CHANGING LANES AFTER 50: how to handle a mid-life career switch
Alex Doy is a formidable human being.
Having been raised on a farm in Lincolnshire, UK, Alex is no stranger to hard work. This woman’s got grit – tons of it. From the age of nine she was a logistics manager with a checklist a mile long. By the time she hit 16, she was independently forging her way in the world, working various jobs locally and abroad. At age 39 she bought a franchise business. Eight and a half years later she sold it at a profit and purchased a buy-to-let property. For the next three years, to pay the bills, Alex happily took on a smorgasbord of regular part-time jobs.
Now, at age 52, Alex has changed lanes again. And she’s relishing every minute.
Alex, what persuaded you to purchase a franchise business, and why did you give it up?
I’ve always worked in the service industry in some capacity: from waitressing and bartending to event coordination and management. So when the opportunity arose in 2009 for me to buy my own franchise – the UK’s no. 1 dog-sitting service – I dove in.
My ‘business owner’ journey was fantastic; there were many points I loved about the franchise and I was very successful with it. But it also had some negatives. It nearly killed me.
When I got to the stage where I was completely burnt out, I realised I needed to get out. And also, I was aware of where the business was at that time: it was running at an excellent capacity and it was in a very profitable state. And businesses don’t always remain profitable for any length of time. So I felt it was the right time to sell – and I successfully sold it in 2017.
The moment I stepped away from the dog-care franchise, I made the decision to never again put myself in that position – where it nearly kills you. A lot of that was based on the 24/7 communication that customers now expect in the 21st century.
Good point. So you re-evaluated your life?
Yes. Once I realised that for my mental state I needed to change careers, I vowed not to get caught in that rut again.
What was the result of your life re-evaluation?
I realised I wanted a job without the full responsibility I’d had with my own business. Also, I knew, after driving 22,000 miles a year – as much as I love driving – I was happier to be in a job where I could cycle to work; I get a great deal out of it.
Like a lot of people, I have bills to pay and I solely rely on myself. But although I could have taken on a regular nine-to-five job in Nottingham city and earned good money, I still wanted to be able to step back a bit and not rush straight into something like that. I didn’t want a full-on, fulltime career straight after selling the business. So I decided to mix many roles to make up my working week.
Magically, I was able to create enough hours through different roles. Variety is key! Also, by having several roles, you’re not placing all your eggs in one basket. And in the current climate, that’s very important.
All of the roles were fulfilling in the short term. My main source of income came from being a part-time delivery driver for a local supermarket – a set contracted period of three shifts per week. But the rest of the week was made up of roles I could say yes or no to (an important feature when you’re used to being responsible for yourself), e.g.: working at outdoor catering events, doing weddings, driving cars through a local auction house, event management relief…
Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash
These were all small contracts (a set amount of hours per day or week) where I was providing a service, but it was not my sole responsibility. I was just a part of the team support, and that was important to me. When I left each job at the end of the day, I didn’t give it another thought. For my mental state and peace of mind, this was the break I needed from life. And I pursued this path for three years.
An Empty Head When You Go To Bed.
During those three years you weren’t pursuing your passion, though, right? So what did you do in your time off that made you happy? For example, you woke up every morning and thought: I can’t wait to… today?
Well, because my mind wasn’t so challenged and overly busy as it had been when I was running a business, for a while I just really enjoyed having an empty head. And an empty head when you go to bed is all you’ll ever need.
The role at the supermarket was a means to an end, satisfying enough; it ticked enough boxes. So although, yes, driving for the supermarket wasn’t a massive passion, I got a great deal of satisfaction from what it gave me in life: money to pay my bills, an empty head, time to enjoy various outlets, like running, yoga, kayaking… and the ability to be present.
Throughout the time I had the dog-care business, I was never present in the moment. On holiday, out for dinner with friends, etc. – the phone would be going. There would be a request from a customer and my mind would be elsewhere. And now that I’ve been able to step back from that, I can see it in other people, when they’re doing it with their businesses, and I know I don’t ever want to be in that state again. So the gift from selling the business, and doing a job I wasn’t passionate about for a while, was getting my mental state back to where it should be.
Absolutely. You finally got to live, to be there. That’s so important. We don’t have to keep striving non-stop and be motivated to do, do, do. We’re human beings, after all, not human doings.
Exactly! So, whenever life is not perfect, a certain richness – a quality of life – can always be found in other areas, in other ways of living. And I certainly have gained that. When I read a book now, I enjoy every moment. Whereas, before, my mind would be so filled, I can’t say I absolutely enjoyed the book.
I can’t recommend this enough – this taking time out. Anyone who is feeling burnt out and needs a break can spend at least two or three years enjoying this existence, as long as their ends meet financially…
Until the next challenge enters their mind. Which is what happened to me after three years. The drive came again: to want to do something, but not jump into the same sort of business.
That’s vital, isn’t it? Knowing what you don’t want out of life. There are so many people who haven’t a clue what they want to do – but perhaps a good place to start is: make a list of things you absolutely don’t want to do, or results you don’t want.
Correct. So many feel that the moment they finish one project they must rush on to another, or they’re not valued or successful in some way.
All I can say from experience is: taking time out, two or three years even, and making ends meet with a role that suits you, but also where you can find yourself again, is priceless.
Sage advice. Care to share any more?
It’s important to know: it’s not all about money. And there’s no rush. It will come to you. Because you’re creating the mind space to be able to look out at what’s around you and what’s working.
Well, it certainly worked for you. Tell us how your latest venture came about.
My latest venture, and hopefully my last, came about from trying to replicate some of the good things about the dog-sitting business; aspects I really enjoyed, like driving to different places, being out and about, meeting people, and being responsible for my own work. Also, the freedom the business at times could give you was another vital benefit. But I knew I definitely didn’t want to do something as emotional as the pet-care business.
There was also another important driving force: I lost my dog, Ruby, last year. And I knew that unless I changed my working environment, my goal of getting another dog would not be achievable.
Sometimes people get to junctions in their life where they realise they need to make a change in order to achieve something later in life. I was at that junction. I knew that eventually I couldn’t continue working for someone else, because generally when you’re working for somebody, or a company, you’re restricted in many ways. I knew I couldn’t take a dog to work with me. But if I became self-employed again, I could control my day-to-day routine. And if you want a dog, that’s important.
So I became an inventory clerk for letting agents and property owners.
That’s quite a change. Where did this idea come from? I get the feeling you didn’t just wake up one morning and think, Ah! I’ll be an inventory clerk!
I’ve always been interested in property, but I knew I didn’t want to become an estate agent, taking on full responsibility for the big picture – because that would put me in the same situation I was in when running my previous business. So I took a good, hard look at other roles in property.
At the same time, I made a list of my skills and strengths, as well as my likes and dislikes. For example: I enjoy working alone and managing my own time and processes; and one of my biggest strengths is logistics.
When did you discover this strength?
In my childhood: I used to go to gymkhanas with my ponies. My mum was a great mother, but she was so busy with my siblings that she would turn up just in time to jump into the car to drive my pony and myself to the competitions. So if I wanted to be on time, I had to do all the necessary work beforehand.
From the age of nine it was my responsibility to get the pony ready, and the equipment packed in the car… I had to make sure I’d packed all the tack – because if you’d just driven twenty miles to a field and you hadn’t got the saddle loaded, your day was over. Consequently, I’ve always had a checklist-type mind that naturally goes through the entire process of what I need.
What other personal strength of yours would you consider essential for an inventory clerk?
An eye for detail. And I’m fortunate: attention to detail comes naturally to me. The second time I spotted this strength was when I was in hospitality. While working in a restaurant, I could spot a salt or pepper pot missing off a table in the furthest corner of the room.
These things pop up in your life that make you realise your strengths. However, at an interview, when people ask me what my weaknesses are, I will also answer: Attention to detail. Because I believe in excellence – but I know it can get on some people’s nerves.
But it’s necessary, right? That’s what makes you stand out from the crowd. Attention to detail is what sets you apart from another inventory clerk who would, for example, forget to note the number of carbon monoxide alarms on their report.
Exactly. And I’m not saying I’m perfect, obviously. But my attention to detail is not forced – it’s easy; it comes naturally to me. I think if you don’t have attention to detail and you want a role that needs it, it would be difficult and forced. And your enjoyment in that respect would be dimmed.
So I took my strengths – logistics, driving, working alone, attention to detail – and my keen interest in property, and put them together. And out came the role: inventory clerk. It just made sense. An inventory clerk is only responsible for a section of property; a fraction of the property-letting process. Which is exactly what I was looking for.
The Key: Do Your Research.
Once you’d decided to become an inventory clerk, what were your next steps?
The first thing that came into my head was: do I need a qualification to do this? And how easy is it to achieve? Whenever you’re changing or starting a career, you need to do it to the right level or your business won’t be successful.
After discovering that there is no ‘Inventory Clerk’ qualification, I thought: well, anyone can do it; you just need to have the knowledge. So I had to find out how to go about learning all there is to know.
While researching a lot of different courses, I took into consideration the way I retain knowledge. (You know how you learn best, so this is one thing to look for: the manner in which the courses are being taught.) At my age, I’m only able to retain a certain amount of information at one time, so I needed a course that provided all the necessary information but also offered ongoing support as things came up.
I think anyone changing career, especially later in life, mustn’t just assume they can go off and do a weekend course and it’ll all come together; there will always be ongoing questions with anything you do.
Once I’d decided which course to do, I then had to purchase the necessary tools: software, the system I would need to use, etc. For guidance on this, I spoke with the course provider, as well as others in the industry.
The Key: do your research. Before I parted with any money, I was put in touch with several people who were already doing inventory work, and I picked their brains. Also, as I’d decided I wanted to be an independent clerk, I had to ring round a few property agents to ask if they ever used or would use independent clerks, or if they had their own in-house team. I needed to get an idea of how much work there was, or if they could ever be swayed into using an independent clerk.
How did you get your first client?
By accident! Before I even had a website, or had properly set myself up. All I had was the name: ADR Inventories.
I’d previously rented out a property through a local estate agent, so I took a chance and asked him if I could possibly get access to some empty properties he may have – just to practise my inventory work. And even though my property is no longer with him, he graciously gave me the opportunity to go and do an inventory report.
Unfortunately, I had an extremely limited time in which to do the report, as the tenant would be moving in rather quickly. In normal circumstances, I would have been very nervous. But as I wasn’t expecting the agent to even look at the report (he already had an inventory clerk he used regularly), I simply went in and did the job to the best of my ability.
I totally expected to keep the report to myself, so when the agent asked for it – and then decided to use it as the sole, official inventory report on that property! – I was elated.
That’s an incredible testimony to your attention to detail, as well as your conscientiousness. And also, a fabulous example of rising to the challenge. Unless you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone and change direction, even slightly, you’re not going to discover your full potential, right?
Any last nuggets of advice you’d like to share with anyone who hasn’t known from a young age what they want to do – or anyone who hasn’t yet achieved their goals – or for those not content with their career choices?
I would say: first of all, don’t be negative about any of that. Accept that there will be many turns in the road – but they don’t need to be disasters or negatives in your life. You just continually need to do whatever makes you happy.
Re-evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. And as you get older and your wishes change, be prepared to sit and evaluate and decide to change course.
They may not be dramatic changes but just things you can do without, and things you want in life. Those are what you pursue.
And know that this is a positive thing. So instead of sitting in a negative job, thinking, I’m too old; or worrying about other people’s opinions or approval or disapproval… know that you have lots of other choices.
Take strengths and weaknesses out of every role, and think about what you’ve learned along the way. None of this is negative.
I think it’s important to note that mine was a very mild-mannered change. I didn’t go from being a street sweeper to a brain surgeon. I don’t find what I’ve done to be amazing. It’s more a case of being prepared to reflect – and I’m at a stage in life where I’m ready to reflect on, and accept, what I like and don’t like.
What I’ve done isn’t earth-shattering. I’m just continually searching for what gives me that empty head before bed. That’s all I’m ever trying to achieve.
Alex, thank you so much for your time. I’m looking forward to coming back in a year’s time to see how ADR Inventories has grown, and to find out if you’re still enjoying life and being present – or if it’s time to take another break and start a new venture.
I hope not! This role is taking me into my dotage.
Look after your mental state; take time out.
Pursue your passion, follow your heart.
An empty head when you go to bed is all you ever need. 🙂
You’re a human BEING, not a human ‘doing’. Be present. Stop. Breathe. Live!
Just so you know…
I don’t receive any reward or commission for promoting any of the people or businesses on my blog. I just want to inspire & motivate as many people as possible to fulfil their purpose & potential.
If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.
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A 53-year-old man who’s only just begun to pursue his Big Dream.
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