Encore Careers: Two Aspiring Stylists Talk Career Reinvention



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The factors contributing to employers’ hiring challenges are many and diverse. Intense competition for available talent and the emergence of new “gig economy” jobs are just a few obstacles faced by salon owners seeking to expand their teams.


Yet while today’s salons compete for fresh talent, they may overlook an especially valuable segment of workers – encore professionals. Mid-life career changers offer employers the benefits of skills honed in their previous workplaces and a maturity that comes with life experience. The Beauty Changes Lives Foundation, a non-profit that offers tuition scholarships funded by professional beauty brands, has noticed a trend of experienced workers from various industries applying for beauty school scholarships. Former teachers, graphic designers, nurses and small business owners are just a few recent scholarship awardees. Salon Today recently spoke with two scholarship winners about their encore career paths.

Wade Beesley, 49, studied finance and considered a career in investment banking before opening and selling a coffee shop, and working as an artist, a bartender and running an Airbnb. Beesley eventually began thinking about a “solid trade” he could practice while continuing to pursue his interest in sculpture and his passion for giving back to community groups such as Fishes and Loaves, which helps those experiencing homelessness. Barbering seemed like a solid trade and Beesley enrolled at Paul Mitchell The School. He was awarded a CosmoProf Licensed to Create Scholarship in 2018.

Heather Wilson, 45, worked as a graphic designer at an advertising agency, multi-media studio and technology consultancy before becoming a freelancer following the birth of her son. After 20 years, Wilson found herself longing for a career that was three-dimensional, tactile and personalized. Following much consideration and concern that it might be too late to throw herself into something that had always called to her, Wilson decided to pursue her dream of a career in beauty and enroll at Aveda Institute in Atlanta. In 2019, she was awarded the Sydell & Arnold Miller Family │Art of Hair Coloring Scholarship.

Below, Beesley and Wilson share their perspective on beauty as an encore career.

SALON TODAY:  What are some benefits that “age and experience” offer you as a new hairstylist?

Beesley: Life experience and self-awareness have helped me approach this career much differently than I might have when I was younger. My years of life experience have made me more mature, grounded, grateful, focused and less judgmental than when I was younger. I am approaching this career shift maturely grounded, with a level head and self-knowledge, which allows me to know where my talents lie and how I can excel in this industry.

Wilson: A lot of maturing is about being responsible and mitigating risk. I had to give myself permission to try something new and potentially fail at it. It is daunting to walk away from previous sweat equity in another field, but many skills are transferable and previous experience is a great teacher. Changing careers feels like the opportunity of a lifetime. If age teaches you anything, it’s that you shouldn’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know”. Wisdom is just the drive to find out.

ST: What advice would you offer other more mature workers thinking of a career change?

Beesley:  It’s never too late to start something new, change your career, and follow your dreams. When I was considering this shift, I was scared for the first time in a long while. I realized this was something I needed to do; to face the fear of the unknown. Since making the decision, I feel like the universe has been opening doors for me, patting me on the back as I move along, proving to me that I am on the right path. For others thinking about shifting callings, I’d say don’t let fear stop you, let it propel you. If you are comfortable, you are not growing.

Wilson: It’s important to be open and humble. Stepping into a new industry means starting over. Many skills are transferable, but be prepared to be the world’s oldest intern. You are new here and it has to feel like a lifetime opportunity and not a demotion. My mom received her bachelor’s degree at age 53 and has always been my biggest cheerleader and role model. I learned from my mom that it’s never too late to make a shift.

ST: What does your family think about your encore career path?

Beesley:  My mom has seen me evolve and return home to my West Texas roots. When I called her and told her I’d decided to go to barber school, she was totally accepting. Actually, my favorite uncle was a very successful hairstylist and I included images of him and his career success in my scholarship application video.

Wilson: I first started batting around the idea of becoming a hairstylist about five years ago. There were family logistics and financials but my husband and son have been unconditionally supportive.