Company, here’s what’s in it for you to hire me to do this job.”

Fourth is to go out on your own.  This is easiest if you have an expertise that is portable—that is, not dependent on a particular device or situation.  The bad news is, if you become a consultant, you need a value proposition and a differentiator: “Why should I hire you?  And why you and not someone else?”  The good news is, the company that can’t afford all of you may be able to afford a part of you.  Put a few of those parts together, and it can be a full-time job.  Have just one or two and it can be a bridge to the kind of change that is retirement.

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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