• Lis McDermott

Changing Careers Later In Life

The ‘job for life’ expectation


When I left school to go to Music College in 1970, which had been my dream, I believed, like most of us at the time, when I then went into the profession of teaching I would remain there for the rest of my working life until retirement.


I loved my career in Music Education, and by the time I left in 2008 after 34 years, I had a prestigious role as a county music adviser for schools. I had written books supporting teachers in the classroom, and had run workshops both nationally and internationally.


However, I had got the point where I was no longer enjoying the political pressures being placed on the timetable and the fact that the ‘arts’ were being sidelined. My love of the job was waning.


At the age of 56, I resigned and started up as a freelance photographer, turning my hobby into a business. I’m now in my twelfth year and over that time have built up wonderful connections with other business colleagues and clients.



Changing careers on the wrong side of 50!


Some people assumed that because I had resigned, I was taking early retirement. Those who didn’t know me also made the assumption, because people create perceptions about you all the time, that I would have a husband in a high-powered job that would be looking after me.


I had got divorced at the age of 40, and met and married on my 50th birthday the love of my life, who is 12 years younger than me, and not in a high-powered job. Also, I didn’t want to be looked after, I need a purpose in life, and preferably doing something that I’m passionate about.


I had similar comments to the time I’d separated from my first husband; how can you walk away from such a lovely house; the good salary etc. All things linked to possessions; money and status.


My present, lovely husband’s reply when I asked him what he thought about me resigning and starting my own photography business was: ‘Do it. We haven’t got children; we only have ourselves to look after. We can always move to a smaller place.’ Just the wonderful support I needed, and still receive from him.


That wasn’t the end of my changes either.



My latest change


In 2014 I published a book about the importance of having decent headshots for your business. The publisher I worked with to get this book into print ran a short story competition.

I had never written any fiction before, but entered a short story. It was good enough to go into the anthology that the publisher had put together.


After that success I got the writing bug. In 2017 my book of short stories was published. An autobiography followed this in 2018, about both mine and my husband's lives. Since then I’ve published three poetry books, and at I am presently working on a longer fiction book.


Last year I started mentoring other writers, running workshops and writing blogs for other people.


Yet again, I have turned a passion into a business – at the age of 68.


Why am I saying this? Because people often think you can’t make changes, as you get older.


In fact, I find it refreshing, and helps to keep me alive, young hearted, and interested in life. Also I remain healthy. I feel good about myself; I have my purpose.



My tips for making changes


  • Embrace the change. Staying where you are isn’t always the best place to be. It may feel the safe place, but stepping out of your comfort zone – carefully, is just fine.

  • Talk to friends who know you well, care about you, and are honest with you; share with them what you want to do.

  • If in your heart you know with every fibre of your being that the change is right, go for it. I will add though, having friends and family in place that support you, can make a huge difference.

  • Visualize yourself in the new ‘place’. Does it feel and look right?

  • Be honest with yourself too. Personally I have to know I can do something well before I put it ‘out there’. Eg. When I had devised my writing workshop I ran it with a small number of people first to make sure it worked, and that they gained from the experience.



Lis McDermott spent 34 years working in music education, latterly as a schools adviser and OFSTED inspector, before leaving education in 2008 to set up her own photography business. She co-wrote a series of books to support the classroom and curriculum. She has also written "Headshot Diva" which shows business people how to make the most of professional portraiture to enhance their business. Her book "Changing Lives" is a collection of short stories about the way life changes and how we, in response, change ourselves and how we view the world. "Mixed Feelings" is an autobiography telling the story of her and her husband's lives. You can follow Lis on Facebook.

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