Your Third Act: How to embark on a career path with meaning later in life.

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Are you struggling to hang on to a job or career path that has lost its meaning? Has the industry that you found so exciting early in your career lost its appeal? Are you close to being able to walk off into the sunset of your retirement years, but you find every step painful, frustrating, even soul crushing?

 You might need a Third Act. Many baby boomers have already found their place in a Second Act: perhaps you moved from engineering into finance, or you pivoted from manufacturing to technology, or you followed your dream to become a teacher. Yet I’m talking about a renewal on the deepest level. What pursuits have always interested you, intrigued you, reached out to you … but you have never pursued them

If this is speaking to you, there are three paths you can follow:

Chuck it all. Walk away. Follow that dream and do something entirely different right now.

Reframe what you’re currently doing. Connect the dots and find fresh meaning or purpose in the work you have in front of you that you might have been missing all along.

Suck it up and persist for a little longer. This actually isn’t as awful as it sounds. You can counter the effects of an unfulfilling workplace by finding more meaning in the time you spend outside work and understanding why you choose to stay — even if it’s to simply fund your retirement years. Perhaps you could ramp up the time and energy you put into hobbies, family events, or self-study, planning personally for what you will be doing when you finally walk away.

Let’s dig in to each of these three options more fully.

Walk Away

More and more I meet people who are in an industry that was once interesting and lucrative. And now, 10 or more years later, things have changed. Technology has helped to eliminate many jobs, and possibly lowered the income levels that can be achieved. No matter how long you have been in an industry, the best thing you can do for yourself is take a hard look at whether or not it’s even possible to continue to work the way you have been working, and for the same income. A useful practice is to do an inventory of your skills, paying particular attention to those that give you the most satisfaction. Where else can you apply those skills?

For example, I worked with a woman who had been in equity sales on Wall Street for 30 years. She was tired of it, and wanted to do something that felt more meaningful. She loved meeting people, learning about their needs, and finding ways to help them meet their goals. She talked to a lot of people about fundraising for non-profits. She started working for one, but they lost their overall funding, and she was once again looking for a new role. She persevered and found a great match in a non-profit that leveraged her skills and her passions.

Take A Fresh Look

What does your current role give you access to? Who are the people you get to work with, or learn about in the course of your daily activities? Do younger, less experienced colleagues come to you for advice? Is there a new area of the business that needs investigation? Is there a social cause or local charity organization that your company supports? Are you taking advantage of all the benefits available for people with your tenure, including working from home, working abroad, or taking vacation? While you are at a place, really BE there. Don’t just go through the motions. Find something meaningful in every day. What unique talents do you share that are greatly appreciated? How does your current work connect to your passions?

Suck It Up

Ugh. When you are truly over it, how do you put your time in, as mindfully and meaningfully as you can, while looking at the broader picture? What does this income level allow you to do for now? How is this job preparing you for your retirement years? Sometimes, in this scenario, you are also being given less responsibility at work, as the organization also prepares for your departure. If this is the case, you can supplement your work hours with volunteering your skills to organizations who appreciate them. For example, if you want to manage people and be a leader, but there’s no one left to lead, how about the local school’s soccer team? Or a Girl Scout troop? Do you love art? Consider becoming a docent for the museum. There are ways to show up and provide what’s asked of you at work to complete that phase, while really contributing and being valued in the community.

These are some strategies for you to consider as you design your Third Act. The common theme throughout them all is to take time to pause, reflect, and choose what you are doing for this phase. In whichever way works for you, now is truly the time to make sure you are living your dreams and connected to your passions.