Job Breakthroughs Later in Life

Grandma Moses was 77 years old when she started painting; best-selling author Sidney Sheldon was 53 when he began writing his first novel and Evelyn Gregory, a retired bank vice president, realized her life-long dream of becoming a flight attendant at age 71.

Life is full of second chances, second acts and dreams deferred.

Just ask golfer Todd Hamilton. It took him 16 years to qualify for the PGA tour. At age 38, he finally got his PGA card -- and, months later, won the British Open.

Then there's Linda Bach. Bach dreamed of becoming a doctor and was devastated when she didn't get into medical school after graduating from college in 1969. Twenty-four years later she applied again -- and was accepted at age 46! Elected president of her class, Bach received her Doctorate in Medicine in 1997, the same year her daughter graduated from college. Dr. Bach is now in private practice.

Norma Priday was earning a good living as a financial officer, but felt something was missing and decided to go to law school. Her friends thought she was crazy, she relates. "One said, 'By the time you're called to the bar you'll be 43!' But I would be 43 anyway, so I might as well do something that interests me!"

In 1992, Priday graduated with distinction, yet found some firms were not interested in hiring her, preferring instead to bring in young people and mold them to the firm's image. But the firm of McCarthy Tetrault jumped at the chance.

"We've had excellent experience with people who have come to law from other careers," says Tom Curry, a partner who was part of the team that hired Priday. "In general, they have honed their judgment and their people skills, and they're more mature."

Now 50 and a litigator, Priday believes her age is an advantage in the courtroom. "Some judges tend to beat up on young lawyers," she says. "When you look older, they assume you have more experience and that you know more."

If you're between 40 and 60 and considering a career change, your timing couldn't be better. Though the marketplace may have been depicted as unreceptive -- even hostile -- to older workers in the '80s and '90s, indications are that times have changed.

As Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, put it: "Companies have begun to recognize the value of older workers, and as our nation ages, we'll see more employers viewing older workers as a reliable and respected part of their workforce. Older workers are the wave of the future."

"Employers will no longer be able to rely on a large influx of young workers," says Alicia Munnell, director of Boston College's Center for Retirement Research. "Hiring older workers is a natural solution -- they will be better educated and healthier than in the past, they will have a lifetime of experience, and they will be well-suited to a job market that has become much less physically demanding."

With the population aging and the lessons learned from the dot-com bust, mid-life career professionals are finding that companies are placing a new value on maturity, experience and wisdom.

Doug Rogers, who at age 62 retired from his job driving an 18-wheeler and become a tax preparer, agrees: "It is entirely possible to change paths in mid-life or even later. Don't ever think you're stuck or out of options! Believe in yourself and your dreams, and don't let the calendar or other people's small-mindedness or negative talk stop you. "One of the advantages of being my age is that I don't give a hoot what other people think anymore!"

Self confidence and a strong resolve are the common threads running through every late bloomer's story.

Take Barbara Manzi. Manzi was 51 and working low-level jobs at a local metals distributor when she decided (much to the amusement of her superiors) to open her own metals-distribution business. Refinancing her cars for seed money, she opened Manzi Metals, Inc., at age 51. Ten years later, she has 14 employees and revenues of more than $5 million. Her goal: to eliminate the words "small business" from her credentials and to become "the Oprah of raw materials."

"Sometimes the greatest joy in life is to do what people say you can't," Manzi adds. "My star burned late, but it's burning brightly."

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