Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a job that no longer suits the lifestyle that you want. Or, maybe you’ve retired, only to find that you want to return to work. There are many reasons why someone might look to make a career change later in life, but taking that first step can be daunting.
We recently spoke to Lina Pazou (50) and Caroline McMath (55), two headstrong and compassionate women who decided to change careers in mid-life and become carers.
Lina and Caroline have each opened up about their experiences of starting a new career; from the challenges they’ve encountered, to the pleasures and rewards of being part of the care industry.
Lina, from Thessaloniki, Greece, has had a long and varied professional career. She originally trained as a nurse, and then went on to work in a fast-food restaurant before embarking on a business venture with her future husband.
Unfortunately, when the financial crisis hit Greece, Lina and her husband were forced to sell their restaurant businesses – and at the age of 45, Lina was left searching for other work opportunities.
Then, when the mum-of-two was helping out a friend one day, she was presented with an opportunity to embark on a new journey. She explains: “A UK-based company came to Greece to recruit carers. And, incidentally, I was at one of their interviews because I was helping a friend by translating any English that she didn’t understand.”
From there, Lina scored an interview of her own and eventually a role as a professional carer. She says, “I ended up in the care industry by chance, but caring for other people is something that I think I am made for. This job changed my life.”
Similarly, Caroline, originally from Ayrshire, has had a busy and fulfilling professional life. After working in catering, Caroline retrained to become an auditor: a role which she worked in for 20 years, and that took her all around Scotland. But, after being made redundant in 2009 (and with her children now grown up), Caroline and her husband took early retirement and settled in Spain – though it wasn’t long until Caroline became restless.
She says, “After the first six months, I knew retiring was a big mistake. I’ve worked since I was 14 and that slow pace was not for me. I couldn’t calm my brain down.”
Then, after seeing an advert in the paper that was looking for people wanting to become live-in carers, Caroline decided that she wanted to spend the next chapter of her life helping others.
Moving to the UK from Greece to become a carer was a major transition for Lina. One that wasn’t without trepidation.
She says, “I was very scared when I came to the UK, but after I started my caring role and visited my first client, I realised that it was a great profession. We receive lots of training, which removes a lot of the stress – especially when you are going to a foreign country. So after the first month, I was very happy about my decision.”
While Lina’s transition involved a courageous leap of faith, Caroline saw her career change as a chance to take back a measure of control and do something for herself, all while giving back to others.
She explains, “It wasn’t hard for me to make the change. I knew when I retired that it was the career that was the problem. We all give up so much for work when we are younger. I had worked hard and sacrificed my time. As you get older you sit back and reflect on things; the ‘ifs’ and the ‘buts’. But when I decided to make the career change, I decided to do something for me, something I knew I’d be really good at and enjoy.”
Life at The Good Care Group
Lina and Caroline now work for The Good Care Group, a UK-based care company. Both Lina and Caroline speak highly about the support the Good Care Group has provided throughout their journeys.
Lina says, “The company is so organised and you get plenty of support, so you don’t feel alone. You care for others in this profession, and in the end, it cares for you.
“Applying is quite an easy procedure: a couple of interviews to check if you really want the role and you really understand what you’re supposed to do, and all the rest is training. And when you go and start working, they don’t just drop you somewhere with a client and say, ‘Here you go, figure out what you are doing.’ Somebody’s there and they give you a 24-hour handover. So when you’re left to care for someone, you feel confident about what they need.”
Starting out their careers as carers, both Lina and Caroline eventually became ‘rapid responders’; a dynamic role that involves attending to issues and emergencies in patients’ homes on short notice.
“We are like the fixers,” Lina explains. “We go to emergencies if a live-in carer is sick, or if there is some other crisis to resolve. The rapid responder’s role is challenging and because I like a challenge, I like the role. You go to different places and you have to be prepared to adapt really quickly.”
Caroline: “No matter how difficult the job is, at the end of the day you can sit down and say, “I helped somebody today. I helped somebody who really needed it”
For Lina and Caroline, being a carer is much more than a convenient way to pay the bills. Although some days are difficult, both women derive a special sense of purpose and satisfaction from caring for others.
Caroline says, “Yes, we have our difficult days, but in my opinion, that’s life. I get a lot out of my job. It’s so satisfying because no matter how difficult it is, at the end of the day you can sit down and say, ‘I helped somebody today. I helped somebody who really needed it.’
“What I find most rewarding”, says Lina, “is when the life that someone has decided to live in their own home changes for the better, and they feel happier and appreciated. They feel that you respect them, and that you see their abilities and not their disabilities.”
This idea of helping people maintain a level of choice and independence is at the core of why Caroline and Lina love their roles in care.
Caroline says, “People thrive when they are at home and helping them have that life is really important to me. We should all have our freedom. That’s my belief and that’s what I like to see.”
Finding a work-life balance
Although Lina and Caroline have both had long and enjoyable careers prior to becoming carers – with Lina running her own business and Caroline travelling all over Scotland – sometimes other aspects of life had to take a backseat.
Caroline explains, “As an auditor, I was away from home all the time. I worked six days a week and I was away from home three, four days at a time. I’d come back for a day and then I was away again. That was pretty hard going and exhausting, but I did it for a very long time. The body just gets to a point when it goes, ‘Hey, hold on a minute, what are you doing? It’s time to start slowing down a wee bit.’
Both Lina and Caroline express that becoming a carer has given them the chance to continue to work hard and find fulfilment through their job, without sacrificing everything else that life has to offer. The flexibility of their roles is important to both women, who love to travel and spend time with their families.
Lina says, “You can get a lot of time off. You can do different rotations, so you can work two weeks on, two weeks off, or you can work four weeks on, four weeks off. You can choose any rotation to fit your lifestyle. This gives you lots of time to be with the people you love, and to do the things that you like. This role allows me to study and, before the pandemic, I could go back to Greece. I went there every three months and stayed for two or three weeks.”
Onwards and upwards
For both Lina and Caroline, a career in caring is one that gives back and encourages them to push themselves to try new things. Since joining The Good Care Group as carers, their careers have each progressed, as they’ve taken on new roles and new responsibilities.
From being a live-in carer to becoming a rapid responder, and then becoming part of the on-call team, Caroline has undertaken many different roles within the company and has thoroughly enjoyed them all.
“It’s good that we can stay in different areas,” Caroline explains, “and find out how the whole of the company works. It’s fantastic to see all the bits piecing together.”
Likewise, Lina has also progressed immensely in her time as a carer. Since transitioning from a professional carer to a rapid responder, Lina has begun working towards her master’s degree in Hull University’s department of Psychology specializing in Dementia and has become a Care Ambassador for The Good Care Group. In May of 2021, she also took part in a roundtable discussion with the Minister of State for Social Care and the Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care, to discuss women’s health and women’s leadership in the workplace.
Lina: “I don’t think that people should stop dreaming after 50..."
However, speaking from her own experiences, Caroline knows how difficult it can sometimes be to find fulfilling work later in life. But she considers the care industry to be a space where experience is a valued and respected commodity.
Caroline says: “It’s hard for older adults to find work, even with all the degrees and everything you’ve got in your bag. When I was made redundant, I was like ‘Oh God what am I going to do now?’ I was humiliated.
“I started applying for jobs, and I went to a job centre. I found that when I went for interviews, I knew when I wasn’t going to get the job and it was because of my age.”
Caroline continues, “But I tell you, I think older adults thrive in the care industry because we have a lot of common sense. We never take anything for granted, never assume. It’s just life experience that does that – you learn. And if I don’t know something, I’m always going to ask someone that does.”
Lina tells us, “I don’t think that people should stop dreaming after 50, and say ‘Oh I’m in my fifties now I should stop doing this or that, or being inspired or anything.’ Quite the contrary. I think that it’s a magnificent time and you need to live it to the fullest.”