Hitting the reset button: Tell me your stories of starting over from scratch

Agree with whoever said that both lawyers and librarians tend to outnumber jobs available for them – I’d look at the pharmacy career first, as most likely to pay off financially going forward.

You might be surprised. I was accepted at a few law schools, and I was 45. A number of my classmates (though to be honest, not the majority) were in their 30s and 40s. If being a lawyer is one of the things that interests you, your age won’t be a barrier. There’s no harm in researching what it takes to be admitted to law school–check out the websites of the schools you might like to attend, look into writing the LSAT (which you’ll need to do), talk to a few lawyers and see what they have to say about the profession. No matter what you choose to do, good luck!

I am so sorry for your situation, brother. I wish I had some magic words for you, I really do. It’s probably not much comfort, but keep in mind that you do have options. It’s all dependant on how far you want to take it, how far outside the zone of security, money, home and conventionality you’re comfortable with.

I know a guy who lives on a houseboat with his wife and two kids. He’s a few years older than me, maybe 46-47, and runs a tiny company that makes surfboards; I’ve designed a couple of paint schemes for two of his new shortboards.

In his former life (there are a lot of people down here who have former lives; even more of 'em the further south you go), he was middle management at a company that manufactures ventilation systems, and shivering in the New York winters. There was apparently no huge cataclysm in his life, no great tragedy; at some point he and his family had just had enough. They cashed in what little they had, put their stuff in storage and left.

I’m not advising that you should restructure you and your family’s lives and just move to greener pastures; that’s a risky thing to do, and for every success, there are probably dozens of failures.

Just understand that life isn’t set in stone, it’s more like Jello.

The law market right now is going through contractions, and we’re seeing an extraordinary number of lawyers and legal staff losing their jobs nationwide. Hardly a surprise – when partners’ income is threatened, they typically fire people rather than accept small dips in their own income.

But if you go to law school, you’re probably looking at starting in 2010, since it’s already February now and you haven’t started the application process. So you’d graduate in 2013. By which time I presume we’ll be back to some kind of boom time again. In other words – if you ultimately decide law school is right, don’t worry about the market for lawyers.

As for pharmacy, I think it’s a two year program, and (not knowing your background) you may have to go back to school to get some pre-requisites under your belt. So you’d get out sooner, and likely into a better market. A friend who is a pharmacist has never had a problem getting a job, and she mostly likes the jobs she’s gotten.

My take – I didn’t have a “reset” but I did take a few years off before I went to law school. Of course, being young, at the time I thought it was a huge big deal and that I was ancient when I went to law school. And, truthfully, in law school at 26 I was one of the older people. I had classmates in their thirties and forties (I think one in his 50s but I think he was just auditing), but the majority were fresh from college. But as my mother liked to remind me, my grandmother went back to college in her fifties after raising 5 kids, so get over yourself.:slight_smile:

For me, it really was a great experience. Going to law school in a new city got me out of a kind of dead-end boring life, and it opened up a much better life.

My father went to university and trained to be a teacher. He taught one term at a prestigious school and hated it, so he joined the Navy as an instructor. After the war he went back to university and did surveying. He was a surveyor until he retired.

The guy who owned the furniture store where I bought all my furniture told me that he studied engineering but didn’t like it. He went back to school and did law, but found practice really boring. He started the furniture store. When I was talking to him he said he thought it was time to move on. I asked him what kind of shop he would move on to and he said, “one shop is the same as another. You buy stuff and sell it for more than you paid for it. By move on I mean something completely different.”

I started out training as a surveyor. With a year to go I quit, because I hated it, and became a psychiatric nurse. When I qualified I quit and traveled. I then worked for a bookmaker while earning a living betting on horse races. Later I studied audio engineering and did live sound mixing and managed a band. Amongst all this I had been programming since high school in Fortran, IBM Assembler and COBOL and and have now ended up a data analyst.

The greatest achievement in this area is one of the psychiatrists I worked with when I was nursing. He was an ordinary doctor and discovered that he was going blind due to an irreversible disease. Instead of sulking about it, he had the ego resources to decide, “well the best thing a blind doctor can practice is psychiatry.” So he completed his specialization before going blind.

I started back to law school at 30 – I’m about to graduate into this dire job market but - oh well - I don’t regret my choice. I enjoy law and am well suited to it. I did accept a scholarship at a lower-ranked school and that was about the best decision I could have made. I have almost no debt and, while it is stressful not having anything lined up right now jobwise, I’m actually pretty confident in my long-range prospects.

It was pretty much a complete reset. I was living in Michigan, working in the marketing field. I quit my job, cashed in my stock options (at what would turn out to be not only the 52-week high, but the 5 year high) moved to Virginia, worked on a horse farm for two years, and decided to apply to law school while shoveling poop. :smiley: So then I picked up again, moved to New York, and here I am, 33 years old and 78 days from my J.D.

Job prospects may be weak right now for attorneys, but they are downright deadly in my old profession (marketing in the bookselling industry). If I had stayed where I was, I most certainly would be out of work right now anyway, and with very little upside.

I think I’ve told this before. My reset was when I was still young. I was three years out of the Navy making a decent wage as an HVAC mechanic and living at home very frugally. I was socking away money, well over half my salary and attending college at night, slowly working on my degree in Electrical Engineering. My plan meant 2 more years doing this and I would have enough money to go to college full time for two years with a small hedge against unforeseen problems.

The problems with my plans, I saw that it might take closer to 3 years to be ready for fulltime, Rutgers was probably not going to accept all of my credits and I would have to go to NJIT instead and the commute was much worse. Most importantly, I had many friends really struggling to find work with their shiny Engineering degrees. This was post Cold War, with a recession and it was a hard time to enter engineering.

I also met my future wife who had a degree from Rutger’s School of Engineering and never found a job as one. She went to Chubb and trained as a programmer and was doing pretty well. So the two of us did a lot of research to determine which programming fields were not looking for degrees for entry level and we came down to COBOL and RPG. We then checked all the schools in NJ to determine which one was the best fit for me. It came down to Chubb and Cittone. I ended up at Cittone studying both COBOL and RPG as a full time student for 7 months. I aced the course but I was also the only one in the class that gave up a fairly good job during a recession. Most were there as they were unemployed or their parents paid for it instead of college.

I interviewed well for my first job that started the day after graduation. I have now been working as a programmer since 1993 without a break. The field has dried up quite a bit from the 90s.

One nice bonus from this for me, even after paying for Cittone, I had a very large chunk of change socked away that really helped with our deposit on our first home. Cittone was much cheaper than two years of college.


I think I’d basically have to start over and get a BS. I took chemistry in college, but not enough and not enough math and science otherwise. So pharmacy would definitely be the longest track, and probably the one I’m least interested in otherwise.

I’ve had a couple of start-overs in my life. At 29 I left an abusive marriage and started over with only two children and six suitcases (and the love and moral support of the best mom in the world). I got a bachelor’s degree at 34. I started law school at 43. It was a great idea. And most recently my husband and I pretty much chucked everything we had in the US (except the children, with whom we stay in contact, of course) and now we live in Budapest, where I’ve had to begin my start-over with learning the language! I love it here.

My theory: people do what they want to do. If you want to do something, you’ll find a way to do it. Whatever you decide to do, I wish you the very best!

I actually have my own reset story: I’m 37 and quitting law to go to nursing school with the penultimate goal of becoming a Nurse Anesthetist and the ultimate goal of becoming a consultant/expert witness in med-mal cases. I am right now drafting what I hope to be my last ever patent application.

The reason I wanted to post though was msmith’s comment. I got out of law school around 10 years ago and came right into the boom time. I went right into one of the biggest firms in the country, and was making that outrageous starting salary (10 years ago it wasn’t $160k, but close). Anyway, my only comment was that, in my experience, the big firms that are paying those outrageous starting salaries don’t usually look at the 37 year olds. I have no idea why it is, and I never thought about it before reading that comment, but your first year associates in the big firms are almost always in their mid-20s. Also, those firms are absolutely cutting back. They are finally putting salary freezes in place, not hiring new associates, and actually laying people off.

In my experience, the second time/non-traditional/older students typically end up in solo practice or with small to medium firms. Now, let the parade of Dopers who joined Baker & McKenzie, Fish & Richardson, Sidley, etc. at age 45 begin!!!

I can second this. I had a very difficult time finding a law job after graduating from law school, and I believe it was mainly due to my age. On the other hand, my younger classmates seemed to have very little trouble getting jobs, especially with large prestigious firms.

As I see things, law is a notoriously conservative profession (“conservative” as in “resistant to change”), and it hasn’t yet learned that the job-for-life that was a reality up until the 1970s or so is no longer a reality anywhere. So they’re looking for people who can be expected to spend the next 40 years at the firm–even though, as has been pointed out, some firms are cutting back and laying off. Never mind that today’s graduates don’t expect to spend their entire career at one place (my classmates don’t, anyway); a big well-paying firm won’t want you if you’ll be in your 80s after 40 years.

This is what happened to me, and I rather like it. No, I’m not making megabucks, but neither am I suffering the stress that my classmates at big well-paying firms report when we get together. Partly, that’s due to the fact that I was in the business world before I came to law and so I understand workplace stress; but I think it’s also due to the fact that in a firm this size, I often deal with clients directly–I’m not separated from the client by a host of partners, associates, paralegals, and assistants, each of whom can garble or misinterpret the client’s instructions, or who can unknowingly contradict each other. I also know everybody in our smaller firm, which makes things a lot easier when I have questions or need something. It’s a good atmosphere for a beginner and a great experience, and I think all freshly-graduated lawyers–including the OP, should she choose to go into law–should consider the “smaller firm” route.

Thirty seven? And you think you’re too OLD? Bah. I’m on my third career, just started this one 3 years ago. I’m 62. I’ve been a teacher, a stay-at-home mom, a systems analyst (worked my way up from zero as a data entry clerk) and am now a traffic coordinator for a freight forwarder (with my own window office).

When I started over in data systems and went back to school, I got credit for all relevant courses from my bachelor’s degree, which let me avoid having to re-take things like electives, and basic courses. Many colleges and universities do that. I went nights while working days. I found the night courses filled for the most part with serious students, most also working days, who were paying their own way and were interested in learning.

I don’t remember which advice columnist said it, but someone wrote in to say “I don’t know if I should do X, because in four years I’ll be 50 years old.” The response was, “And how old will you be if you don’t?”

It was Dear Abby, and: this. Or that. Whatever.

I have had a couple of big resets. I went to college right out of high school, which given my complete lack of focus or future orientation probably wasn’t a great idea. Majored in sociology, decided I wanted to go to law school and/or be some kind of political activist. Realized I wasn’t cut out for any of those just as I was completing my degree. Graduated, no decent jobs where I was living.

Moved to San Francisco knowing nobody with $600 to my name. Became a bike messenger. Decided to try applying to medical school. Failed. Tried again, got in at age 30. Now practicing psychiatry at 41.

I encourage resets.

My teenage and early adult years were consumed by depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, plus the growing bitterness stemming from not fulfilling my potential. (I was an avid reader by age four and a straight-A student through elementary school).

At age 31, after two years of much-needed therapy, I applied for starting to study archeology, my lifelong passion, at the local uni. I fretted about being way too old, but got in with a perfect score. Now I shine in the academic circles, due to the years of reading, writing and thinking archeology prior to any university studies. I’ll graduate faster than any of my classmates, and with flying colors at that. I seem to have a very bright future in the field. Two years ago, at thirty years of age, this was a distant dream. And the twenty-year-olds don’t even realize how old I am!

This is just absolutely not true. Large law firms are structured so that they lose a large percentage of each associate class each year. If large law firms could make sure each first-year would work their asses off for 8 years and then leave they absolutely would do so.

My two cents is that you should go into law if either (i) you are smart and motivated and want to make a bunch of money in a safer career path than something entrepeneurial or (ii) you want to help people and don’t care about money at all. The large majority in the middle are the burnt-out lawyers we all hear about all the time.

Also, FWIW, every single one of the folks that graduated summa from my law school were “over traditional age.” I think the reason for this is that they brought a work ethic and some knowledge of how the world works that the straight-throughers (which included me) didn’t.

You are in no way too young to start a new career, even if it means going back to school! My mother did it…went back to graduate school when we were all little kids, got her PhD, and went into a completely different field than she was in before she married (her undergrad degree was in journalism…her postgrad degrees are in psychology, and she ended up working in medical statistics). I think she must have been about your age when she started going back to school, because my younger sister was about 2 or 3, and my mom was 35 when she was born.

It’s good to hear that you are thinking about the next step in your life!

I’m 46 and working on a reset button myself, as soon as I can get out of debt. No idea what I want to do, but it sure as hell isn’t accounting, which I just sort of fell into. Hopefully I can get something sorted by the time I’m 50, so no, I don’t think 37 is too old. I’d love to be 37 again - it seems so young now.

Oddly enough, my reset button hit at the perfect time. I was working in the pharmaceutical business doing drug screening for very little pay even though I had a B.S. from a good school. After doing that for five years, my awesome boss, who was the only real thing keeping me there, quit and the new one was a jerk.

So, I started looking at options for how to make more money with the least amount of additional school and the best return…and I ended up in business school. Turns out they actually wanted you to have five years of work experience before going in. Now I work in defense instead writing proposals to get us new work.

So my career went from helping people to hurting people. Oh well… circle of life.

Graduated, took the regular 9-to-5 office path, first in media/marketing, then in IT. Stuck with it for years, got into management, good money and so on. Realised it wasn’t what I wanted. Age 36-ish I made the break, walked away from it all, decided to work for myself and get by however I could get by. Best thing I ever did. It’s twice as difficult this way, but a hundred times more rewarding. Life is great, I’ve done things I never would have had the chance to do if I was still relying on a monthly salary, and I’ve never looked back.

You only get one life.

I’m not sure why, but I have a LOT of friends with law degrees. I don’t want to discourage you but, how should I put this… don’t do it for the money. With that said, 37 is definitely not too late to start over. In fact, most of the stupid things college kids consume their time with are no longer on your list of things to do. From my experience in college, it was the 30-something crowd that was the most focused and did the best in class.

I would like to ask you what you think you’ll do with the degree? It covers so many different types of careers.