Career change stories for Lucy Kellaway — from readers who know

The FT’s Lucy Kellaway is leaving journalism to teach. Have you made a similar move?
© Getty

Listen to this article


In the comments under Lucy Kellaway’s recent column announcing that she will be leaving the Financial Times after 31 years to become a teacher, a few commenters shared stories of their later-life career shifts. “I started my PhD studies at age 45, received the degree at age 53, and am [now] teaching at a university,” wrote commenter Quietly Waiting. “Remember that the second act of life, like the second act of a play, often turns out to be better than the first.”

Another commenter, mookles, wrote: “I ‘fell’ into language teaching after losing my job in the legal sector during the ‘double-dip’ and have loved (almost) every second of it. I’m frequently asked why I don’t return to law, with friends, family and even colleagues still baffled that I should prefer to do something that’s worthwhile and immensely rewarding over financial gain.”

We are interested in hearing from others who have changed their careers late in life. Did you? Are you glad you made the leap? Share your experiences in the comments below or via this form. We will continue to update this piece with your stories throughout the week.

Success stories

I retired six years ago, pre-50, and have tried to use my equity analysis skills to help reduce human suffering in the massive but stigmatised area of mental illness. I have served on boards, but more importantly processed data, done analysis and had challenging discussions with leaders in health, medical research and politics. To my surprise, many leaders have welcomed someone who brings new thinking and positive energy — JohnC

Having worked [in law enforcement] for more than 10 years, I felt bored and [resigned]. Most people around me did not understand why. I started my career again as a regulator. Eight years [on], things are still interesting. Don’t wait until you are 90 to look back and say, ‘If I were 40, I would . . . ’ — K Wang

I jacked in corporate life for a new career five years ago now, and I never looked back. It’s less stable, more complicated, badly paid and I don’t know what I’m doing, but yep, getting up in the morning and really actually wanting go to work is worth its weight in gold. The only regret I have, for me and for you, Lucy, is that the corporate world needs the sort that jacks it in. Badly. We leave behind those who make it too corporate, and rob it of those who could make it better — Ishtar Ostaria

When my position as Chief Medical Office at a large US health benefits company ended, I followed a long-standing plan and went back into training to be a psychiatrist. This meant entering medical residency at age 55. I went from the executive suite with access to corporate aircraft and support staff to the bottom of the hierarchy, waiting in a queue for a computer station to write my clinical notes. I made it and now I am the happiest I have ever been professionally. I wish I had made this change a decade earlier — William Schaffer

I was trained at Imperial as a physicist and spent the next 40 in science. I always longed to work in a more artistic world; architecture was my unfulfilled passion. Now I have decided to learn the craft of making films, leveraging a 50-year sideline in scientific photography. They say learning a new craft takes 10,000 hours of practice. So be it. I’m beginning to collaborate with professionals in the film world. Fascinating and deliciously challenging — Goff

I seized the opportunity when my company restructured and went from managing international chain hotels to working in Africa with Medecins sans Frontieres. Like Lucy, I agree that after more than 20 years in one sector, you need a change. I am now learning about medicines, radio frequencies and logistics in rural settings. It is extremely refreshing to start new again — Caterina

I spent nearly 20 years in the City, trading and structuring equity derivatives. Several years ago I was made redundant and a friend of mine suggested I try teaching. I ignored him but a few years later, out of curiosity, I did call my local school to find out how one might go about things. Five years later and here I am, a mathematics teacher at one of the UK’s most successful state schools. I teach every year group from 11 year-olds to 18 year-olds, and I love my job. For anyone thinking of doing this I cannot recommend it highly enough. The best bit: unlike the City I work with normal people, not unhinged psychopaths — Darren

The first thing I did was go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Hardest thing I’ve ever done. The silent bit is easy, but actually meditating is hard. Mostly, I thought about what I was going to do with the rest of my life and my brain bounced from one thing to the next. But by the end I could meditate for long stretches. Now I run workshops that show others how to put together an effective, persuasive talk, presentation or pitch — Yolanda Maliepaard (former banker)

I escaped the corporate world in 2011. My career was a successful one — and included heading up investment product development for a leading investment house. I then took some time off before sitting down to write a book. Now, I’m endeavouring to use the book as a platform to help thousands of middle Britons to understand their money and make better decisions about it — Paul Claireaux

I haven’t been laid off (yet) but have trained to be a minister and am working for half the week in a church in Wythenshawe, south Manchester. I am 54 and still working as a Silicon Valley director of marketing for 2.5 days per week. I think the concept of doing a new thing in your fifties/sixties is a marvellous and invigorating opportunity. Normally in life we don’t get the opportunity to start and build something completely new. It’s an incredible privilege to be able to do that — Chrisgoswami

To teach or not to teach?

I was made redundant from a senior job at age 55 with a big pay-off and pension and with a scientific background thought that I would have a go at teaching. My 40-something neighbour who is a teacher advised me not to do it. “They will tear you apart,” she said. “It’s not about teaching the wonders of physics and chemistry any more, it’s about child-minding and trying to get them through a test.” I took her advice and did something else — DTM

I made the move three years ago from finance to teaching at an international school at age 53. I chose economics; I didn’t want to turn my back fully on 30 years of experience. It has been helpful, and the students very much like to hear about ‘the real world’ of business and finance. If I am honest, I do like the way the students think that I was a financial big shot — jbx

I quit my job as a government civil servant last June after 13 years. Now I teach at my local school in Copenhagen and have never been happier. And I really feel that I have a lot of experience to share with the students — experience which cannot be learnt at the teachers college — Charlotte Burgess

If the glamour of teaching is motivating you, do not do it. Teaching and instruction are crafts, not arts. The narcissistic gratification of having a class hang on to your every word (if you’re good) wears off very quickly (if you’re bad it will be torture, but good preparation goes a fair way) — JHK

Before going into astro physics I signed on for four years in the US Peace Corps. This was to teach maths, chemistry and general science in two comprehensive schools in Barbados. While it is true there were some agonising lows, there were also enormous highs — when students finally grasped matrix multiplication and linear programming [for example] — Astrophysicist111

I did this and discovered that 30 sex-crazed teenagers with NO respect at all for me, my knowledge or my person was too much at 9am, or for the rest of the day, every day, and no sick days allowed. Teaching is 90 per cent discipline and 10 per cent teaching — JoBo

I thought I could manage a teaching career and my family. I could not, the demands of this profession are extensive and lead to the high rate of teachers leaving. I found that getting a full-time position was difficult and that you had to start on short-term contracts (six months or year). Schools are cautious with older candidates (I was once told by a senior teacher that I should remember that I am young in my career) but once they see you in the classroom it changes — TEXIT

I am 59 and currently living in Slovakia, having spent 40 years working in the property and construction world in the UK. Most weekdays, l [assist] the local schools in conversational English. I only started in May but it has probably been the most rewarding period of my working life for a very long time. If you spend time getting to understand what hopes, ambitions and frustrations young people have, you realise how important it is to try and help talent come to the fore rather than let it wither just because our generation can’t see the value in giving something back — A Gillman

I offered my services to the head of a local comprehensive when I retired five years ago. I was allotted three, three-hour sessions to help eight sixth form pupils improve their presentation skills. Alas, poor attendance, due to little interest by pupils, and zero interest by staff during and after the sessions, told me that I should seek more fruitful things to do with my time to benefit others (and enjoy myself) — Peter Ashwell

For anyone reluctant to jump feet-first into the teaching pool but who has reached the Third Age, a halfway house is to volunteer as a reading helper in a local primary school. I’ve been doing it for the past two years through an educational charity called Beanstalk and I have found it hugely rewarding — Robin Lustig

As someone who briefly revisited maths teaching in a large comprehensive when I was 50 before returning to the City, may I be permitted a few words of caution:

• Don’t underestimate the massive exuberance of a class of 15-year-olds. Keep fit and get plenty of sleep
• Expect blows to your ego and self esteem such as you’ve not experienced since your own teenage years
• Never, ever ‘lose it’. Fortunately, this is much easier to do when you’re older and experienced — Cosmic Consciousness

As a career-changer and recent Teach First graduate, here are my 10 tips for school survival:

• A Rewards and Recognition programme is classroom magic
• Teachers are notoriously slow at replying to email (ETA +48 hours)
• Stationary is a bonus; most kids use their Oyster cards as rulers
• Avoid any politics talk in the staff room unless it’s about ‘teacher workload’
• Bring your own mug, teaspoon and decent instant coffee
• Accept that schools have inefficient methods which cannot be easily changed — Miss Teacher

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.