Ask Can I change my career after 40?

Mid-life crisis: my work life is empty. Can I change my career after 40? Find out at

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Question: For the last dozen years, I have worked at a job in information technology that has not challenged me or required (or encouraged) me to grow my technical skills. Though my pay, benefits and job security are good, I feel that my skills are declining, and the possibility of transferring to a better (or equal) job is dwindling.

Part of the problem is that I am not really very interested in information technology anymore. It was always just the best-paying work that I could find. Now I am facing the fact that good pay does not equate to total job satisfaction.

I am middle-aged (46) and share with my partner and her children a lifestyle that would not be possible if I quit working to go back to school, to discover employment that really interests and satisfies me -- or if I started over in an entry-level job in a new field. Moreover, I have no real idea what that field would be.  Surely I am not the first middle-aged person to discover that his work life is empty. What is the best plan for discovering -- mid-life -- my true calling and pursuing it?

Answer Paywizard:

You are certainly not the first middle-aged person to consider switching careers. As the PayWizard, I am frequently communicating with people in your position, professionals with both financially satisfying jobs and families but feel dissatisfied with the direction that their work-lives have taken. Check out this article in USA Today, “Switching Jobs for Meaning, Not Money,” if you’d like to read more about others sharing your experiences.

For many people, work is not just a task to get done, but rather one of the most significant things that defines who they are. Often, and usually for financial reasons, people find themselves in jobs that are not in-sync with their personalities, priorities, or passions – or they may feel “stuck” doing something that they just do not enjoy anymore while not feeling their skills progressing. This seems to be very similar to your concern.

So the question is now, should you follow your true calling? I would say, if your desire is strong enough, ABSOLUTELY! I know that this might be stating the obvious, but we only do have one life to live and finding reward and meaning in your work can be one of the most important things you can ever do. The next step is to find out how you can make what you want to do happen. You mention that you have a family to consider, but this does not have to be a hindrance to your career. (Quite the contrary!  Communicate your concerns, goals, and excitement to your family, and bring them with you in this adventure.) There are many options for adults considering changing a career. In order to get started on what you really want to do, I would consider taking these steps:

  1. Examine different fields to determine what interests you most – you can easily do this by exploring different occupations. You may want to check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook to get a feel for the salaries and working conditions of hundreds of occupations. If you just want salary information, please check out the PayWizard’s Salary Survey.
  2. Find out what type of training/education you need to get to where you want – Whether you decide to be a lawyer or a college professor, there are literally hundreds of schools from which you could attend at night or through distance education. Identify universities in your area that you would be interested in attending and then find out whether they offer adult education classes and/or programs.
  3. Look for financial support offered by your firm – Many firms fund their employees’ education as an added “perk.” Find out what kind of reimbursement programs your firm offers for employees interested in continuing their education.
  4. Enroll! – Finally, once you’re sure you know what you’d like to do and know how to get there, go and do it! Enroll in the classes or programs that you need to be on your way to your dream job. Since you are surely not alone in your pursuit, once you begin looking, you are likely to meet others throughout your coursework, at the local Small Business Development Center, your local library, online, etc. who can share this experience with you.


Best of luck with your search!

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