Many people are familiar with second acts. I know people who have successfully launched better lives as second acts and reinvented themselves. What most people don’t consider is that they need to actively take control of planning three acts to their careers. As a Talent leader, I’ve noticed that many employee’s skillsets age far faster than before and many have put in little to no time when it comes to the career development necessary to keep up.

Launch – First Act

This is the early career new launch stage of a person’s career. The good part is that early on, you typically have good technical skills from recent training and education. The challenging part is that you lack real life work experience and professional maturity. It takes 2 years of working to gain this and there is no substitute for just starting. Your first act lasts between 5-8 years.

Expansion – Second Act

In your second act, you work on moving up the ladder, gaining more skills, experience and expertise and earn more money. This is the act where generating the most income is the most important. The second act is where companies move you into supervisory and management level roles, give you challenging stretch assignments and you combine your technical skills with your growing emotional intelligence and executive presence. The second act can last between 10-30 years.

Many people think this stage is the final stage and are shocked to learn it is not. When do they find out? When they are targeted for downsizing because their value to the organization starts to drop due to their obsolete skillset. From a workforce development standpoint, late second act employees are quite expensive and tend to underinvest in the critical retraining required by employers. They also think that they can continue to earn at the same level without upgrading their skills, technology and toolkit. The second act starts out great but in the creative destruction of capitalism, is a cruel stage by the end.

Working professionals may decide they want to start a new career at the late second act stage. Skilled trades may decide that they cannot handle the physical demands of their jobs and move to a job with less physical requirements.

Reinvention – Third Act

Yes, America is the land of the third act of your career. Third acts can start as early at 50 and last for 30 years. Many Americans should be planning this act very carefully so that it is sustainable and less about making more money. And more about generating stable income for an extended period. Your third act isn’t going to be all about finding your bliss. It’s going to be more about finding your sustainable place in the workforce without having to spend 75k on a graduate degree. Third acts are liberating because you can enjoy a job without moving up.

Many people find great third acts in fields that enable entry through certifications. Or self employment. Or teaching. Coaching. They are less about corporate ladders and career progression. More about being a mentor and earning while having an impact.

Plan Your Third Act

Don’t wait until your skills are stale, or your company decides all high earners lacking the latest software skills or technology are going to be downsized to save on salary expense.

There’s not just one job for us. There are options. A great way to assess potential third acts is to take the Strong Campbell Interest Inventory. Review career options that would be less stressful, more stable and sustainable into your 70s. If you can work until 72, it’s going to be a lot better for you. I wouldn’t count on Corporate America to come up with your third act plan. During your third act, you should target a viable compensation rate with a good benefits program. Not your top compensation rate.

Top Tips for Successful Third Acts

  1. Pick a job and field that is less stressful. No one needs epic stress and politics at work at 60.
  2. Choose a job and field that allows you to feel that you are giving back to the community.
  3. Consider coaching, teaching and mentoring.
  4. Avoid fields and industries that are very volatile.
  5. Consider lower pay for better benefits.
  6. Seriously evaluate healthcare careers. There’s an acute shortage of skilled talent in healthcare. While the healthcare industry is always changing, it’s not going away.
  7. Evaluate if you can leverage your third act in two different locations. Kind of like a working retirement in a beautiful location.
  8. Contracting as a W2 contractor in your field if you are in Finance, Accounting, HR, IT etc… can be financially viable when working through an agency. They provide benefits and PTO and the work. You show up. You get breaks. If you are financially secure, it could be the best of both worlds.
  9. Buy a business from someone retiring and set your own hours. If you are 65, own your home, and want to work 30 hours a week and then surf, do it.
  10. Pick a job and career where your workplace is demographically diverse, fun and not abusive. You are way too old to have a 30 year old psycho manager.