It’s Never Too Late to Pivot a Career

My wife and I just went to see Ready Player One in the theaters. It blew my mind. I understand why it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it has a tight plot and pays loving homage to tropes, characters, and memes dear to gamers worldwide. We all need our heroes, and the early creators of video games are underappreciated today for their contributions to the field, though their influence was as great as J.R.R. Tolkien.

On a personal finance note, what interested me about the movie was the situation of the author. His Wikipedia article can be summarized as such:

  • Currently 46 years old
  • For most of his youth, was an amateur stand up poet, of no particular note
  • In his mid 20s, transitioned to becoming a screenwriter, without much critical/commercial success
  • In 2010 at age 38, he wrote a novel for the first time and it became a rip roaring success
  • At the same time, he was able to monetize it further by selling the film rights and even writing the screenplay

What can we learn from him?

  • You just need to hit one home run to make it big (unwritten, but we can assume that he tried to sell publishers on other manuscripts which were rejected, before his big break)
  • It’s never too old to transition your career (he actually did it multiple times, from poet to screenwriter to author)
  • You can derive unexpected synergies from past careers (writing the screenplay on his bestselling book, and probably his experience with movie pacing led to a good book)
  • When you do have a success, monetize the crap out of it before it recedes from public memory

Armed with that confidence boost, now you too can go out there and write the next bestseller.

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Quick Thought: Have Your Career Early

Quick hitting thought here in reaction to this article. It pays off in more ways than one to have your (hotshot) career early – it simply gives you more options in life. You accumulate more wealth and allow more time for compound interest to work. You can rise up high enough to become indispensable to your company before going on maternity leave. There’s the possibility of continuing to climb the ranks vs shifting gears to something less strenuous, and when you do with a strong CV you’ll be more competitive.

Let’s then count the cons of having fun early and then trying to spin that experience into getting a good job later. Aside from the negative of the above perks, we run into ageism, which is the defining feature of the article. Like it or not, the expectation from most companies is to get in young and then move up or out. It’s unusual for them to hire hire older (read: above 30) works at entry level positions. You’re kind of expected to be mid-career at that point and to apply for director level jobs, which you usually get headhunted for or apply for as part of a lateral move to a different company in the same industry. It’s nigh impossible to graduate and shift careers in one’s 30s and expect to get hired at that level.

That’s not to say it can’t be done. There are stories of people like Elizabeth Pisani and Tai Ming Cheung who have managed to get into a related career from their original one relatively late in life. However, that’s definitely not the norm. Don’t count on being them unless you have exquisite dedication and talent.

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