For many of us growing up, we might have been taught that life goes a little something like this: Go to school, go to college, get married, get a job, and stay in that job for the rest of your life.
This story, or one really close to it, is why so many of us struggle with changing careers after the age forty. A few different thoughts pop up:
- Something is wrong with me if I make a change now.
- I’m too old to do something different.
- It’s too late.
If you’ve told yourself these stories, we have some news for you: they are all lies.
If you are thinking of changing careers at forty, this is not only your official permission slip to do it — it’s your guide to help you find, choose, and create a second career in your forties.
Here are six steps you can take to make “career” and “happiness” show up in the same sentence for you.
1. Ignore the Masses
Making a radical change in your job or career at this stage of your life may scare other people more than it scares you. This happens because so many of us have been conditioned to believe the lies bulleted above. So, when you stand and announce your intentions to leave, there will be a percentage of people stunned by your decision.
They will criticize you, demean you, and maybe even laugh at you. They will tell you that what you want isn’t possible. And they’re not telling you this because they don’t think you can do it, they’re telling you this because they don’t believe they can do it.
- You want change and you’re ready to go after it.
- They want change but are scared to death to do it.
- And if they can’t have it, neither can you.
When these negative voices show up, walk away. These are not the voices that will help you with your new growth. They are the voices that will cripple you. Spend time in conversations with those who support your decision to make a change. You’ll need those conversations and friendships as you embark on the most exciting journey of your life.
2. Do What You Love
Changing careers doesn’t have to look like moving from one job to another. With entrepreneurship on the rise, millions of American’s are finding a way to make money on their own terms. Forty-somethings are packing up their desks at work and unpacking them back at home. They’re diving into the unknown with fervor and grace. By exploring the unknown to learn more about the work they love, they often discover the truth: this is where I truly belong.
If you know what you’ve always wanted to do (culinary chef, novelist, designer, etc.), the fact that you’re older doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t. So many men and women over thirty have been made to feel that their lives, at this stage, are over. But it’s simply not true. At this point, your true skills, passion, and dedication are only beginning to meld, and age really is just a number.
If you aren’t sure what your passion is, try taking the Passion Test by Janet Bray Attwood. It might help you move in the right direction.
3. Read Stories of Triumph
Being in the “second-act” of your life means you view the world and the people in it much differently. You have more wisdom and deeper faith. You also have more life experience. Despite this, trepidation is bound to kick in. When it does, you need to dive deep into the truth of midlife change. And the truth is, success later in life happens all the time.
- Vera Wang didn’t start her career as a high-end designer until she was 40.
- Stan Lee created his first comic book at 39.
- Samuel Jackson was 43 when he landed his first major role in a film.
- Julia Child was 50 when her first cookbook was published.
Don’t let the stigma of age keep you stuck behind a desk at a job you don’t love. Read stories of triumph when this happens. Keep reading them. Print the ones that resonate with you the most. By keeping a file or links to these kinds of successes, you can reference them when the fear and doubt kick in.
4. Make the Leap
Okay, so you decided to ignore the masses, quit your job, and leap into the unknown with Stan Lee and Julia Child.
But where do you begin?
Here’s the short list of where to go from here:
- Decide you’re making a change, plain and simple. Don’t worry about how you’re going to do it until you decide to do it first.
- Create a list of things you would like to do instead. This can include going back to school, exploring a new field, or working for yourself.
- Explore those options by educating yourself with books and talking to others who have made the change.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is the gift of conversation with someone who has done what you’re about to do. Ask these people out to lunch. Talk to them. Get a feeling of what the transition was like. Ask each one of these people every question you can think of. These people have been through the jungle and made it out alive. What route did each of them take? What struggles did they encounter? Are they happier?
Learn from those who have been there. Remember that they naysayers have no idea what making this shift is like. They only think they know, and that’s simply not the kind of information that will help you make a transition.
5. Explore Your Options
Making the decision to change careers at forty doesn’t mean you have to know exactly what kind of career change you want to make. Just knowing you want to is enough. If you know what you’d like to do as a new career, fantastic. If you’re unsure, that’s still fantastic. Not knowing gives you an opportunity to explore your options.
Look at different jobs or careers you think you might enjoy. For some people, it’s not about filling a passion as much as it is doing something completely different and fun. If you’re suffocating behind the walls of your cubicle and think you’d have more fun working at the horse stable down the road, what’s stopping you? Go to the stable. Talk to the owners. Explore your options. You never know what kinds of doors will open until you make the decision to walk through them.
6. Let Go of Money
Because we were born in a culture where the vast majority of us believe that life is about making money to pay the bills, leaving our highly secure and well-paying jobs may be difficult. Sadly, money is the reason so many of us stay in a job we don’t love. We’ve created a lifestyle that requires a certain amount of money be made to sustain it. Therefore, we believe if we leave that job everything will fall apart.
But if you’re unhappy, isn’t everything falling apart inside of you anyway?
When money becomes the only motivator in life, struggle is sure to follow. If you want change badly enough, you’ll figure it out. That horse stable job may pay half of what you were getting at the firm, but it feels so good to be outside in the sun with the horses.
No more cubicles. No more nasty coworkers. No more miserable commute. Life is simpler. When you let go of money and the belief that it dictates your life, you’ll feel more free and open than you ever have before.
Note: This one may be the scariest step of all, so don’t try to figure it out on your own. Financial gurus like Dave Ramsey, Mr. Money Mustache, and Get Rich Slowly have simple systems and advice that can help you achieve your financial goals as well as your second-career goals.
The Successful Path to Changing Careers
Changing careers at forty, fifty, or even sixty isn’t unusual. Nor is it wrong. It’s perfectly acceptable and exciting. Deciding to do things differently and explore new opportunities can make us feel alive again.
If you’ve been contemplating this kind of shift but haven’t yet yourself permission, let this be your permission slip. This is your time. It’s your life. Live it out loud and always, always, have fun.