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ARTICLE: The Secret Sauce When Choosing A Second Act Career

Updated: May 1, 2020

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What’s the secret to a satisfying second-act career? Don't assume meaningful work is the key—research shows that people tend to overestimate the importance of the what when they should be focusing on the who.

Passion, purpose and a paycheck are all important, but the people you work with, and the quality of those relationships and interactions, are critical to career success. If you invest in work relationships that nourish and create a sense of purpose, you can feel as fulfilled in your mundane/demanding job as someone in a fun/inspiring job.

With a growing number of people who plan to work after 65, their "second act", people have the opportunity to find happiness they may not have had before, because they have more latitude to think about what creates purpose in their work, what matters to them both personally and professionally. This takes intentionality—start by reflecting and identifying past experiences at work that brought the greatest sense of meaning and impact. What outcomes and activities made work meaningful? Focus on roles that build on that expertise and support those values.

Next, consider the connections and interactions at work that are fulfilling, motivating and aligned with your purpose—which doesn’t have to be tied to the work you do. There are lots of miserable employees who work for nonprofits, and employees who thrive in mundane corporate jobs. Research shows that it as much or more about the interactions you have at work. What energizes and fulfills you at work? Do you thrive interacting with people who are creative, analytical, ambitious or nurturing? What were the projects you enjoyed the most because of the people involved?

What about working on your own in a second act career? It may not be the best choice for most—research shows that having meaningful relationships is critically tied to well-being. The reality of working on your own doesn’t always live up to the vision—you may miss out on the chance to get feedback from people who can help move your work forward in a way that is challenging to do on your own. If you do choose to work on your own, it helps to get involved with groups that can support, inspire and engage you along the way. People who are happiest and thriving are involved with one or two groups outside of work, because they tend to show up and engage with others counting on them. Physical activity and well-being groups, like a running group or a cooking club, tend to boost energy and mental health. Other groups, like book clubs, community organizations or dinner clubs, expand networks, broaden perspectives, and keep spirits up when challenges at work arise. It may feel hard to find time for these activities, but research shows that the most successful people make the time.

How do you deal with difficult people at work when starting a second act? Remember that you often have more control over the situation than you think you do. The people who are the happiest are the ones who don’t let the negatives drive them. Learn to tune out the drama and focus on the positive people instead. Read the full article on

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