What can you do when you’re twenty plus years into your career, age between 45 & 55 and you realise it’s only half time?

If you are an experienced professional in salaried employment at this point, you are probably beginning to notice that what’s working for you now won’t work for you in the future. The corporate career is demanding so much of your time and energy that you have not got the life that you want to live and you are beginning to realise that the top of the ladder you have been climbing is blocked.

Perhaps you have a senior executive position; you may have decades of experience; you are proud to be working for a respected company. You could be a finance director or a HR director, a marketing director or a CIO, perhaps even a CTO or some other significant executive role.

Maybe you are starting to recognise that the younger people coming up behind you are threatening your future.  You are noticing that your peers are not getting the next promotion. The ever-haunting possibility of redundancy or re-organisation hangs over you. Maybe you’ve already lost a job once and found it a bit harder to find the next job at the same level. Maybe you see that younger people are coming past you.

You are beginning to wonder what work will look like in five to ten years time.

And I’m sorry to say, that for many of you, your future will look a little bit like this: you are made redundant from your senior position in an established firm and the next position you get is at a lower salary in a less prestigious organisation,  with no opportunities for advancement. You find the length of time you keep this job will be less.  Just two or three years in each job, six to nine months finding the next one, often at less pay:  your future as a salaried employee is  on a downward path.

What’s your game plan if you’re facing this future?

There may be other things that feature in your concerns. You may be on a second marriage. The first marriage resulted in you having to share 50% of assets with your other half, which could include your pension and your house. In your second relationship you may have younger children. At the tender age of 55 you may have children under the age of 10 whom you can envisage supporting for the next 15 years. That is financial obligations into your 70’s. And you may find that the kinds of options that appear available to you look increasingly unattractive. But what are those conventional options?

Independent Consultant

You could become an independent consultant. On the face of it, it looks like the dream role. You get paid twice as much per day for what you’re doing at the moment. You get to do what you want, when you want, and you get to work with the people you love. And very often your current employer will be happy to move you onto a part-time consultancy arrangement.  But sadly, it’s not all roses.  Too often you will end up with relatively short assignments: two,six, eight weeks, twelve weeks at the most.  The effort taken to win those assignments is significant.  Over time, the ability to achieve the kind of fee rates that you hoped, diminishes. You are living an unsustainable work style of f either famine or feast: when you’re working, you’re too busy to find work, and when you’re not working, you’re too busy looking for work.  The promise of a new balanced life, of spending time with children and partner, of doing the things you have looked forward to in semi-retirement just evaporates.

Interim

You come into a similar job for a similar organisation, with a small premium on your current salary because you’re working as a self-employed contractor.  You go into a business which wants someone who can fill in during some kind of transition. So basically, as I see it, the life of an interim is this: you go into a mess, you work really hard to sort out the mess, and if you succeed you get fired and replaced by a permanent person who gets to benefit from all the hard work you’ve done.

And the interims I meet do end up working very hard. You have to be prepared to work anywhere in the country.   Between jobs you’re going to desperately want and need a break but you end up using that time to find work.  Becoming an interim might be OK as a stop gap.  But as you get older, the people who are looking for interims will want younger, more energetic and cheaper, people. They will not believe that a 60-year-old can make the difference they need.

Non-executive Director

On the face of it it’s incredibly attractive. You go to perhaps 10 board meetings a year, and  get paid a significant fee just for turning up. Isn’t that the dream role?

There are two big challenges. Firstly, it’s not an open market. Most appointments are made through personal connection, and the competition for publicly advertised ones is enormous.

Secondly,  though the rewards on the surface look really good,  it’s an open ended commitment.  

When you’re a non-executive director, you may also be expected to join a committee, be available on demand to talk to the chairman, step in and sort out a crisis.  If you’re a non-executive director in an organisation that fails publicly, for whatever reason, it may be very difficult to find your next appointment.

Finally, the work is so much more than just turning up to the meeting. You will have to read lots of papers, research what is going on in the industry, do site visits, attend the annual strategy day. There is the AGM and you may be asked to invest you own money in the business. You can become a non-executive as part of portfolio career, but you will struggle if this is where you  start your portfolio career.

So, what is your game plan?

Many of the standard options won’t give the sustainable and rewarding work-style that will give you the ability to establish a rewarding working life of freedom and joy into the your 60’s or and even early 70’s.

Maybe the most important thing is to make sure you have got one! You need to have a game plan. The starting point for that is to understand what type of person you are , your financial situation, and, based on these, what your options are”.

 Check out the Portfolio Executive option first!

Charles Mclachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.