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Reality Check: Changing Gears for a Later-in-Life Career

The resources and opportunities provided by a "first career" can be key to finding success in the second.

The ability to retire relatively early with a regular income and either kick back or reemerge with a grand second or third act is an option for people who have had  long military careers or lengthy tenures in occupations that offer generous pensions and retiree benefits. Similarly, being able to reinvent at age 50+ by choice—and with some sort of safety net—is very different than having to reinvent due to a job loss or being in a field that doesn't come with postretirement perks.

However, in the case of a military, law enforcement, or other danger-filled public safety career—especially a frontline one like that of retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata (see "A Soldier's New Mission")—the ultimate retirement rewards come after decades of personal sacrifice and risk.

Tata's "reinvention" as chief operating officer of Washington, D.C.'s public schools was aided by many of the resources he brought with him from his first career, chiefly his deep résumé and numerous marketable skills. His proven record as a leader meshed perfectly with the visionary thinking of The Broad Superintendents Academy, which recognizes that talents are transferable across industries and purposely recruits talented "reinventors" from fields other than education. (See "Making Education Your Encore Career" for information about ways to pursue later-in-life jobs in education.)

Passion and determination are other useful qualities for a successful reinvention, and Tata had both in spades. While in the military, he used his limited free time to work on novels that he had no guarantee would ever be read. But as he explains, "Being a published author was a childhood dream of mine." When Tata secured a book deal for his stories, a door opened to a later-in-life career. Stepping through that door by retiring from the military opened another door, which led to attending The Broad Academy, which put him on the path to his current occupation.
Tata's advice for age-50+ people who aspire to reinvent: "If you've ever caught yourself saying, 'I really wish I was doing X,' define what 'X' is. Identify what it is you've been dreaming about doing and really find your passion. When you love what you do, the reward can be tremendous."