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Retirement – just another career change

Career hybridity is predominantly talked about in the context of millennials. Lawyers are now also expert coders, Olympic swimmers study engineering, corporates moonlight as bloggers. But career changes and combinations are not limited to the younger generation. Many older people are eschewing traditional retirement in favour of new and exciting career paths. What’s more, they are finding that embarking on a new challenge later in life can have distinct practical advantages.

David Freilich is one of a growing number of people who have embraced this concept. After practising as a neurologist for over 40 years, in his late 60s he decided to scale back his working hours to pursue his passion for writing. Now 70, he has published three books, has completed another and is working on a fifth.

For him, forging a literary career later in life has had distinct advantages. For one, where young writers often speak about their struggles with the discipline and dedication required to complete a novel, David has found that his medical training has equipped him with many of the skills required to work productively as an author.

“Being a doctor requires a lot of discipline,” he says. “You have to be a bit obsessive, have good attention to detail and of course, it’s a lot of hard work. Especially in the younger years when you’re training and building up a career, I think that stands you in good stead. And writing does require a lot of discipline.”

Having already built a career, David is furthermore not relying on notoriously unreliable book sales for financial stability.

“My medical career has allowed me to lead a certain lifestyle, and has afforded me time now that I’ve cut back to be able to spend time writing, for which there’s very little recompense,” he explains.

David is hardly alone in his pursuit of a different passion later in life. While he acknowledges that some of his friends remain reluctant to change their careers, many have sidestepped traditional retirement and adapted their nine-to-five jobs to accommodate other interests.

David mentions an acquaintance, an architect, who turned his home into an art gallery. Another friend, an accountant, has ended up “making biscuits and pastries”. Two of his colleagues, both ophthalmologists, also write. In fact, the medical profession appears to be rife with latent creative talent. This year, lauded plastic surgeon Andrew Lloyd Greensmith was a finalist in the highly competitive Archibald Prize, on exhibition until October 22 at the Art Gallery of NSW. 

Such is the demand growth for pursuing new challenges later in life that many universities are creating programs designed to aid the transition from one career into another. Harvard, for example, have developed the Advanced Leadership Program. The program aims to give people nearing the end of their careers the opportunity to engage with new fields. It is the only course that allows students to take classes from any of the University’s faculties, encouraging bankers to study literature, army veterans to read philosophy and accountants to discover art  history. Similar courses are appearing around the world, including Australia, with the University of Sydney, UNSW, RMIT and the University of Melbourne all developing programs designed specifically for people looking to change their careers later in life. 

To anyone considering pursuing a new career, David is a staunch advocate for taking the risk.

“If you’ve got a passion for something – do it. And don’t be put off by the possibility of failure. I think you need to do it. And if you succeed, well and good, and if you fail, so be it. But you should do it.”