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After retiring from law, Kathleen and Laing Brown launched a second career as art consultants. In this file photo, they stand in front of a photo-based piece by Santiago Sierra titled, 100 Beggars, Estudiante Plaza, Mexico City, 2005.
After retiring from law, Kathleen and Laing Brown launched a second career as art consultants. In this file photo, they stand in front of a photo-based piece by Santiago Sierra titled, 100 Beggars, Estudiante Plaza, Mexico City, 2005.


Second careers are a chance to nurture primary passions Add to ...

Laing Brown was in his mid-60s when he decided to “retire” from his 30-plus-year career as a lawyer and partner at two of Canada’s largest law firms.

But instead of carrying on as a consultant or spending his days playing golf, Mr. Brown and his wife, Kathleen Brown, also a lawyer, decided to start a business in an entirely new profession, as international art consultants.

Their business, Vancouver-based BrownArtConsulting Inc. (BAC), is based on a lifelong passion for art collecting that began when they bought their first painting for $225 about 40 years ago.

“We’re having so much fun with this,” says Mr. Brown, who retired as a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Vancouver two years ago. He was there for 10 years, and before that was a partner at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLC (previously Russell & DuMoulin) for more than 20 years.

Mr. Brown says he enjoyed practising law, but wanted to do something different as he settled into his senior years. Not working wasn’t a consideration.

“I think I would be out of sorts if I wasn’t working,” says Mr. Brown.

His second career comes with a much different lifestyle and includes extensive travel to places most people can only dream about visiting. Last year, the couple went to New York twice; Basel, Switzerland; Venice, Florence and Milan in Italy; London; Paris; and Miami – all as part of their new profession.

“We couldn’t really afford to be doing all of that travel, and staying in nice places, without BAC,” Mr. Brown says. “It makes our lives a lot more interesting.”

Pursuing a second career after retirement is becoming increasingly common among the baby boomer generation. Some need the income in their retirement years, but others, like the Browns, simply refuse to sit idle – instead turning a passion into a paying gig.

Most people who choose to change careers in their retirement years don’t do it for the money, nor is that a good reason, says Barbara Moses, president of Toronto-based BBM Human Resource Consultants and author of What Next? Find the Work that’s Right for You.

“You’re setting out in an entirely new field where your only experience may be that you’re a hobbyist,” Dr. Moses says. That’s risky given the competition usually has more experience and has already built up a loyal customer base.

“You should do it because it’s fun and you love it,” Ms. Moses says. “If you have no financial expectations … and doing it purely as play, then go for it.”

Many people who pick up a new career in retirement are revisiting interests they had earlier in life, or dabbled in on the weekends.

“It’s not really a reinvention,” Dr. Moses says. “Very often it’s people re-engaging with underlying career themes and unfulfilled ambitions.”

An example could be someone who loves photography, but may have chosen a seemingly more practical profession like accounting to earn a living. The person then returns to photography in his retirement years, when he’s saved enough to cover long-term living expenses.

Still, a career transition isn’t easy and takes “a tremendous amount of courage,” says Eileen Dooley, vice-president of Calgary-based career transition agency Gilker McRae.

She recommends people contemplating the switch do a lot of research first, and also consider carefully how their lifestyle could change. For instance, a love for baking doesn’t necessarily mean you should become a baker.

“When you go into a bakery at 9 a.m. and smell all of that great stuff, you have to remember those people have been there since 4 a.m.,” Ms. Dooley says.

“Talk to people who are doing what you want to do, and find out if it’s for you,” she adds. “It’s important to differentiate between a career and a hobby. Can you make a living off of it?”

If it’s an idea for a new business, Ms. Dooley says it’s critical to have some sense of the target market and the demand for a product or service, know how much it will cost to get started, and what red tape may be involved.

“I’ve seen many times where small businesses have had to shut down either temporarily or permanently because they don’t have the right paperwork or permits,” she says.

The same advice applies for anyone starting a business or changing careers, but is perhaps more important for older people because costly mistakes could eat into their retirement savings.

The Browns had an advantage because they were already in the art business before they launched BAC.

What’s more, because they’re not doing it just for the money, Mr. Brown says they can be more selective about which clients they want to work with, and how hard they want to work.

“Our guiding principle is, if it’s not fun, we’re not doing it,” he says.

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