When you were young, did your school have something like Career Day where everyone came dressed as the profession they want to be when they grow up?
You can probably guess the costumes almost everyone wore:
“Lawyers” wore nice clothes and carried an old briefcase
“Doctors” wore scrubs or a long white coat. The especially committed brought a toy stethoscope.
“Professional Athletes” wore their baseball uniform from Little League.
“Teachers” wore nice clothes and glasses.
“Firefighters” wore a plastic fireman’s hat and a red raincoat.
I now realize as a parent myself that kids don't dress up for the career they want; they dress in whatever costumes their parents can throw together! Because most children have very little grasp on what it means to choose a career. Obviously, they have a limited scope of the sheer number of jobs available, so naturally they want to be something with which they are familiar (my kids all want to be YouTube stars). And these days, as technology advances, jobs exist now that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago, so who knows what the job market will look like when today’s kids hit the work force.
It’s no wonder our paths take a number of twists and turns from childhood to our career as adults. But the twists and turns don’t stop even after we’ve chosen a career. The days of people working at one company, firm, clinic, or business for their entire career are long over. According to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American adults change jobs on average 11.7 times in their life!
The internet continues to make it possible for people to train quickly in a completely new industry and create their own source of income, sometimes without ever leaving their house.
The point is that these days nobody is “stuck” in one job or industry for life.
TRADITIONAL RETIREMENT CAN BE BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH
This flexibility in career choice adds a new dimension to retirement.
We typically expect to work in one career until we turn 60 or 65, and then stop working and let the money we saved carry us for the rest of our life. But research is showing that those who follow the traditional path tend to see a severe drop in quality of life.
As you may know, most studies indicate that it’s in your best interest health-wise to continue working well past the traditional retirement age of 65. The ongoing Health and Retirement Study out of the University of Michigan has dedicated years of research to this topic.
Retirees tend to be more at risk for physical health problems. As recently as 2013, in a study of 5,422 individuals past retirement age, it was discovered that those who were retired were 40% more likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those who were still working. What’s more surprising is that a large percentage of those who suffered a heart attack or stroke did so within the first year of retirement. The sudden stop in work and productivity took a hard physical toll.
It’s not just physical health, either. Retirees often face issues like depression and anxiety. These usually stem from a deep sense of meaninglessness in one’s life, and without regular employment a person can easily start to feel as if their existence has no meaning. We may not want our worth as people to be directly connected to our career, but it’s hard to realize how deep that connection goes until your career is gone. Older retirees also suffer from deteriorating issues caused by loneliness and isolation, especially those who are single or widowed.
The traditional practice in which we work until age 65, retire, and live a life of leisure has not worked out as well as most people anticipate. A healthy mind often leads to a healthy body, so it’s no surprise that people who continue to do meaningful work beyond the traditional retirement age tend to stay physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier than those who don’t.
RETIRE TO A NEW CAREER
Let’s jump back to the part about choosing your career.
If you want to avoid this drop in quality of life by retiring at age 60 or 65, you have some options. Sure, you could stay in your same field well into your 80’s or 90’s. But you are not bound to the career you have now.
That might seem like a strange notion for physicians and dentists since you invested many years and dollars just to make it in the door of your career. Plus, being a physician or dentist is probably deeply engrained in your identity. It’s not just what you do, it’s who you are.
But stay with me for a minute.
Another option is to “retire” from medicine and pursue a completely different career. You spent the first half of your working life in medicine, and the second half is wide open. You can do anything you want.
Here’s a thought to consider: What would you do with your life if you were to retire in your mid-40’s or 50’s from practicing medicine and pursue something else?
What if you could do this while your body and mind are still active and sharp, have a second career that you love, and let it carry you well past retirement age?
What would you choose?
SECOND CAREER SUCCESS
This question has led to an opportunity for many people to find a second career in work that is both meaningful and challenging.
Some of the most successful people in America found far more success in their second career than in their first. Here’s a short list:
Others have left professional careers to establish non-profits or become community organizers. Accountants have become priests. School teachers have become stand-up comedians. Homemakers have become world-renowned painters.
What you might notice is that people’s second career often had little to do with their first. There are numerous possibilities when you see what needs to be done and set your intention to do it.
When changing careers, some have the luxury to choose a new job without considering income, but others may not. If you have paid off your debt, saved and invested for several years, and lived within your means, the money you earned as a physician or dentist could continue to provide for your basic needs, and the income earned in your new career can supplement the rest.
You can even benefit from your investments. As we recently wrote, there are ways to access your investment funds (such as a 401k) for investment purposes before retirement age without incurring penalties.
In other words, finances don’t necessarily have to determine your next career. This frees you up to make a choice based on meeting needs, fulfilling passions, taking on something that will challenge you, or simply because it sounds interesting.
If you love the work you currently do and cannot imagine doing anything else, then that’s great! But you are under no obligation to be a physician or dentist for the rest of your working life. If you want to reduce the chance of debilitating health in your senior years, starting a new career well before retirement may be the answer. There are a limitless number of ways you can leverage your passions, skills, and education into a satisfying career beyond medicine.
REIMAGINE YOUR RETIREMENT
Yes, there’s risk in switching streams. You might take a pay cut. You might find yourself learning from people half your age. You might have to spend some of your savings. But as the spiritual father, Irenaeus, so famously said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
Do work that makes you fully alive, even if it comes with a risk.
The traditional retirement age may be a couple decades away, but you can start reimagining retirement today, which is what financial planning is all about.
It’s easy to plug your money into the same system as everybody else, ride the career conveyor belt, and jump off when you turn 65. In this system, the financial industry determines the choices you make with your life. But good financial planning should be deeply personal and work for you rather than against you.
If you want to explore the idea of a career change, our firm can help. We believe in personalizing finance for our clients rather than offer the same cookie-cutter products to everyone. We can help you figure out how long you need to work in your current job before changing careers, how many years your nest egg will last, and how much you need to earn in a second career in order to meet your goals. We’d love to help you!
Don’t think you have to figure this out on your own. Learn a new industry. Blaze a new trail. Figure out what brings you joy and find a way to get paid for it.
It’s Career Day all over again. Only this time you can make your choice with the confidence that comes from a few decades of knowledge and experience under your belt.