2005/06b: Ask Me
Q&A 17 years ago No Comments

I’ve been in the service industry for many, many years, but my heart has always been in interior design. Is it too late for me” (I am 38 years old.) I am interested in the decorative side of design right now – I’ve done a few home staging jobs for a real estate agent friend of mine – but I’ve worked in restaurants for a long time as a waiter / sommelier, so I’m also interested in doing that side of commercial as well, with a specific focus on lighting design. I can’t tell you how many restaurants (and retail shops for that matter) I’ve been in recently that have good design but really poor lighting! I could go to school and work at the same time, but most of the schools around here (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) only offer full-time programs. I don’t have the four years it would take to get a degree in design – what options would you suggest” Please advise.

(submitted by Georg R.)

It is most definitely not too late for you to switch careers! More than ever before, people are changing careers two and three times before reaching retirement age. As we all live longer and work longer this will become the norm. Many people who are working at what they love don’t retire but work as long as their health allows. I believe people who “follow their bliss” in work are fortunate indeed.

You said that you are interested in the decorative side of design and have tried your hand at staging for real estate. I’m sure you have found that this comes naturally for you. While I strongly believe in the value of education, and the interior design licensing requirements in many regions, I also know many designers who are self-taught. This is a personal choice based on your talents and your goals. I know many extremely successful staging companies that were founded by self-taught designers. They are, shall we say, gifted in their talent. They have knowledge that comes from within. Business savvy is also essential if the venture is to succeed. Some talented designers don’t have a mind for business, and the financial end of the deal doesn’t work out. For those people who seemingly have it all, one could argue that an education was not needed.

You have indicated that you cannot enroll in a full-time interior design program. Since the interior design programs in your locale are strictly full-time, you may want to audit (or sit-in on) the classes that you need to round out your talent. Lighting design for example, another area of interest for you, has many technical aspects that you may want to learn about before attempting on your own. I would encourage you to be creative in your path — to be honest with yourself about your talent, and assertive about getting what you need to do what you want. With the right talent, the right personality, and the right opportunities the sky is the limit!

Switching careers later in life does have its challenges. High energy is required to motivate yourself along a new path. Also, income-level is sometimes an issue. There is typically a ramp-up when starting a new career and unless you have a healthy bank account this can pose issues. None of these issues is insurmountable. In other words, where there’s a will, there’s a way!