Thinking about a second-act career? When you are freed up from having to work a traditional nine-to-five job, the options for how, when, and where you might choose to work expand exponentially. But choosing from that world of possibilities can feel downright overwhelming. How do you begin to make sense of it all? In my book, Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement I outline a five-step process that I use to help my own clients. Here is a summary of the steps:

Step 1: Envision the Life You Want. When you think back to the last time you planned your career (junior year in college?), it’s likely that your decisions were based more on practical concerns, like paying the rent and putting food on the table, than on your personal hopes and dreams. But now it is time to switch things up. Instead of allowing your career to dominate your life, it’s time for your life to take center stage. Think about the role you want work to play in your life: How many hours do you want to work? Do you want to run your own business? What type of balance do you want to strike between work, family, community, play, and self? Once you’ve defined the type of life you want to lead, it will be far easier to focus in on the types of businesses and part-time careers that will best support your lifestyle goals.

Step 2: Look to the Past for Clues to Your Future. Your past experiences – from childhood to the present – hold important clues to your future direction. Of course, remembering fifty-plus years of information is no easy task. So before delving into the assessment piece of this process, I think you’ll find it invaluable to dust off the mental cobwebs by reviewing old photo albums, reading through performance evaluations, and making time for quiet reflection. I know it sounds like a lot of work. But you know what?  I think you’re going to discover that this trip down memory lane is actually a lot of fun–you’ll find yourself thinking about people, accomplishments, and events that you haven’t thought about in years.

Step 3: Ask, Analyze and Assess. As you reflect on and analyze your past accomplishments and experiences, you’ll start to see very clear patterns emerge about what you love, what you do best, and what you find most meaningful in your life and work. Those unique patterns hold important clues to what you’ll be happiest doing in the future and will allow you to make decisions based on a lifetime of data, as opposed to decisions that are made in reaction to your most recent life experiences.

Step 4: Research the World of Possibilities. The world of work has changed dramatically since we all started our careers (back in the prehistoric twentieth century). People are now earning income in ways that we never could have even imagined just a few short years ago: selling on the Internet, self-publishing books on demand, and teaching webinars online. Jobs we aspired to when we were younger have become obsolete, and new careers–like virtual assistants, app designers, social media consultants, and bloggers–have filled the void. Take the time to browse, consider and compare the full range of options. After all, if you’re going to make the effort to start something new, don’t you owe it to yourself to familiarize yourself with the full range of possibilities?

Step 5: Try It Out! No matter how intriguing a career idea sounds, you’ll never know if it is truly a good match until you’ve had a chance to try it out. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to test-drive potential new directions, including volunteering, interning or taking on freelance work. Going “back to school”, even if it is just a short workshop or seminar, will provide you with an opportunity to meet new people who can stimulate your thinking about your future career plans. Adult education is a big business these days, and there are more opportunities than ever for people over fifty to indulge in lifelong learning.

Finally, even if you can only do one thing each week, do start planning your second act sooner rather than later. Career reinvention is a process that can take months, or even years, to fully evolve. The earlier you start, the better off you’ll be.


Nancy Collamer is a semi-retirement expert and the author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. She writes a monthly blog on work and purpose for (PBS site for people 50+) and and publishes a free bi-monthy newsletter about second-act careers.  In private practice since 1996, Nancy holds a MS in career development from the College of New Rochelle and a BA in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

To learn more about Nancy Collamer, go to