Philip Donlay authorWhen you’re in the cockpit on final approach and suddenly have to abort your landing and try again, it’s called a “go-around.” It can be a little scary at first, but with a little planning and some patience, it is painless. The same is true for your career after age 50. You’re all set to glide into retirement when from out of nowhere, you’re forced to change course professionally. I know the feeling better than most people because it happened to me.

Ever since childhood, I’ve been fascinated with airplanes. I was lucky enough to make flying my career as a private jet captain for nearly 30 years. My career took me to more than 40 countries on five continents, and I loved every minute of it. Then, I began to experience intense pain that made sitting for long periods of time impossible, and I soon started having serious health problems that threatened both my pilot status and my life.

Retiring from flying felt devastating at first, and I wasn’t entirely sure about the direction my life would go. After all, it was a little late for me to be thinking about a second career….or was it?

As I recuperated from surgery, I channeled much of my frustration into writing, something I had done in my spare time for years, but beyond that hadn’t committed to. Before I retired, I had self-published one novel, and found a traditional publisher for a second. But frankly, I didn’t know where my writing “hobby” would go from there. As my recovery progressed, I started channeling more and more energy into writing, and decided to go for broke by writing a new novel – an aviation-themed thriller that combined my love of flying with the inherent adventure of flight. A chance conversation with my former agent, had secured within weeks a deal with a new publisher for my third novel.

Today, I am working on my fourth and marveling at how my life took flight at the very moment I thought it was crashing down to earth. Perseverance and a positive outlook gave me the fuel I needed to overcome the disappointment and recapture what I loved most about being a pilot – the thrilling sense of exploration that now I can to bring to my novels.

Here are a few tips for anyone who may be soul-searching after an abrupt career change:

Harness your passions. Those of us transitioning to new vocations after age 50 often struggle with self-esteem, thinking we will never rediscover the enthusiasm that drove us to pursue our careers in the first place. Think about what you love doing in your spare time and then consider how you might take your hobbies to the next level.

Seek out friends in similar situations. Misery may love company, but so does success. Launching a new professional venture requires a network of supportive people and potential business connections. Use social media, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, to interact with old friends or new acquaintances with similar interests. You never know where you might find a source of inspiration, mentoring or even capital for your second career.

pilot of ultralight Philip Donlay-familyphotoKeep a positive outlook. Remember what drove you to pursue your first career, and then move forward with an optimistic attitude. Sure, it’s easier said than done, and it’s disappointing when an important chapter of your life comes to an end. But instead of dwelling on what you miss about the career you left behind, focus on the possibilities that lie ahead and seize those opportunities with renewed energy.

Like a pilot’s “go-around” during a thunderstorm, the journey toward a new career can be harrowing, especially after age 50. But with a strong resolve, a steady flight path and a wealth of experience, you can ensure a safe landing on the final leg of your professional journey.

Philip Donlay is a retired jet pilot and an author of aviation-themed thrillers.
His new novel, Zero Separation, is available at

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