The Third Act: Your pathway to retirement

Aug 14, 2019

Until recent years, a traditional career path saw most professionals retiring at 65. However, this is now often no longer the case with many working well beyond this age. This dramatic transformation has been driven by the fact that many professionals are now choosing to stay working longer and others may need to continue working due to financial necessity. Economic factors such as the global crisis and pension deficits are accelerating the change, as is increased life expectancy, which has increased by 5 years between 2000 and 2015 alone. The other developments that are impacting include the increase in the mandatory retirement age which is set to go to 67 in 2021 and to 68 in 2028. Similarly, the fact that we are starting families later in life influences when we can afford to consider retirement options as does the growing numbers of those running two households due to separation and divorce.

As a consequence of these seismic changes, a new term the ‘Third Act’ has emerged. As you approach your 50s you are heading into what is now commonly termed the ‘Third Act’. This is essentially a new phase of your career which can potentially last in excess of 20 years. It represents a significant phase of your overall working life. Moving towards retirement no longer signals the end of your career, it is now just the start of a new phase.

Here are some guidelines to help you to make the most of your ‘Third Act’:

Think ahead and plan

By planning and taking control of this next phase of your career you can ensure that you make the most of it. Consider what it is exactly that you want to achieve and then devise a plan that will enable you to achieve your goals. Don’t just let the process happen. Take a proactive approach that will ensure that you know exactly what you want from your ‘Third Act’ and how you can make it a reality.

Create a vision of what you want your life to look like and set goals based on that vision. Consider what you would like a typical week or month to look like? For instance you could decide that you only wish to work six months of the year. This could be achieved by taking on contract or interim assignments and then taking a natural break once the contract is complete.

Understand your motivations

This career transition phase is the ideal time to consider and reflect on what it is you enjoy doing, what motivates you and provides you with job satisfaction. Now could be the time to look at the potential to work in a new area and explore other options that may be a better fit with your motivations. Ask yourself if there is an area, sector or role that has always appealed to you? Generally at this stage of your career there is greater freedom to explore other options due to reduced family and financial commitments.

Break the process down

Taking a step by step approach to your ‘Third Act’ can work well. For example, deciding to work part-time can provide the ideal opportunity for you to start the process of transitioning to a new way of life. It can be the best of both worlds as you continue with your career path and it allows you the time and flexibility to explore other opportunities. You can use this time to upskill in new areas, gain experience in other roles or indeed try new hobbies or travel.

Consider all aspects of your life

Transitioning your career doesn’t just impact the professional dimensions of your life. It will also have implications for you personally and you will have to consider the emotional, psychological and physical effects. Be mindful to take these into account and manage your well-being. Speak to friends and family and gain their input and support.

Identify your core skills and experience

An essential part of any career transition is identifying your core skills and considering how these might transfer into new roles. Reflect on the skills, knowledge and experience you have developed throughout your career and how you could now use these to add value and make a difference. Think not only in terms of technical skills but also incorporate business and leadership competencies.  Look at your unique combination of skills and competencies and the key achievements in your career. Ask others for their thoughts on what you have to offer.

Identify any gaps in your skill set

To help you to achieve your career goals you will have to ensure that you have the necessary skills and experience.  When you have a career plan you can then identify what skills you require to achieve success. For example if you wish to build a portfolio of non-executive director roles then it would be advisable to start building your board experience in advance. Voluntary roles on a board can help you to gain this vital exposure.

Embrace learning and development

Investing in your professional development is a fundamental part of ensuring that your ‘Third Act’ is a fulfilling and successful phase of your career. Remain open to learning new skills and to leveraging technology to help you to achieve your career goals. Identify the skills you will need and look to develop them now rather than leaving it too late.

Share your knowledge and experience

A rewarding dimension to your ‘Third Act’ is the potential to share the vast range of experience and insights that you have gathered throughout your career. This can be done by acting as a mentor to individuals with less experience or indeed by becoming a business mentor or non-executive board member.

Modify your brand

To successfully transition your career you may need to refresh your brand. For some it may be a case of just a brand tweak whereas for others it will require a full re-invention of your professional identity. The brand that you are presenting has to align with the roles you are interested in and the career profile that you are now seeking to build. Consider what brand you require for the next phase of your career. It’s about showcasing the skills and experience that are specific to the areas that you now want to work in. Once you are clear on what you are looking for you can tailor your CV and LinkedIn profile to suit this next step in your career.

Look at the option of a portfolio career

One of the key changes in the workplace in recent years is the emergence of a ‘portfolio career’. It’s based on deriving your income from not just one employer but rather from a number of sources.  These income streams can also be earned from using a range of professional and personal skills. Perhaps you could earn part of your income from working as an accountant but another source of income could come from a hobby or area of personal interest. The message is to be open to all possibilities and options.

Take advantage of the market

Employer perspectives are changing and many now recognise the valuable contribution that experienced professionals can bring to an organisation. They are more open to hiring senior talent on a flexible or part-time basis. Working on a part-time basis can fit in well with a portfolio style career where you might also have a board position and still have time for personal interests and hobbies. Essentially it is the best of both worlds and demonstrates that there are now more options available in the market.

The future of work

Significant discussion has already taken place around the future of work and we can certainly see the changes already unfolding around us. The ‘Third Act’ represents a significant opportunity for Chartered Accountants to maximise their qualification and career potential as well as enjoying other aspects of their lives.

For confidential and impartial career support visit our career's advisory website or contact Karin Lanigan on 01 637 7331 or email