Earn Careers

What You Should Know About Changing Careers in Your 40s

Elizabeth Crook  |  August 22, 2018

You’re feeling paralyzed by the financial risk that comes with a job change. Good news: You still have time to change careers in your 40s.

You may not have had much life experience in your 20s, but you didn’t have a huge mortgage payment or the kids’ college tuition looming in the future, either. Now that you’re older, you’re feeling restless, yet paralyzed by the financial risk that comes with a new career path. Good news: You still have time for a career change at 40.

It’s ironic that when we have the most to offer in the workplace and should feel the most confident, we also have the most responsibility — and most acute fear of financial risk. The good news is that, with a little re-framing, you don’t have to be held back by these fears. Here’s why.

You Have Plenty of Time

If you are in your 40s, you’ve probably logged more than 20 years of experience in your industry. But you still have another 20 years to do something you’ve never done before.

When I was in my 40s, I held a primary position in a technology startup. Burned out from long hours and working for someone else, I knew it was time for a change, but I felt like it was too late.

Then I looked at my father, an innovative pediatrician, who started writing books in his 50s. At 69, he wrote a million-copy bestseller. He was 28 years older than I was when I began rethinking my life plan. That’s when I knew I had plenty of time to create a robust new career.

And I did. I’m now the CEO of a growing company that helps individuals and companies thrive through strategic planning, team alignment, execution and accountability.

Don’t Be Trapped by Your Current Title or Skill Set

By your 40s, you’ve probably mastered the skills required for your current job. I like to call these skills your “know-whats.” It’s easy to think those are all you know.

But your “know-hows” are what are really important. They are the processes you’ve mastered — activities like recruiting, hiring, onboarding personnel, building a team, creating a budget, facilitating a project, managing people, giving presentations and resolving conflict. These know-how skills will be valuable no matter what industry you want to work in.

Don’t get stuck in your know-whats. Instead, make a list of your know-hows. (Remember, these are the processes you know how to do.) Then think of those as your signature strengths.

The Limitations You Had as a 20-Something No Longer Hold You Back

This third point became clear to me when I met Linda, a woman who had successfully developed relationships with key accounts in the printing industry. When she hit her 40s, she began to notice that her employer had become blind to changing trends in the industry. Knowing that the company would eventually lose out to the competition, she decided to take the next step.

But she was hesitant. Lowering her voice, she told me, “What you don’t know is that I don’t have a college degree. My mother said I wasn’t that smart and didn’t deserve one. Once people learn that, they won’t hire me.”

What Linda did have was a solid track in her industry. Once she got over the hump that the college degree was the holy grail, she was able to start working for a thriving business in a different industry that valued her experience.

So, ask yourself: Are you holding onto old beliefs about yourself that no longer apply?

Recognize That the World Has Changed

Even though the gender wage gap still exists, there have been changes in the workplace over the past 20 years. Women are more common in fields that used to be dominated by men.

We are thriving in every field from technology to manufacturing. And the virtual world has created a new horizon that never existed in the past. New companies, new industries, new flexibilities — take advantage of these unlimited possibilities by changing careers at 40.

Not Changing Can Be Riskier Than Changing

When faced with a career change at 40, it’s tempting to believe that it’s just too frightening. We focus on all the risks of changing — but we rarely ask what risks there are in not changing.

Dissatisfaction at work can affect many other areas of your life — your health, your relationships, even the example you set for your kids. Staying in a bad work situation could even lead to depression or anxiety.

Here’s the wonderful truth: You have this one precious life to live. And you are right smack dab in the middle of that life. It’s OK to take that leap in your 40s. You have experience, you are no longer who you were at 20, your list of know-hows is probably very impressive, and every day, the world of what’s available is opening up wider and wider.

And, if you don’t risk changing, we may never learn what’s truly possible.

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