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How to choose a career at 40?

Written By

Stacy Duhon

Principal at Duhon Coaching and Consulting

Briefly Speaking

In your 40's? Still finding out how to choose a career? Find out what's most important factor to consider in midlife career transitions.
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Contemplating how to choose a career at or after 40 can be nerve wracking and scary. And it seems more and more people these days are thinking about such changes.  And they are usually faced with the dilemma:  Do you stay in the same career because it is comfortable, secure and you are good at it? Or do you go after that career that you have always dreamed of but have never dared to take action on?  

In contemplating what to share with you on this topic, I thought about many things I could write about:  providing job search tips on how to go about switching careers, listing resources that are available for mid-life career changers, pros and cons of switching at this age, how to prepare financially for such a switch or some other practical guidance….but it all seemed so boring!  And anyway, I am not an expert in those areas. So I decided to share with you something more personal and dear to my heart and an area that I am an expert in — inspiring others to listen to the whispers in their soul and then take action in the direction of their dreams. 

Actually, asking yourself how to choose a career at or near 40 is the perfect age to be contemplating this.  You are much clearer about who you are, what you like, what your skills are and what you bring to the table. Also, you are also probably present to the brevity of life given you have now lived half of your life with only half to go. It’s a great time to reflect as to whether you want the next 40 years to go in the same direction as the last 40 years.  This reflection can be sobering at times! Furthermore, it can be the catalyst to get you in action. 

So if you are contemplating making a career change that you have always dreamed of and are trying to choose if you ‘should’ make a change or not based on ‘reasons’ why it’s a good idea or a bad idea. Throw away that pro and con list. What there is to do is to listen closely to the voice that speaks to you in your quiet moments — the one that shares with you what you long for and reminds you of what makes you smile.  Turn up the loud speaker on what your soul is sharing with you.  

I have coached numerous clients in this area and what I do know is: not listening to that voice that whispers to you is like living a slow death. It is stifling, has you feel small, drains your energy and can be depressing beyond belief.  You won’t feel fully alive until you are listening and taking action. As Steve Jobs so eloquently shared:

“I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

If you have a dream or a vision of something you have always wanted to do, you may be plagued with the thoughts of:  

  • It sounds silly
  • I can’t possibly make a living out of it
  • I’m too old to switch careers
  • I might fail so it’s wiser/safer to stay in a field I am good at
  • It is ridiculous to leave a known stable career for something unknown

Please know, those are common thoughts. And you wouldn’t be human if these didn’t cross your mind.  However, don’t let these thoughts paralyze you.  It is your one and only precious life and you get to choose how it will be used. Another message Steve Jobs stated was:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

If you are nearing 40 (or any age for that matter) and you know or have an inkling that you are not engaged in the life work that you long for, then please

  • STOP being willing to settle
  • LISTEN to the voice whispering to you
  • HAVE COURAGE to take action

And please know, not only have I coached and supported many clients on their journey to a career that they had only dreamed of before, but I also have been in your shoes and have a sense of what you may be going through.  In my mid-thirties, I was introduced to the world of coaching and couldn’t believe that people could coach as a career!  I knew I had to be a coach.

The problem was, however, that I had a stable, lucrative, fulfilling  position with the biotech industry – a career that I never even contemplated leaving up to that point. So the voice spoke to me for many years before I would take it seriously.  After all, who thinks about leaving such a good career and how to choose a career again?  Definitely no one that I personally knew! That just seemed too risky.

The concept of leaving my biotech career was terrifying but that little voice inside me got louder and would not leave me alone and I felt like I was selling out on myself.  And I knew I had to make the leap.  Over a period of 5 years, in spite of the fear and uncertainty, I took the steps necessary to make a career change. At the age of 37, while still working full time in my biotech role, I went back to school to get my Masters in a coaching related field and then continued to get my coaching certification.  

It was not easy. I had to make sacrifices (time, money, personal life, etc.) and those few years were hard but I knew I had no choice but to move forward toward my dream because otherwise I would die inside.  And I was not willing to feel that way anymore.   I now have my own coaching practice and am thankful to myself for not settling, listening to my voice within and having the courage to take action because I am now living my dream.  I am happy. And my soul is smiling.

One of my favorite quotes that helped me tremendously during my career transition was by Anais Nin: “And the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

I was no longer willing to be in a bud.  It was my time to blossom.  How about you?  Isn’t it time for you to blossom?   You can have the career you want.  It is possible. It is attainable. And only you can take the first step.

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