Discerning God's will for a late-life career choice

I’m 54 (okay, okay, I’m only a few months away from 55), and I would greatly appreciate your advice about how to determine God’s will regarding a late-life career change.

I’m trying to decide between an engineering degree (the “fun” degree which my “heart” is pushing me towards ) and an accounting degree (probably the more practical choice, which my “reason” is pushing me towards). The following info plays into my decision:

  1. I have an A.A.S. degree in Electronics Technology (obtained 30 years ago), and an A.A. in general studies/business (which I worked towards as time permitted, over a 20 year period).

  2. I am currently a sleep tech, and am capable of taking two classes per semester.

  3. Several years ago, the local community college began offering bachelor’s degree programs, in which University professors would travel to Waco to teach. At the time I started, there were several programs offered, but sadly, NOT ENGINEERING OR SCIENCE. I considered a general business degree or accounting, and chose accounting.

  4. At my 2 class/semester pace, I am 3-1/2 years away from finishing my accounting degree.

  5. NOW, however, an engineering physics degree IS offered. I don’t know how long it would take me to finish that degree, but I’m guessing 5 years.

  6. Waco has job opportunities in the aviation engineering field, including L-3 and SpaceEx, however, I don’t know who would hire someone 60 years old.

  7. The accounting degree would likely open the door to many more jobs, since accountants are needed by so many businesses.

  8. I expect to be working until age 75, due to financial reasons.

  9. I really enjoy science, and after the last tax accounting class (BORING!!!), I really began to wonder if I want to spend the last years of my life doing accounting.

So, essentially I’m thinking accounting is the more practical choice, allowing me to start earning more money, 2 years earlier, for my wife and me prior to retirement. However, all I keep thinking about is how much fun it would be to study engineering physics.

As I said earlier, my reason tells me to finish accounting, and my heart tells me to go for the engineering physics degree–perhaps a selfish choice.

The most important question to me is, WHAT DOES GOD WANT ME TO DO?

The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.
Blaise Pascal

I would suggest going with your heart. Even if you never get an engineering job, you will be spending the years learning more about what you love.


I respectfully disagree (respectfully since I once believed in the whole “follow your heart and the compensation will follow” dream-bliss-happiness-hippie wisdom) with the above. (At one time, the economy permitted this, but no longer, particularly with the advent of globalization, cheaper transportation and communications).

Do accounting. People will consider your age an advantage here. And you have to admit, at some level it’s something you can handle well or liked. It holds the possibility of opening your own shingle, getting into financial services generally.

Everyone’s got to pay the rent; there’s no perfect job.

With respect to your original question, I also have wondered this. How do you know the “voice” you hear is GOD’s and not your own wishes?

I’ve asked this of a number of priests. I think the general take is that God’s voice is sustained over time. It’s not a flash in the brain idea (many years back I thought about a joint JD/PhD program; great flash in the brain while sitting in Grant Park in Chicago). It’s something that recurs over the span of time, a few weeks perhaps, and it’s not connected to a present emotional state.

Is it appropriate to “lay a fleece before the Lord”, such as “Lord, if I hear the word ‘heart’ 3 times today, I’ll know you want me to follow my heart.”?

Maybe God wants you to decide for yourself.

I have done that but recommend the the “fleece” be something specific and less normal than hearing an ordinary word.

What I have found to be more successful is to ask to be guided by a wise person. So in your case I would speak to the engineering professor and the career services counselor at your school. They will have the best insight into how long it will take you to get either degree and then what the job opportunities will be like in either field.

Also be open to related fields. Have you considered medical tech areas? I’m not too familiar with all the options but it would be building g on your current experience and the technical area you like. certain specialties pay well and may be enough to start building your nest egg.

You might want to setup informational interviews with people in the fields you are considering. Be clear that you are not looking for a job at this time, just information.

Also, as great a career as engineering can offer, there is a strong bias against older candidates - particularly those without relevant experience. I am not saying this is impossible to overcome; just something to consider. One way to enter an engineering career with less experience may be as an inexpensive contractor.

Good luck!

I have considered biomedical engineering, but I don’t cope well under pressure. Knowing that a piece of equipment must be fixed in an hour, or someone’s life is in jeopardy, is definitely not for me.

Good info about the “strong bias against older candidates.” Do you speak from personal experience?

Are those your only two choices? For instance, I know many people who dropped out of science programs in order to sell medical equipment.

I would say that if you hate your major after 1/2 year, find another major. You might consider an associates degree or a minor, as something that could come handy at some job or other. Also, consider what job opportunities would make your current cache of job experience into a plus. You worked hard to get that, and in today’s job market, you don’t want to leave one of your “selling points” idle. Also consider what parts of that job you actually liked.

When I was in school, there was something offered called a Strong Campbell Interest Inventory. The student answers questions about what interests them, and the inventory matches their answers to the answers of people who work happily in that field. Mine said I’d be happy studying geography and cartography. Huh?!? In retrospect, I should have considered those, because I love maps and that kind of stuff. Consider finding somewhere to take a test like that, and perhaps you will find possibilities that you hadn’t even thought about.

This is silly, and grasping at straws. Do not put the Lord to the test. The Lord gave you intelligence and a good heart. Use your heart and your mind to find a job, choose with a mind to whether the occupation offers you particular opportunities for spiritual temptations or advancement, definitely ask for guidance in your prayers, but do not attempt to play parlor games with the Almighty.

By spiritual temptations, for instance, a person who is prone to infidelity when he or she gets lonely probably ought not choose a job that includes a lot of travel. A person who uses time alone for profitable reflections might consider a job that requires long drives to be something of a plus. I’m talking about using common sense to ask what the job requires besides your time and what is offers other than money and something to do that you think you’ll enjoy. Those “non-spiritual” things aren’t unimportant at all, but it is good to consider whether some job or other will work for or against the making of saints, and especially making you a saint. Eternity, after all, is what God cares about–that and the present moment, and whether it brings you closer to God or farther away.

I do. In one job we had a staff of 3 engineers. The first to be let go was an older worker.

We also interviewed a 50something with little relevant experience for an engineering position. The comments I heard from the other engineers: 1, why would we hire an old guy for double the money of a kid in college, and 2, shoot me if I get to my 50’s without any current skills.

I think you can be OK if you have a current skill set and accept a lower salary, but I think the bias against older engineers is there.

It does make a difference if the older guy just out of college has relevant experience. For instance, if a guy was in construction for a lifetime and gets his engineering degree, the lifetime of actually building things and knowing what the construction crews are up against could be a sellable asset compared to the other “new” engineers.

Yes, that is certainly true. The determining factor is whether that experience is worth the salary and benefits.

I was offered a full time job as a young engineer while the older engineer worked contract. He had 10 times my knowledge and experience, but in the company’s estimation was not worth the cost

I think an older career changer to engineering has the best chance of landing short-term contract jobs. The company gets experienced help but does not have to pay the benefits. For some people near retirement, that is a reasonable option.

Yes: look for a niche where you don’t have to ask for something a younger person needs. Look for something where your past is an asset. When you’ve brainstormed the places where you will be the most attractive as a prospect, choose what you like best out of the options where the employers will like you best.

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