Career Development

What is a second half career and how do you plan for one?

Most people work 30 – 40 year careers, mostly in the service of others for reward.  Some look to “retire” at that point, and it can come as a surprise that they then look down the barrel at another spell of active living over some 30 years. 

We are all much healthier than previous generations, and most of us still have much to contribute in this second half.  Retirement - in the sense of sitting about doing very little – without some kind of mental stretch, and social engagement - can quickly become a period of accelerated mental and physical decline.  Dropping from full-time work to “nothing” then - is not something to be recommended.

In her book “Winners in the Second Half” Julie Perigo provides the notion that we should look on this next 20 - 30 year period as a “second half” career.

So how do we design and capture the best possible suite of activities in our “second half”?

Most of those who think about this, find themselves wrestling with conflicting thoughts.  “Hard work has given me success in the past: could I cope with not working hard?”  “Perhaps however, slowing down and becoming more mindful might give me new more creative choices.”  Then comes the thoughts:

“Slowing down and smelling the roses sounds good, but might I get bored?” 

"I have enjoyed the stimulation of other people, and being in a team”. 

“When I am on my own would I really get into some quiet reflection, some reading, and decompressing – or would I go stir crazy?”

“I have enjoyed complexity, getting challenging tasks done through others – would the absence of this leave me unfulfilled?”

These areas of dissonance are not going to be resolved quickly.  Making the right choices will take time and trial and error.  It is important to accept this and to acknowledge periods of disorientation.

What is a second half career all about? 

A second half career might be best envisaged as a series of journeys, sometimes running in parallel, rather than one destination.  These journeys may entail dropping back to part-time work and adding back in some study in a field of long interest, or taking up interim project based engagements.

Activity in second half careers is often much more about discovery and what we choose to do, not something rather more tightly defined by employers of staff or purchasers of services.  Second half careers are usually much more “self-employed” than before. The loss of the activity, structure, relevance and purpose supplied by an organisation can be very disorienting for some.

Portfolio careers

Second half careers lend themselves to portfolios of activities: such as winning directorships, mentoring, angel investing, teaching, working in non-profit organisations, writing and so on.

Having said this, and for those choosing several activities, the parts of this whole cannot all be captured and begun at one time. It is better to focus on landing each element in sequence, aiming for the easiest one to launch first and then from this stable element, add others over a period of two to three years.

There is then the fact that if parts of your second half career involve quite new and creative explorations – and they should – then there will often be false starts and steep learning and experimentation involved.  Taking up writing and starting a blog, as an example, will involve quite a bit of learning, and quite possibly lead to writing in a completely different genre.  Be prepared for some surprises in the turns you take and the new things you embark upon.

Parts of second half careers might involve application and selection processes, just like regular jobs.  This would be the case in looking for directorships, or interim executive or project based work, or consultancy.  There may be a need for coaching around resumes, interviews, research and marketing, and business start-ups. 

Second half careers also often start with something of a stock-take around financial sufficiency, asset allocation, income generation, estate planning and thinking through longer term residential arrangements.  It is a time for building up key documents associated with passing on property, and the expression of wishes surrounding serious illness and incapacity.  It is also a time for full-health checks, and inevitably, a series of medical interventions associated with physical changes.

Most of us also envisage much more extensive travel - especially to places that former full-time jobs (and limited leave) simply could not accommodate.  So occupational interests, including directorships, need to be balanced against this well-deserved opportunity.


Second half careers then, take a great deal of planning and organising!  Many wonder in the first months and year just where the time for doing this would ever have been addressed in the prior full-time career mode.  There is great merit in doing some planning and exploration ahead of the move out of full time employment.  It can be especially valuable to talk with others well into their second-halves about their experiences - or to link up with others beginning the same transitions.

The building of second-half careers is a new, and sometimes challenging phase for many.  Career building in this phase requires an investment of energy, patience, agility, resilience, some creativity – then exploration and initiative. Periods of uncertainty and disorientation are “normal” in this transition.




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