Seven Lessons to Start a Second Career

If there is one man who has made the greatest impact in science, it would be Isaac Newton. Known as the father of classical physics, the great scientist revolutionized the world of physics through his ground-breaking work on gravity, motion, light, and color. However, Newton was just not a scientist. He had a second career as well.

Towards the end of his life, Newton was appointed the master of the Royal Mint. Just like his scientific career, Newton was successful in that role. Here is a little story before we move onto the lessons.

In 1693, Isaac Newton, nearly fifty, had a mental breakdown. He couldn’t eat or sleep properly and wrote weird letters to his friends. When he recovered, he desired a change. Some of his influential friends arranged for him to run the Royal Mint at the Tower of London. The Mint was having a recursive problem. For several years, counterfeiters had been clipping bits of silver off the coins edges, making them worth less than they were supposed to be.

In 1696, the British government launched the Great Coinage. The Royal mint would collect all old coins and remake them into new coins with ridged edges. Newton was assigned to oversee the process. Knowing Newton, his friends thought he would hire someone to do the job, but he took exceptional interest, even chasing the counterfeiters till they were caught and executed. For his remarkable job, Newton was promoted to the Master of the Mint.

A lot of people, some of them comparatively young, ask themselves if they are too old for a second career. The answer is it is never too late if you have the passion to pursue. Newton joined the mint in his fifties, and he was already a superstar scientist. However, he was enthusiastic about his new job and contrary to expectations, did an exemplary job. You can do that too. Here are seven tips to help you do that.

Lesson One: List Down Your Interests

Whether you are just a young novice planning to enter professional life, or an experienced professional who is looking for a career switch, the first step remains the same: identify your passions. Is there an activity, a thought that keeps bothering you day in, day out? Make a list of those interests. Arrange them in the order of your preference.

Lesson Two: Compare Your Interests with Your Skills

Now that you have a list of your passions and interests, it’s time to relate them to your professional background. For instance, if you have worked as an engineer throughout your previous career, how good were you at writing emails? If you were exceptional in that skill, would you consider being a writer as your second career.

You second career may or may not be relevant to your first career. But an overview of your previous professional achievements can give you hints about your second career. Compare your list from lesson one with your skills and identify if there is any connection. A comparison of your passion versus your profession may provide you with some clues about your second career.

Lesson Three: Analyze the Market Situation

Once you have compared your interests with the skills acquired in the past and narrowed down to a few potential careers, it’s time to ask some practical questions. What is the market situation? Which professions are in demand? Are any of them somewhat relevant to what you are interested in?

Above questions may or may not be important, depending upon your situation and expectations. For instance, if you are interested in starting a second career to earn a full-time income or to add a second source of income, you need to be more practical with your choices. However, if you are semi-retired or retired with minimal financial burdens, you can be more experimental, prioritizing your passions over practical considerations.

Lesson Four: You Can’t Be Brilliant at Everything

Contrary to what some motivational speakers may tell you, you can’t be good at everything you do. You can be good at few things, if any, while being poor at others. This is the reality of life. The reason for that is that being good at something requires tons of energy, effort, time, and attention—let’s call them your “personal resources”. These resources are limited and hence you can only achieve limited things with them.

If you are a mid-career professional who is looking forward to starting a second career, it’s important to realize and acknowledge that your personal resources are more limited than a teenager. But it’s not all doom and gloom. One thing that you would have more than a teenager is experience— you are more experienced and probably wiser.

Lesson Five: Choose Your Career Wisely

The wisest way to use your limited personal resources is to use them selectively, on tasks that you really need to do. Use your experience to reduce your options to a couple of things that you really see yourself doing. As explained in the last lesson, you can’t expect yourself to do good at everything, so reduce your options to a minimum. Avoid swaying between completely unrelated pursuits.

Lesson Six: Use Your Links Positively

When Isaac Newton decided to have a second career, he used his links to get an employment at the Royal Mint. As a professional who has spent a certain number of years in your field, you would have developed links with people from different walks of life. Keep those links alive while you are still working; build rapport with people who can be helpful in your subsequent professional pursuits.

Lesson Seven: Deliver Your Best No Matter What

Contrary to what Newton’s friends expected, he took passionate interest in his job at the Royal Mint. He proved his friends wrong. Regardless of what your friends expect from you, deliver your best in your second career. You may not have the same energy as before but try to do better than before. Use your experience to work smarter and deliver more with less.

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