Career choices after 40

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A gold foil number 40 balloon is held high in the air by caucasian male hand. The image has been taken outdoors on a bright sunny day, the sky is blue with some clouds.

Being around 40 is a strange age for men and women. Statistics show that this is the time of life-changing decisions. For women, it’s the time to get back to work or find a new career after the children are less demanding, and for men, it’s the time when the big question comes up:

“Is that all there is?”

Todays 40-somethings have much higher expectations from life than previous generations.

They grew up with the idea that anything is possible. They hear about all the people who made it in life, and somehow they want to be part of this. The amount of employees unhappy with their jobs, employers or working environments has never been higher.

Times are changing faster and faster, and the bombardment with information and news is relentless. It makes the decision process even harder.

No wonder then, that with the midlife crises often also comes the fear of losing out or not getting the corner. But is this the best time to make life-changing decisions?

How to avoid the panic button

Most 40- to 50-year-olds are starting to panic and randomly apply for any job that is not like their current one in the hope that this will change everything. They get rejected over and over and assume that they are too old and stuck. In my experience, this is rarely the case if a more strategic approach is taken.

I always advise starting with an entrepreneurial approach. Become proactive and do your homework. Even if you’re in a job, make sure you understand the market where your skills and experiences are needed.

This has to go beyond your current employer. Being up-to-date with your market makes it easy to know where you need to improve to generate more value and move forward. It also warns you early enough if there is any danger in the air that might impact your career.

Start by thinking about your current position. What skills and experiences do you have? Then look at ways how you could apply those differently. Just because you’re a great mechanic doesn’t mean that is all you can do. You could teach, advice, develop or invent.

Learning to adapt

In all of these sectors, your skill is most likely on high demand. Apply a little twist to your abilities. List everything that makes you stand out – not just in your business, but also your character, style and mindset.

Before you jump out of a job, make sure that you understand what you’re walking away from.

We often get so stuck in our head that we can’t see what is happening. Identify why you want to walk away. I am sure not everything is terrible. List the things you want to change. Sometimes it’s just a little thing, and the same job in another company can give you back your spirit and drive.

If you made the jump and you’re out of work, trying to get back in, make sure you know what you want. Don’t just run from one interview to another, but target the market that suits you and where your skills, talents and experiences are of value. Be clear of what you want and show that in your CV and your interviews. If they don’t think you can deliver, they won’t take you. So show that you can.

Assess the risks and rewards

If you decide to go it alone and start your own business, prepare yourself for a steep learning curve. You might be top in your market, but running a business is far more than that. You probably have to learn about bookkeeping, taxes, legal issues, etc. The list can be long.

I would advise you to join a team or create one which covers the different skills required. But you still have to learn how to be a great team member and leader. Whatever way you look at it, it’s going to be hard work. But the biggest hurdle will be you and the way you can handle the uncertainty and risk of starting a business. It isn’t for everyone. But the rewards can be amazing.

Sometimes starting out on your own is the only option you can see to get the things you want to do. But be prepared and get support right from the beginning.

If you understand that then there is never a bad time for a life-changing decision.

I personally believe that the way it currently goes, 40-year-olds have another 30-35 years of work in front of them. So be prepared for a long time ahead. Even though you’re just starting, your best times are still to come.

What’s your future career going to look like?

John Di Stefano

An entrepreneur at heart and founder of the Entrepreneur Academy in Brussels, Belgium. He is teaching and supporting entrepreneurs in the skills every entrepreneur needs to create a better life for themselves and the people around them.

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