Here’s the good news: A career change at 40 can bring you happiness and more success.
According to a study by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER)1https://www.aier.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/newcareersolderworkers-aier.pdf, people who attempt a career change over the age of 40 are successful and much happier due to the change. If you’re thinking about a career change and are well past your twenties, this is the perfect time for you!
What Is A Career Change?
A career change is when you make any job change that also requires you to learn new skills in a different industry or position. While this might sound overwhelming, it’s an exciting opportunity to change the whole trajectory of your life.
And know this—if you’re thinking about a career change, you aren’t alone.
“In any given year, there are between one and two million older career changers*.”—AIER
Note: “Older career changers” was classified in this study as anyone between 44 and 65, but our guide is relevant for anyone 30 or older to help you navigate making the change.
What Are The Benefits Of A Career Change?
The benefits of a career change include being more fulfilled, happier, and less stressed. While making a change at any age can feel unsettling and frightening, many benefits await you. This is true whether this change is your choice or the result of circumstances outside of your control.
Benefits of a career change:
- Pay growth for women peaks2https://www.payscale.com/research-and-insights/peak-earnings/ at around age 44. If you’re a woman looking for a mid-career change, don’t hold on to your old job in hopes of increased pay growth.
- 90% of career changers1https://www.aier.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/newcareersolderworkers-aier.pdf reported feeling happier, less stressed, and successful overall.
- 50% of successful career changers saw increased pay1https://www.aier.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/newcareersolderworkers-aier.pdf.
- 72% report feeling like a new person1https://www.aier.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/newcareersolderworkers-aier.pdf after their career change.
Beyond the benefits, why would you want to make a career change in the first place?
There are many reasons! Making a career change allows you to pursue forgotten or discarded dreams or simply the ability to build a new dream. Here are some of the reasons people may consider a career change.
- Becoming a parent or partner meant setting aside your dreams when you were younger. Your kids are grown up, and you might even be single again. It’s time to prioritize yourself.
- You never believed in yourself enough to pursue what you loved, but now you’re ready.
- You cared for aging parents or a loved one instead of pursuing your career of choice, and now you’re exploring new options.
- You took the expected career path and are now questioning that decision.
- You lost your job for any number of reasons and didn’t want to keep doing the same thing.
- You feel stagnant and are looking for a change.
- You’ve accomplished as much as possible in your first career and are seeking a new challenge.
- Your job has become increasingly stifling and toxic.
- You’ve discovered retirement can be boring, and you want to spend your latter years pursuing something more meaningful.
Whatever your reason, we have some practical steps to help you transition successfully.
What Are The Challenges Of A Career Change?
There are challenges to making a career change, and many of these difficulties are less about tangible barriers and more about the expectations you and others might have. Even if you’re only 30, you’ve spent at least half a lifetime building and pursuing a specific goal or set of goals. If you’re in your 40s or older, this change can begin to feel impossible.
But why is that? Why is it so hard to pursue something new?
At this stage, you’re likely an expert or well-versed in your field. Whether manning a front desk, overseeing production operations in a factory, or leading an international team of experts, you have honed and refined your skills over years of challenges and daily repetition.
Yet, this could be part of what keeps you from making a change.
“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind, there are few.”– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Zen Master
You’ve spent a lifetime building something, and your life has naturally been shaped to accommodate your career. Don’t let this keep you from pursuing the next fulfilling stage in your life!
Some challenges you may face:
- Not knowing what’s expected of you
- Feeling stupid or ignorant
- Learning new things
- Feelings of instability and uncertainty
It’s not time for you to fade into obscurity; it’s time for you to fulfill something new and fresh. It may feel like you’re surrendering your position of authority and knowledge when in reality, a career change is an opportunity to use your hard-earned skills in an innovative and fresh landscape.
Making a career change will mean stepping out of your comfort zone, but the end result will be worth it.
How to Make a Successful Career Change
We’ve identified the most important steps to help you make a successful career change. Make sure to bookmark or print this article so you can refer to it at the various stages of your change.
1. Identify Your Values
Values are the things that mean the most to you in life, and whether you’re aware of it or not, they guide your decision-making and how you view the world. As you think about your career, your values should be front and center to help you decide.
When a workplace corresponds to your values, you will be happier. This is true regardless of your age, but it becomes even more important in this stage of life. Your values may have changed, and it’s a good time to stop and reassess what truly matters to you.
Action Step: Ask yourself what makes you feel safe, valued, and successful. You can take this even further by looking at what makes you angry! When values are violated, that usually causes emotional distress of some kind. This is a great way to reverse-engineer a list of values. For example, if you get upset when coworkers don’t complete their tasks, you probably have a high value for responsibility.
2. Pay Attention to Excitement or Dissatisfaction
If you’re considering a career change, you’ve likely been feeling dissatisfied. Or maybe, you’ve been surprised to find your interest piqued by something new. Excitement and dissatisfaction are good indicators that it’s time to make a change.
While a certain level of monotony is normal to any career, it should be balanced by a sense of satisfaction in your work. You’ve faithfully shown up for work even on the worst days, which is highly commendable. But if there is an awakening desire to pursue something fresh and new, start to listen to that growing excitement. It could be an indication of a new path for you to take.
Motivational speaker Mel Robbins encourages you to pursue what gives you energy instead of chasing your passions.
Action Step: What is one thing at work that has become increasingly difficult or monotonous for you? What is one thing that energizes you or that you constantly think about? Write these down.
Pro Tip: Not sure what excites you? Check out this fun list of unique career paths and write down any of the jobs that pique your interest. If nothing stirs your interest, think back to the last time you felt happy or excited. What were those feelings connected to? You may have to follow a bread trail to rediscover what your heart really cares about. Our best tip is to be curious and try out new things!
3. Make the Change Before Making the Change
Once you’ve started to identify the need for a change and what you’d like to pursue, don’t rush into a decision.
Calmly assess your options; if you can, explore them first without making a total life change. The last thing you want is to decide too quickly and end up in a new career you don’t like.
This might mean doing research in the evenings or on the weekends or even shifting to a 4-day work week, so you have one day devoted to exploring your next steps.
Action Step: This week, find a way to explore your fresh idea. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Sign up for a webinar to learn more about what’s involved in this new industry.
- Take a class or workshop to build the skills needed for the next career.
- Look for a volunteer opportunity in your dream career.
- Connect to a mentor willing to answer questions and guide you.
Pro Tip: Don’t spend too long on this step! If you’re the type who struggles to make a change, we don’t want you to get stuck and not move forward. Set a timeline of how long you will research and explore before deciding what to do.
4. Know When to Let Go
Sometimes, unfulfilled dreams haunt you, but when that dream is finally in front of you, you realize it’s not what you wanted all along.
This will take getting honest with yourself.
Ask yourself some questions:
- What is my deeper motivation for wanting this thing?
- Am I trying to prove something to myself or other people? If so, will I be satisfied if I accomplish my goal?
- If I never do this, will I always regret it?
- Is my dream holding me back from accomplishing something even more fulfilling?
Give yourself the freedom to let go of a dream. Sometimes, when you let go, you’ll discover the dream was just a seed for something much bigger.
5. Define Your Success
Once you’ve got an idea of your values, how your dreams correspond with them, and what you really want, it’s time to define your success. Get as specific and detailed as possible.
Instead of defining success as “Becoming an art therapist,” dig deeper. For example, “Using my art to share hope and healing.” Once you’ve pressed into this deeper layer of success, ask yourself whether your definition of success really aligns with the broader goal. Do you need to become an art therapist to share hope and healing?
Or maybe you’ve always wanted to pursue what looks like the glamorous world of being a writer. Dig deeper. What do you want to say as a writer? How do you want to make people feel?
This connects to the previous step of knowing when to let go of your dreams and when your dreams need to be reformed to align with who you are today.
Action Step: Sit down and write out a detailed list of goals. Make them specific, measurable, attainable, and time-bound.
Pro Tip: Don’t define success based on who you used to be or wish you were today. Instead, define success by the person you’re becoming and the person you want to be tomorrow.
6. Find Someone Who Supports You
All of this takes courage! Find someone who will encourage and support you through this process if you can.
Do you have a partner, good friend, mentor, or trusted family member you can share with? Choose someone who won’t scoff at your dreams but already supports your growth.
Action Step: Craft an elevator pitch for your dream career and use that to tell your selected person about the upcoming changes you’d like to pursue. Ask them to hold you accountable and help you persevere to accomplish this goal.
Pro Tip: If you’re in a committed relationship, this step should happen early. Talk it out with your partner, discuss what it might mean financially, and explore other ways it could impact your life. Remember, a big change for you is also a big change for them. Listen to their reservations, and be open to adjusting your plans, timeline, or approach.
7. Build Your Confidence
As you pursue something new, press into your unique gifts and experiences, and banish any doubts that you’re too old or lacking in whatever way.
Younger people may not understand what you’re doing or why you’d invest time and money to change careers. But they don’t have to understand.
What’s most important is developing a deep inner confidence that this is the right decision for you. Regardless of the outcome, the process will make you stronger and personally enriched.
So how do you do that?
Honestly, learning the new skills you’ll need and taking this step of independence are all significant ways to boost your confidence! But, if a lack of confidence keeps you from getting started, remember that people between 35 and 75 have faced these challenges and successfully pursued their dreams. Don’t give up on the dream.
Check out this inspiring video on reinventing yourself and gaining more control over your life and future.
- Expect ageism, but meet it with grace and confidence. Never apologize for your age; remember you have something to contribute!
- Rethink your wardrobe. Is it time for a fashion refresh? It’s amazing what new clothes and styles can do for your confidence and change how others perceive you.
8. Start Networking or Expand Your Network
You may think you have no connections in a newly chosen industry, but you’ll just need to get a little creative. Sometimes we think of networking as something confined to actual networking events, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Every time you talk to other people, you are networking.
- If any of the people in your network have aged out of the workplace, you may think your network has shrunk, but it really hasn’t. They may be playing golf and sipping Lipton, but they likely have kids or grandkids in the workplace. Reach out to your old friends and ask if they have any connections to someone in the industry.
- If you’ve never been good at networking, look for a club to join or an organization where you can volunteer. Building new relationships can help give you fresh confidence and make the process fun.
- If you don’t know anyone in the industry, contact your current network and let them know you’re changing jobs. See if they can connect you with some new people.
Action Step: Identify 3-5 people or groups that you can ask to help you find new connections. Share the story of why you’re looking at a career change and what it means to you. Ask them for their help to make new connections or offer any advice. People like it when you ask for help!
Not sure who to ask? Here are some ideas.
- Clubs. This could be everything from your knitting group to a country club. Money and status aren’t what’s important here. Instead, a club is a group of people you regularly interact with, and the members are often a diverse group of people who share one common interest.
- Family friends. Don’t underestimate the power of family connections. Think about people in your life, even at a distance.
- Alumni chapters. When you’ve attended the same college or university, it creates an immediate connection. Plus, you’re likely to meet people who are normally outside of your personal circle.
- Local college. Even if you didn’t attend a prestigious university, they usually offer career services to their alumni. If you never attended college, get signed up for even one class at a local college, and you’ll have access to their career services.
- Former coworkers. Hopefully, you’ve kept in touch with some of your coworkers! If not, reach out to a few people, not with the intention of making a request, but just to reconnect.
- Old friends and classmates. Don’t be afraid to contact old friends on Facebook or WhatsApp to ask them if they know anyone in the industry or if they have any advice.
- Religious or social communities. Start discussing your career change with the people you’re around the most. Be clear that you’re exploring your options and can use some help with making new connections.
9. Heap on the Humility
You can make this whole process easier and smoother if you’re willing to set aside who you feel you should be and, instead, communicate with humility. While you may feel you should know everything already, remember you’ve spent your life developing other skills, and it’s natural not to know everything.
Pro Tip: People respond well to humility. As you enter a new environment, you will become winsome if you are teachable and willing to learn. And don’t forget to give yourself grace when you make mistakes or don’t get them right—wondering how to do that?
- Listen before speaking.
- Express gratitude to others.
- Don’t try to prove you know more.
- Ask for feedback, and receive it graciously.
- Remember that your performance at work is not your identity.
- If you fail or make a mistake, look for what you can learn.
- Focus on the positives––both in yourself and others.
10. Let Go of the Expectations
We all have expectations, both for ourselves and others. This can include fear of what others will think or how we expect others to act or respond. Letting go of these expectations isn’t easy. And it is a process, but it is possible.
- Pay attention to what you’re feeling and why. If you feel anxious, worried, or upset, ask yourself whether you must let go of expectations for yourself or others.
- Keep an open mind. If you catch yourself thinking, “I would never do it like that!” or “That’s wrong!” stop and check whether your assessment is fair or not. Observe the different ways others approach things, and look for how you can learn from them.
- Be flexible. This can include flexibility in pay, the hours you work, and how you interact with the team.
Pro Tip: People admire others who have the courage to make a change. Questions of age and experience fade away in the face of hard work, kindness, and courage.
Exciting Career Paths to Explore
When choosing a new career, Laura Gassner Otting encourages you to think less about transferable skills and more about translatable skills.
For example, if you’ve spent the last 10 years working in retail, your skills in customer service could easily translate to a job in the creative industry. Why? In customer service, you refined the ability to apprehend problems, calm irate customers, and quickly build connections with customers. Whether you become a graphic designer, go into marketing, or write web copy, you’ll work with clients and stakeholders where these skills and experiences will be useful.
Ask these questions to determine if a career path aligns with your goals for the future.
- What are my translatable skills?
- How much time do I want to spend working each week?
- What do I really want to spend my time doing?
- Do I want to lead, be part of a team, or work for myself?
- How much flexibility do I need?
- Would I like to work from home, in an office, or elsewhere?
- What are my physical limitations? Will that impact my ability to do this job?
- Does this career make room for my personal responsibilities?
- Will I need creative solutions to enable me to be successful?
- How much time and money will I have to invest?
Here are some career options to consider with resources to get you started.
This is our number one suggestion for a midlife career change. Consultants provide advice and guidance to a company or individual that is struggling. As a consultant, you can use all your skills and experiences to help people and businesses. The top types of consultants include:
- Strategy Consultant
- Operations Consultant
- Financial Consultant
- Information Technology Consultant
- Human Resources Consultant
Skills: Problem-solving, strategic thinking, strong interpersonal communication, flexibility, objectivity, a client-first mentality, good listener
Entry Point: MS in Management or an MBA.
If you don’t have or want to pursue either of these Master’s degrees, you can take a few classes in business and economics.
Or, just apply your years of experience regardless of your educational background. The type of consulting you do will determine what extra skills you’ll need to acquire.
Pros: Use your expertise to help other people and improve their lives.
Cons: You’ll have to work hard to maintain a good work-life balance, and client interactions can be challenging.
Get Started With These Tools:
- Harvard Business Review Consulting Overview (Article, Free)
- People School Training ($$)
- Masterclass Consultant Training ($)
- Powerful Presentation Skills Training ($)
- Harvard Business School Online ($$)
Surface Pattern Designer
A surface pattern designer creates patterns and licenses their artwork for companies to use. As a surface pattern designer, you could create artwork for everything from stationary to baby clothes to kitchen items.
Skills: Design skills (color, line, form), thorough, attentive to detail, self-motivated, persistent, determined
Entry Point: No degree required. You’ll want to take some classes or workshops to learn more about design and how to use editing programs.
Pros: Work from home in a creative environment and ultimately develop multiple streams of income.
Cons: Requires consistency and self-motivation.
Get Started With These Tools:
- Elizabeth Silver Surface Pattern Design Videos (Free)
- Skillshare Surface Pattern Design With Procreate ($)
- Coursera Fundamental of Graphic Design ($)
- Surface Pattern Design Immersion Course (Illustrator) ($$)
Everyone can write, but only some are good at writing. The only way to know if writing is for you is to start writing.
Skills: A good command of the language you’re writing in, empathy, the ability to see the world through the perspective of other people, diligence, perseverance, connection to yourself and willingness to tap into deep emotions, ability to market yourself, and curiosity.
Entry Point: No degree required; just get writing! The more you write, the better writer you’ll become. You may want to join a writing group or look for someone willing to give you honest feedback.
Equipment: A computer with Microsoft Word. You may prefer writing with pen and paper, but regardless of whether you’re writing poetry, blogs, or the next great novel, clients and agents will expect you to send either Microsoft Word files or PDFs.
Pros: Work from home and set your own schedule.
Reality Check: As a writer, you won’t be able to spend all your time writing. You’ll also write queries and proposals and search for new clients, grants, and agents. Being a writer requires determination and inner strength.
Get Started With These Tools:
- Writers Digest (Free, $, $$)
- Writer’s Group, Pitch to Publish ($)
- Problogger Job Board (Free)
- Coursera Writing Classes (Free)
- Edit with Grammarly or Hemingway App (Free, $)
If you’ve got a good head for numbers and working with people, finance could offer you a new and exciting challenge.
Skills: Trustworthy, able to translate complex financial terms into easy-to-understand language, interpersonal skills, understanding of mutual funds and trading strategies, detailed, analytical.
Entry Point: A finance-related B.A., a degree prioritizing interpersonal skills (such as Psychology), or an M.B.A.
Additionally, you’ll be looking at getting certified. In the US, certifications include Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), and Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Some also go on to get licensing.
If you don’t have a degree in finance, you’ll want to take coursework in investments, taxes, and risk management.
Pros: High-paying whether you’re self-employed or work at a financial firm.
Cons: This high-stress job requires you to stay current on regulations constantly.
Get Started With These Tools:
- Dig deeper into licensing and the full career path
- Certified Financial Planner Board
- CFA Institute
- American Institute of CPAs
- Harvard Business School Online
*This information is for financial planners in the US. Each country may have different certifications and requirements, but this will give you a starting point to research what is involved in your country or region.
More Exciting Jobs to Explore
- How to Become a Brand Strategist
- How to Become a Translator or Interpreter
- How to Become a Photographer
- How to Become a Counselor
- How to Become a Professor
- How to Become a Business Analyst
- How to Become a Recreation Director
Digital Resources to Make Your Career Change Successful
We’ve curated a list of resources to give you even more support in this process.
This self-assessment tool, recommended by Harvard Extension School, helps those interested in business determine what industry to pursue. Click here to order your assessment.
This workbook is designed as an intensive process to help you assess where you are and where you’d like to go. As you write, you’ll work through prompts to help you develop a detailed plan. Click here to open and download the workbook.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has provided a catalog of careers with projected statistics and various information about pay, growth rate, and necessary education. Use the toolbar on the side to navigate through the job categories. Click here to browse job information.
This website offers paid and free information. You can purchase detailed guides on specific industries, explore career help, and connect with mentors in your industry of choice. Click here to explore Firsthand.
- Alternative Education Options
If a degree isn’t required for the career you’re interested in, there are many options to help you gain the skills and knowledge you’ll need.
- Harvard Extension School
- Stanford Continuing Studies
- General Assembly (Communication and Design Training)
- Rhode Island School of Design Continuing Education
- Coursera (Online college-level courses, free and paid)
Regardless of your chosen career, you’ll need to sharpen your interpersonal communication. This training will give you a competitive advantage.
Master Your People Skills
- Create a Memorable Presence
- Communicate with Confidence
- Achieve Your Goals
Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.
Books to Help You Make a Career Change
- Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life by Laura Gassner Otting
If the pursuit for success has left you disillusioned and unhappy, this book will help you ditch the hustle mentality and achieve your goals.
- Cues by Vanessa Van Edwards
As you change careers, you may find yourself confused by the unwritten codes and communication of a whole new industry. Fast-track your success by learning the universal cues that people send and how to be a more charismatic communicator.
Written by a former counterterrorism professional, this book will take you deep into understanding your skills and experience. Plus, it offers the motivation you’ll need to make a career switch.
FAQs for Changing Your Career At 40
The length of time it takes to make a career change depends on what career you choose. Some careers you can easily transition into, while others will require extended education and certification.
The amount of money you spend on training depends on what is required for your new career. Before deciding, research the cost of boot camps, workshops, certifications, equipment, and startup costs. Don’t forget to take into account a pay reduction as you factor in your current expenses.
Some companies offer training scholarships, and grants and other funding are available in different industries. Before you spend your own money, find out if there is any financial support available for what you need to learn. Also, assess what level of training or certification is necessary. While some careers may require you to go to graduate school or acquire extended training, you may be able to do on-the-job training with other careers.
The best career paths to transition into are determined by your current skill set and your interests. At the end of the day, even if a career path is easy to transition into, it may not be the best decision if it’s work that you don’t enjoy.
In order to network and make connections in a new field, start attending workshops and events in your career of choice. You can also reach out to old friends and coworkers to see if they can connect you with other people. Joining local clubs is also a great way to meet new people outside your circle of influence.
A career change may negatively impact your earning potential, but that may not be bad. Before you make a change, research the average income of the career you are considering and evaluate whether there will be a pay reduction.
If there is a reduction, reduce your spending now, and see if you can live at that pay level (before leaving your current job). Also, consider whether you will have fewer costs associated with the new job and how it will impact your overall quality of life.
Changing careers is a big decision, but it’s also an exciting one! As you research and explore, enjoy this time and look forward with anticipation to all that you will accomplish. For even more support, check out our guide on using science to change your life and realize your full potential.
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