What to do when a mid-life career change comes calling

It's important to be resourceful when facing a seismic shift in circumstances and the associated financial ramifications, experts say

Shot of a young businesswoman looking stressed out in an office. Getty Images
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Almost a year since it entered universal vocabulary, most people on the planet can cite Covid-19 for disrupting their life in some form. That is vividly true where many livelihoods are concerned as jobs have been axed, career paths forcibly re-assessed and life strategies re-tailored.

Such was the case for pilots Fabio Carnevali and Luca Versetti, whose employment ceased with little prospect of returning to the skies.

With growing families to support, the Italian friends drew on the calm their profession demands when faced with unexpected drama.

“The priority was to survive, pay the bills, feed the kids, to keep everything in place and think without panicking,” says father of two daughters Mr Carnevali, who was laid off by Etihad in July last year.

“A pilot is always put in a situation where stress is the main factor, because of the potential for bad weather or systems failure … in that situation, a pilot needs to react.”

Having only known a career in aviation, options for Mr Carnevali, 46, could have been limited, like thousands of pilots dismissed by airlines globally as Covid-19 crippled travel.

Mr Carnevali and Mr Versetti, 41, had previously discussed having their own business before the latter left Etihad last February for another airline. When that job was rescinded, timing and necessity pushed the friends to launch Global Flight Solutions in the summer.

They noted how once regular first or business class travellers were choosing to charter aircraft, sometimes clubbing together and overlooking commercial flights due to pandemic fears.

Abu Dhabi-headquartered GFS began providing ground handling and flight support for private jets and has grown “extremely fast” ever since.

“We reacted immediately,” says Mr Versetti, who has two children aged seven and three.

“This idea was going around for a while, but when you are in the comfort zone, it’s very difficult to unplug and then plug into something where you don’t know if there’s electricity.”

Mr Versetti, a UAE resident for 13 years, was about to make a down payment on a family home in Majorca, Spain, when Covid-19 grounded airlines.

“My initial thought was ‘this job is finished for the next five years … what can I do with my knowledge’,” he says from GFS’s Milan office. “We saw the opportunity and understood the critical moment.”

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, December 8 – Left to Right - Fabio Carnevali and Luca Versetti started Global Flight Solutions Company at the Wyndham Dubai Marina hotel in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For News/Online. Story by Gill

Mr Carnevali had insurance protection against illness and loss of flight licence, and a house in Italy as his “last resource”.

But he says he called upon one of a pilot’s main attributes when redundancy struck: resilience to overcome a situation and think forward. In this case, by creating a scenario where he could “get hired by yourself”.

“We tried to react together, to put our ideas on the table, develop our business model,” he says.

“Our knowledge and experience was at a level to have a good chance of success … it was and still is a big risk, but the results are good.”

He adds: “If you wait to be lucky in life, nothing is going to happen.”

However, not everyone can be so pragmatic or resourceful when facing a seismic shift in circumstances – or the associated financial ramifications.

Conscious Finance Coaching founder Carol Glynn says it is a “time to take stock”, not panic and “if you are not doing it already on a regular basis, analyse your financial situation”.

She urges people to document cash in accounts, assets such as cars, property and investments and their liquidity, and liabilities including loans, credit cards and mortgages.

“Using this information, calculate your net worth,” she says. “That is total assets, minus total liabilities, and will tell you how much you have in assets should you need to use them to pay your expenses.

“It will also give you an understanding of what debt you have to maintain until you find a new income source.”

Your net worth will tell you how much you have in assets should you need to use them to pay your expenses

She suggests examining expenditure next – split between needs, such as rent, utility bills, mobile phone and groceries, and wants, such as subscriptions and eating out – and seek ways to reduce costs and spending, perhaps via cheaper accommodation or shopping habits.

“When you have reviewed your expenditure and decided on your core needs, use the total to calculate how many months of cash you have available … essentially your emergency fund,” she says.

“These steps should also be followed if you are considering leaving your career and starting a new business.”

Cecilia Carlsward resigned as chief executive of an industrial manufacturing firm in December 2018, without a job in mind.

At the time, she was officially recognised as one of Sweden’s top 30 female leaders of the future – the same year she began questioning professional fulfilment and how it matched her core values.

“Seen from outside, I have the impression people viewed my act as brave, but it’s only brave if it comes with fear or danger … I felt more alive than I had in a long time,’ says Ms Carlsward, 38.

Cecilia Carlsward is co-founder of a company called Violet Hill & Co which aims to support companies transitioning their businesses to sustainable endeavors. 
Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National
Reporter: David Dunn

“These decisions need a big portion of trust in yourself and your capabilities that you will get it together on the other side.

“And if worse comes to worse, I knew I would be happy with less, and that me and my husband would always be able to provide a roof over our heads and food on the table.”

Ms Carlsward says her biggest “brain ghosts” were fed by cultural norms, such as it not being responsible to leave a good job when you have a family, and whether she would have value in the eyes of others without a job and a title.

She also had to evaluate the effect such a change would have domestically, but cites the full support of her husband, an IT entrepreneur whose career prompted a move to Dubai in late 2019 with their young daughter.

Ms Carlsward began freelance management consulting last year, allowing her to work part-time, pay bills and develop a new company with friends in London and Amsterdam.

I wanted my daughter to see that I did something I have passion in

Inspired during the March lockdown, Violet Hill & Co launches shortly in Dubai and Stockholm; a consultancy that assesses and improves company and employee sustainability on the road to pandemic recovery.

Ms Carlsward says it was important not to make her plan before she had “landed on the other side of employment … simply because your environment shapes your decisions”.

“Many typical chief executives are the main provider of the family and thereby limiting their freedom of choice,” she says. “As a couple, we have been consciously supporting each other’s career … this is important to build the foundation where such a decision like I took is possible.”

Ms Carlsward also says she considered her confidence in re-building her career “in a slightly different context” above calculating fiscal impact.

“I wanted my daughter to see that I did something I have passion in,” she adds. “I am confident that on this path, I will reach higher than what I left behind and feel more fulfilled.”

Pychologist Dr Sarah Rasmi, founder and managing director of Dubai’s Thrive Wellbeing Centre. Courtesy of Dr Sarah Rasmi

That’s a scenario recognised by psychologist Dr Sarah Rasmi, founder and managing director of Dubai’s Thrive Wellbeing Centre.

“If we look at some of the theories of development, one of the things we find is that people in midlife are often prompted to re-evaluate their lives,” she says.

“The decisions they’ve made, where they are in their current life … to see if they have cultivated or created something either at work, home or in their broader community that will outlast them.”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - June 05, 2019: Money & Me column with Thanj Kugananthan who is the founder of Visible HR. Wednesday the 5th of June 2019. Motor City, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Thanj Kugananthan, founder of consultancy Visible HR, agrees.

“Going through something that makes us question our happiness and wellness, whether that is redundancy, a toxic working environment or otherwise, from my experience as well as from my network of business owners, is quite a common reason for people to ‘leave the rat race’,” she says.

Ms Kugananthan started her business seven years ago, in her early 30s, after an “unpleasant, short working stint” at an organisation.

Going through something that makes us question our happiness and wellness is a common reason for people to leave the rat race

Such career changes typically happen in people’s 30s and 40s, she says, “because at this stage we are likely to have more savings”.

She adds: “We are likely to feel comfortable with our life and work experience and to offer these skills … and we are also starting to question negative impacts on our happiness and wellness and those around us.”

Speaking from personal experience, Ms Glynn, 39, says traditionally there comes an age when people rethink careers and life choices.

“I have found this more common in the past year than ever, and people experiencing this much younger than before … I suspect reassessing what is important to them and making life-changing decisions.”

Ms Glynn, however, recommends setting aside at least one years’ worth of living expenses before resigning.

For pilot Mr Versetti, such financial preparedness provided resources to co-found GFS.

“I was always looking to protect myself and my family, and was very conservative during my career,” he says.

“Most expat pilots don’t have a retirement programme so I was saving, although I wasn’t expecting to start using my savings right now, maybe at 60 or 65.”

He adds: “It’s important to show other people they can do something else in their life.”