Stick or Twist? A Career Change at 40

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For many people, turning 40 is such a significant milestone, though I don't know why it should be.  Some folk have what is often called a 'mid-life crisis', for me I am not so sure it is a crisis, more of a reflection on their life so far and re-evaluation of what they want, not just in their career but in all areas of the life.

Changing your career at 40 can feel more daunting than if you change it at 30. Maybe you are panicking you've been working for near on the past 20 years and you have got nothing really to show for it? Have your life chances changed that drastically? Did you think after putting in the hours and hard work, you'd be higher up the career ladder by now? Do you go for a promotion, not because you want that role specifically, but because you don't want to do the role you have been for the last 20 years anymore? How many promotions have you gone for but been unsuccessful? There are points in our lives where we question the life we are living, and this includes what our career has given us.

I wasn't 40 when I changed careers as such, it came a few years later, but it was the catalyst for the change. At 40, I was exploring different learning opportunities. The motivation was twofold, to find a different way to work with the client group I had at the time and for my own development as part of a long-term plan for the evolution of my career. I'd like to say that the plan was detailed and fully formed, but it wasn't. It was just a rough idea that something needed to change and for me, it wasn't about climbing the corporate ladder into management.

One of the things we seem very reluctant to do, is invest in ourselves and our development. Especially when working in the public sector, there seems to be a belief that any personal (if it also benefits the organisation) or professional development should be part and parcel of the job you are doing, and thus funded by the organisation you are working for. But let's face it, over the past 10 years during times of austerity, budgets have been limited and when was the last time you did any training outside of the organisation? If you are waiting for you organisation to invest in you, you might be waiting a long time.

There is a school of thought that you should be investing 10% of your earnings in your own personal development and growth. For a lot of people, this might not be doable or might seem downright obscene, you may be sat there thinking, how can I spend £2-3000+ every year just on myself? And that is part of the problem, you are not spending it like you would do on a car or a holiday. It is not money going on an item which will be over in 2 weeks or something which depreciates in value.  This is an investment in you and your future, and are you not worth it? Even if you invested just 5 % of your income on your personal development, where might this lead a year or two down the line? Over the years, I have spent a lot of money on various training courses, learning events. Some were enjoyable but didn't lead to anything further other than to give me a different perspective or knowledge which I could apply to another context. But there are other courses I have done, seminars I have attended and books I've purchased, where I have certainly seen a return on investment.

Changing your career at 40, poses a few different challenges. As you have been working longer, your salary could be significantly higher than it was at 30. It's not inconceivable to think that with the higher salary, you have moved to a larger house and so you are financially committed to a bigger mortgage. Potentially you also have more commitments outside of work, making it difficult to create space within your already busy lifestyle to fit in socialising with your new work colleagues. And by now, you less willing to change who you are to try to fit in or be accepted, than you were when you left school and started working. You are you and no longer feel the need to not true to yourself...or maybe that is just me. There are both your own judgements and those of others to contend if you do change to a totally different career and are starting out. But again, this comes down to people's perceptions and expectations; and, you must remember that within your working life, by the age of 40, you have more years still to work than you have done so far. If you want a visual representation, then here you go; think of days of the week representing a decade in your life. If you started your working life midweek, you have only worked Wednesday and Thursday by the time you are 40, you still have Friday, Saturday and Sunday to go! Do you want to be miserable over the weekend of your working life?

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You question your beliefs around having job stability, starting over again, wondering if the grass is greener on the other side and when you do make the switch realising it perhaps wasn't and now potentially regretting the decision. The reality is the grass on the other side is always different because it isn't the same grass. Regret, at this stage, is just an indicator that you need to do something about the situation you are in and change it. After all, you don't really regret changing your career or leaving a job, because you wouldn't have done it in the first place if you were truly happy with your previous career. You left or changed it for a reason, or possible several reasons. The emotion you feel now is not regret but disappointment, anger or frustration in response to your new work place or career not being what you thought it would or that it isn't any more enjoyable than your last role. The emotions you experience is a response to your expectations not being met.

Here's the thing, it's OK to acknowledge something didn't work out and that your new role or career, isn't for you; if you don't try things, you'll never know. And you have crossed off an area which doesn’t suit you, so you know you're one step closer now to the career, which is enjoyable, fulfilling and satisfying and the one that fits you more. And if you don’t know which step to take next, that is also OK, and this is where I come in as a Career and Life Coach to help.

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You will doubt yourself and question whether you are going to be going from job to job now. Equally you'll get comments from others which, at times, echo your own thoughts and doubts. But who's life are you living? Who says we must stay in a job which makes us miserable? Who says we should stick at job for X amount of years? Who says we can't or shouldn't change our career at 40? And, who says it is irresponsible to leave a stable job to pursue a dream?

I think you have a responsibility to yourself to be the best version of you and to live your best life. You have a responsibility to model behaviour you want to see in others, to never settle for something which makes you unhappy or unfulfilled and to strive to create the future you want. Because I can guarantee this, if you don't live the life you want, when you come to the end of it and you are looking back you will regret you didn't.

However, on the flip side, what if you changed your career and you went into something which was amazing? I didn’t stay in my second career, but I did love that job in the beginning. I met some amazing people; I made a lot of close friends. I had experiences and been in situations I would never have believed. It wasn’t all good, but I made sure I took something positive from every situation, conversation and interaction I had. I left because I was no longer doing the thing that I loved, the role had changed, the expectations were different, I felt restricted and conflicted, so I chose to remove myself from that environment. The career I have now has evolved from what I did previously. Was it a risk? Possibly, but risk is relative, and it would have been more detrimental to stay in a job which was no longer for me than to change it. I have fantastic opportunities ahead of me and I’m excited about the next step in creating my future.

You can stay as you are, but if you do then you know what you’re going to get. You’ll know what your future will be. If you change career, the future might be uncertain and at times scary and it might also not turn out to be what you want it to be. But maybe it will also be the best decision you ever made. Leading you off in a direction you never thought possible, give you opportunities you had never dreamed about and along the way you might have discovered something about yourself you never knew existed.

Sometimes it’s about priorities and short-term compromises for long term gains. You also have more choices than you think you do and would be able to make a compromise or sacrifice somewhere in order to experience a pay off in the long term. If a career change at 40 is on the horizon for you and you don’t try, you’ll never know. It’s up to you.

Stick or twist, what’s it going to be?