Discovering What’s Next: Tips for Reigniting the Second Half of Your Career

April 8, 2014

If you’re in the early stages of your PR or marketing communications career, then it’s not difficult to find articles, books, workshops, seminars and more offering advice and tips on how to get your career off on the right foot.

But what if you’ve worked for 20, 25 or 30 years and you find yourself wondering, “What’s next?”

For some, “What’s next?” is not an option. Maybe an unexpected seismic jolt — a layoff, a divorce, a serious illness, the death of your partner or spouse, an offer to move across the country for a promotion or an offer from a friend to launch a new business — has impacted your career.

If there’s one lesson that the Great Recession has taught senior-level professionals, then it’s that change can come swiftly and furiously without regard to a person’s accomplishments or solid work ethic.

Many capable communicators have found themselves experiencing long-term unemployment for the first time in their careers, as well as age discrimination. Others have quietly gutted out the Recession years, working in uninspiring jobs — sometimes at reduced pay and with reduced benefits — and living in a sort of limbo for the sake of a steady paycheck and health-care benefits.

During the past few years, I’ve had coffee with a few dozen senior-level professionals who have sought my advice on what they should do next.

Through those conversations, a lot of reading and conversations with people who actually do know a thing or two about careers, I’ve gained a few insights on how to approach the second half of a career that I’d like to share with you. Here are some tips:

Realize that time is short.

When you launch your career, it feels like you have a lifetime to accomplish the things that matter most to you. But when you have 20 years or less of active work ahead of you, time suddenly matters. Sometimes you have to take a job just to pay the bills. But if you have room to maneuver, then focus on what will give you the satisfaction that your career soul needs.

I’ve boiled it down to this: cool people, cool projects, cool good (which I refer to as CCC). In other words, work with cool people on cool projects that inspire you, and do good for your community and the world. 

Ask yourself why you do what you do.

Gillian Gabriel, a Minneapolis executive search consultant, says that PR and marketing communications professionals talk about their careers too much in tactical terms. “They don’t think and express themselves from a leadership point of view,” she says.

The questions that stop many of these candidates are: What is the philosophy behind your work? What do you believe in? Why do you do what you do?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then I challenge you to write out your personal manifesto (750 words is plenty) and give it to a close friend to review.

Don’t isolate yourself.

Pull together a small group of people to help you think through your career and the purpose of your life. That’s the advice of life coach Richard Leider, who co-authored “Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities” with Fast Company founder Alan Webber.

“What’s your reason for getting up in the morning?” asks Leider, who suggests that senior professionals check out the Life Reimagined website to think about how to write the story for the second half of their career. “It’s critical that you don’t do it alone. You need to surround yourself with people you trust, who will listen to your story without judgment, who will inspire you, and who will challenge you to act as you reimagine your future.”

Start digging your well.

Business guru Harvey Mackay has said, “Dig your well before you’re thirsty.”

Building a solid network is critical to absorbing career and life shocks. Don’t wait until you’re facing a layoff to suddenly start contacting friends and peers that you haven’t talked to in years. While it’s important to invest time in completely filling out your LinkedIn profile (to attract the attention of executive search consultants), make time to meet with people face-to-face also.

I strongly believe that the best way to build your network is to give back — look for opportunities to help others. I call it the Law of Good Karma. Make time to help conduct informational interviews. Use your experience and wisdom to serve as a mentor. Send a friend an inspirational book or an article to read. Encourage another friend to try something new, such as writing a blog.

To obtain referrals for future job opportunities or consulting work, you need the trust of others. But first, they need to get to know and like you.

Find your voice.

Many communicators work in the shadows of the brands, companies or leaders they represent. We’re trained to allow others to take the glory for our strategic thinking, creativity or words we craft so carefully. With all of the experience that you’ve collected during the past 20 years or more, now is the time to find your voice and give expression to your wisdom.

A great example of this is the blog Subject Matter Expert (SME), written by Patrick Hirigoyen, APR, a senior-level PR professional.

After working for many years for a large and well-respected insurance company, Hirigoyen found himself confronting one of those “What’s next?” moments — and not by choice. After a long search, he rebounded and started his own consulting practice.

More important, he gave rise to his valuable experience by starting his blog, SME. Other senior professionals are giving voice to their experience in other ways — through teaching, writing articles and books, and hosting webinars.

Stay current.

According to Dorie Clark, author of “Reinventing You,” it’s critical for older professionals to stay current with technology.

For some senior professionals, keeping up with the latest in new technology can be frustrating. Hard-earned skills somehow seem less relevant when everyone is enamored with the latest social media fad.

Instead, view it as a call to action. Stop citing your age as an excuse. Use social media and other technology as a laboratory to test different types of communications based on your knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.

Get fit for the marathon

The first part of your career may have felt like a sprint, but the second half is going to feel like a marathon. Part of staying current is adopting an “in the present” mindset.

As you look ahead, it’s time to open up the box. Start going to the gym. Dump the toxic people in your life. Start healthy new habits to replace bad old habits. Buy some new clothes. Challenge long-held ideas by talking to others, face-to-face, whose perspectives contradict your views. And start surrounding yourself with people, books, travel and anything else that inspires you and helps you appreciate new perspectives.

Test your dreams.

Are you thinking about exploring a different path within the PR profession, or trying something completely new? Before you do, Clark advises giving your idea a test drive before jumping in.

After taking an early retirement from his job as a marketing director for a small manufacturing firm, one of my friends decided that for the second half of his life, he wanted to become a college professor of Italian language and literature. He tiptoed into his new life by going back to college, taking classes and moving to Florence for a year to test out his new life. And he loved it.

You could begin a similar journey by taking a day or week of vacation and shadowing another professional.

Don’t wait for a crisis to force you to make a change.

Stop drifting through life. Through goal-setting and by taking an active role in connecting with others and reconnecting with your passions, you’ll reduce your risks to change, you’ll feel more alive than ever and you’ll invite new opportunities to come into your life. Remember CCC — work with cool people on cool projects that inspire you and do good for your community and the world.


Stephen Dupont, APR

Stephen Dupont, APR, is vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules (, a brand-marketing firm based in Minneapolis. He blogs at Contact him at


Patricia Rhodes says:

Thank you for this hones article that doesn't sugar coat changes, yet is ever optimistic.

April 14, 2014

Mandy Wilson says:

This couldn't be more timely for me. Thanks for the great advice. CCC is right on the money!

April 15, 2014

Jennifer Adams says:

Excellent article! This is very fitting for anyone of any age seeing themselves going through a professional life change. I am in the process of doing that by choice and I am definitely going to use these tips! Thank you!

April 27, 2014

Robin M. Mayhall, APR says:

I truly enjoyed this article. As Patricia says above, the advice is honest and straightforward. Thanks!

Aug. 21, 2014

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