In this Career Change blog series, I’ll be exploring the dynamics of a career change at three different age milestones: 30, 40, and 50. One thing to remember about career change is that no matter what age you are, it’s possible if you want to make it happen. Of course, along the way, there are different challenges unique to each age group – and in these posts, I want to explore the differences people tend to experience at different life stages when navigating a career change.
Career change at any age can be daunting, but at 40 it can be especially tough. At the age of 40, it’s likely you’ve worked for a number of years in a specific career path already, and you may be really well-established and successful in your field. Changing careers could feel like a major risk. Leaving behind your current career, with all your years of experience and knowledge, to think about shifting into a new one, could feel impossible. I’m here to tell you that it’s not impossible. Anyone can make a career change if they really want it. However, that doesn’t mean that’s it not going to be a major challenge. It’s not going to be easy – but if you’re not happy with what you’re currently doing, it’s going to be worth it!
Most people you ask (co-workers, friends, and family included) will likely tell you that you should be focused on growing in your current career and saving for expenses, such as children’s college, retirement, and whatever else may be on the horizon. And it’s true to an extent – financial concerns are generally a big focus at 40. At this age, financial responsibilities are huge – it’s likely you have a mortgage, a spouse, and even kids to worry about. So a career change isn’t going to be entirely straightforward, and that’s okay.
It’s not all bad though – despite what I’ve just said, there are some serious advantages to changing your career at 40 too. You’ve likely got 20 years of work experience, so you’ve probably already learned a lot about what you like and what you don’t like. It’s probably true that you’ll have a lot more insight into what you’d like to do now than you did in your 20’s or 30‘s.
And if you really think about it, it’s a perfect time for a change too…. really. Despite what I said at the beginning of this article. Although people might tell you to focus on saving for retirement, the reality is that you still have a LOT of years left in your career. It’s worth it to put the effort in to discover a career you’re excited about, as you still could have 20+ years left in the workforce.
So what are some of the main challenges you might face when you’re navigating a career change in your 40’s? Read on to find out:
Challenge #1: Managing Financial and Personal Responsibilities
In your 40’s, as I mentioned above – it’s more likely that you have a mortgage, children, and maybe even caretaking responsibilities for aging parents. These types of responsibilities don’t leave you with a lot of extra time or money to pursue a career change.
This doesn’t make it impossible, but it can certainly make it more challenging. For example, some careers might require full-time study in order to make the switch. This could be especially challenging if you’re raising a family and you also need to earn a full-time income.
You may want to explore part-time and hands-on learning opportunities. Once you identify the skills needed for your new career, it’s important to explore all the options available to gain those new skills. Are there ways to learn new skills through part-time study or learning online? Or, if you need to gain hands-on experience, could you volunteer or take on some consulting opportunities to gain those new skills? Keep in mind that full-time study is not the only way to gain knowledge, skills, and experience to transition to a new role.
Also, when considering a career change, try to think about your transferable skills. Try to think about how you can leverage the skills you’ve already built through your years of experience and education to transition into a new career.
Regardless of how important your responsibilities are, this doesn’t mean that your desire for a career change is unimportant. It’s definitely important and needs to be a priority along with all the other important things in your life. To make a career change work, you’ll need to plan your time carefully and make a commitment to consistently working on a gradual career change.
Challenge #2: Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
One of the biggest challenges during a career change is actually stepping out of your comfort zone and moving towards the possibility of changing careers. This can be a bit terrifying, honestly, especially if you’ve been in the same career for a long time. It can be hard to finally admit “I want to change careers, and I’m looking to become a ________” for the first time. Especially if you’re focused on the responses of others, particularly negative ones.
Before you start to reach out of your comfort zone, I recommend surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family. Some of your greatest supporters throughout this process may not include some of your closest friends and family members. As I mentioned, many people might discourage you from making a career change and tell you that you should be focused on stability and building your career. If you hear this a lot, it’s okay to listen to the advice, but take it with a grain of salt. Try talking to friends and family that have already experienced a career shift of some kind, whether it’s changing roles, companies, or starting their own business. They’ll have a stronger understanding of what you’re going through and might even have helpful advice about how they did it.
A Career Coach or Counsellor can also be very helpful when you’re just starting your transition as well. It can be very insightful to speak with a neutral, third party to get insight on your experience and background. Career coaches may also ask you questions that you haven’t thought of, help you get a sense of your values, preferences, and interests, and help you overcome any hurdles along the way.
Challenge #3: Using (and Building Your Network)
As I said above, it can be a real challenge to finally admit that you want to change your career and start working towards it.
In your 40’s, your network can be extremely beneficial to your career transition. You’ve likely gained a lot of contacts throughout your career already, and that’s a huge advantage. You can potentially leverage this network to start building connections for your new career.
LinkedIn is a great way to re-connect with existing connections and build new ones, so I’d suggest you start out there. It’s probably a great time to create a profile if you don’t have one or revamp an existing profile to start reaching out to your connections.
I also recommend conducting informational interviews to start learning more about the types of careers you’d like to work towards. It’s a great way to learn more about potential careers/industries and gain more information about the skills you might need to launch a career transition. It can also help you build new connections to expand your network.
Final Tip for Career Change (At Any Age)
The most important thing to remember is that the only one who can decide if a career change is right for you… is you! Everyone else in your life (friends, family, co-workers, bosses, etc.) may have opinions and insight, but the opinion that matters the most is yours. You are the only one who can truly know what you want to do with your life, and although others can help, the final decision is ultimately yours.
However – If you are facing the prospect of waking up every day, wishing you didn’t have to go to work, and wishing the days away waiting for the weekends – that’s a clear sign you need a change.
A career coach or counsellor can help if you know you need a change, but don’t know how to get there. If you’re facing a career change, I’d love to help you! My blog has lots of articles to help get you started, and I offer a wide range of services including career coaching, career assessments, resume writing, and interview coaching.