There is a self-fulfilling aspect to answering this question. Lawyers who believe that they are too old to make a career change don’t. That doesn’t mean, of course, that making an effective career transition is simply a matter of mental attitude. The physiological effects of aging are real, and many lawyers who believe that that they have been the victims of age discrimination are not hallucinating. It too is often real. It therefore seems natural to ask whether you as an attorney are too old to make a certain career change.
As a career coach for lawyers, I can tell you that the “am I too old” question is often a cover for something else. In my experience, attorneys who voice a concern about how their age will impact their career options are generally not thinking about their health or whether they have the physical or mental stamina to perform another job. After all, most experienced lawyers who think about leaving the practice of law or making a significant career change aren’t considering going into construction.
So what does the “Am I too old” question mean?
Oftentimes lawyers use the word age as a shorthand to reflect their concern about whether other people will think that they won’t be credible in a different role. So, for example, the question, “Am I too old to start a new business?” really means, “Will potential customers accept me in my new role?” “Am I too old to move to another city, state or country” may actually mean, “Will I be lonely if I move?”
Your mileage may vary. These are generalizations and, for health or related reasons, you may have age-specific concerns about making a career change as a lawyer. When you say age you really do mean age. Even if that is the case, there is a better approach.
Simply put, asking whether you are too old to change careers is a sub-standard question. Instead, ask yourself the following question: “What would it take for me to do X and enjoy it?”
Career transitions are complicated. It is not as simple as just having a positive mental outlook. But too many lawyers ask themselves questions that make it unnecessarily hard to think clearly about changing careers. So my gentle suggestion is this: Stop asking whether you are too old and begin asking, “What would it take?”