How I Did a Career 180 When I Was Almost 40

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With the assistance of loans, I tackled four classes a semester, so I could complete my degree only a few months after my severance ended. Simultaneously, I pursued PR consulting opportunities to supplement my severance pay and nominal unemployment income. I cut back on luxuries–eating out, manicures and pedicures–and conserved gas whenever possible.

Was I Turning Into My Mother?

I’d like to think of myself as an empowered woman, but when I lost my job, my early childhood experiences with poverty triggered a momentary damsel-in-distress moment. I found myself secretly wishing for my own Prince Charming to rescue me.

My stomach churned at the notion that I believed in the same fairytale as my mother once did, but I couldn’t help it.

Meanwhile, some family members advised me to abandon California for a safer, more affordable life in the Midwest with them. I wasn’t opposed to moving to another city if the right opportunity presented itself, but my gut said to stay in California. If I were to move, I wanted it to be for a reason–not to run away.

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As far as I was concerned, I had no other choice.

Closing One Door Opens Another (or Two)

A decade earlier, I’d inquired about teaching public relations at the University of Southern California, but the timing hadn’t been right. Now, with 15 years of high-profile PR experience, the timing was right. So I began teaching at USC and Pepperdine, while I was still in grad school.

Two months before I received my degree, the non-profit agency where I was training as a psychotherapist offered me a job overseeing their new outpatient and residential drug treatment facilities. It’s an amazing organization called Conscious Recovery, which is run by the CLARE Foundation in Santa Monica, California.

The position perfectly married both my careers in strategic communications and psychotherapy. People don’t realize how closely related psychology and public relations are–many PR campaigns are rooted in the principles of social psychology.

It’s proving to be a fun, enterprising experience–one that corporate America never afforded me. I am now changing the world for the better!

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There was only one thing left for me to achieve: open a private therapy practice of my own.

The Keys to My Very Own Career Castle

While working at the non-profit agency by day, I searched for an office and networked at night. In the psych world, things are a little different than in the business world: “Trainees” are people who do unpaid work during their last year of school, and “interns” are certified therapists who must amass around 3,000 paid hours (that number varies by state) to become autonomous, fully licensed therapists. So the position that I was searching for was technically an internship.

A little under two years after leaving my PR gig, all of my hard work paid off: I was accepted at a practice that will help me earn my hours working with clients. Jennifer Musselman, M.A., MFTI, proudly hangs above the door of my very own office in Brentwood, Los Angeles.

Today, I am an adjunct professor who oversees the development of a rehab facility–while nearing my goal of becoming a fully licensed psychotherapist.

In other words, I’m a world away from my corporate job. Now, more than ever, I trust myself and my capabilities. I’ve also learned that when the going gets tough, I get tougher.

Tackling this challenge at nearly 40 years old was both the most frightening thing I’d ever faced and the most empowering because I did it all on my own! The leap of faith to invest in both my financial future and my personal happiness has made me a stronger, more fulfilled person.

Love reading other people’s financial tales? Check out more great LearnVest-exclusive personal stories.


In addition to her private practice, Jennifer Musselman, MA, MFTI, is the Director of Conscious Recovery at the CLARE Foundation in California. You can find her at JenniferMusselman.com.

  • Len

    This is a great story! I am so impressed and inspired. Thanks for sharing!

  • Crystal

    Such an inspiring story!  I am gearing up for a career reboot of my own (from the nonprofit/criminal justice world to entertainment and TV).  I am keeping your story on hand to remind myself (and my friends) of what is possible.  Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Jason

    Truly inspirational, just what I needed to start 2013.  I loved the fact that she never gave up on her dream and worked hard accordingly to achieve it.  This is an inspiring story of someone achieving their dreams the classic American way, by being brave, working hard and never giving up!

    • Rochelle LF

      This is a inspiring story and one that touches me closely. I’ve spent over 25 years marketing products and projects for hi-tech companies and I too started originally down the path of clinical psychology working with distrubed children and adult group therapy. Recently laid off, I’m searching for a new chapter for my future. I wonder if at 66 yrs old there is an opportunity for me go forward into an area of psycho-therapy at this late date. I need to do some investigating but really appreciate Jennifer sharing her endeavors to do what she truly enjoys.

      • lovelynic

        I don’t think it’s too late for you, but only do it if it is what you want to do and what you enjoy.

  • Ana

    Thank you! Awesome story about taking charge of your own life. Very inspiring. 

  • Brooklynmoneyhoney

    This is so inspirational! I am so similar — work in PR, quit a great job to go to grad school full time. Got my degree, but then got cold feet and went back into PR for the stability. I’m same age as you just about too. Now I think I’ll try to work for another decade in PR and then switch. I commend your courage!

  • Val

    Ditto!  This is an awesome and inspiring story that is helping me at age 45.  Love it!

  • Iriantm219

    Very inspiring!  I just started my 2nd semester in college at 49!  I too was feeling bored and unfilled at my job as a claims asst, and decided to back to school to learn something totally different!  Now, like I mentioned earlier i have started my 2nd semester in college to get my degree in education.  Going to be a teacher in the exceptional student education program.  You are never to old or late to learn.  

  • Littlepearl1965

    I’m planning on going back to school in the summer.  I’m pursuing an associates degree to get a job in the medical field…and I’m in my late 40′s.  I have no choice.  I am a divorced mom to two children, 10 and 16.  The only way I will be able to earn a decent living is to get an education.

  • Lindt72

    Thanks for your inpsiring story!  It’s helped me finally let go of the Prince Charming myth.  Thanks!

  • Nicki

    How did you get into a graduate program in psychology? Did your undergraduate work include a lot of psychology courses? The graduate programs that I have found all require either a Bachelor’s degree in a psychology area or a certain amount of courses in psychology. I have always been interested in counselling psychology. I have two B.S. degrees in completely different fields though (Earth Science and Economics) and I have not been successful at finding a career I like, let alone love or actually make money at, and I am almost 30. I am lost and seeking out help/

  • Ajay Thakur

    Hello Jennifer,

    Thanks for sharing a beautiful chapter of your life. I rather put your name as – Jennifer Mussel(Wo)man – no offence meant.

    I find real life acts of endurance far more inspiring than
    any self help/ how to books. I can totally relate to your experiences. As having spent close to 20 years in the corporate rut, same question mark hanging over
    my head – what the hell am I doing?? I am too passing through the same stage of exploring and finding my true spark. And stories such as yours will keep me strong in the process.

  • Maritza Tacoronte

    WOW! Congratulations! I just turned 40, I’ve been at a dead end job for 9 years and so afraid of taking that leap. I think it has to do with the fact that i do not know what the “right” leap is… thank you for sharing your experience. This is blog one on the list of many that i am sure i will be reading.. Hoping to find what my perfect job, place on this planet .. HAPPY place in my planet… will be.

    Maritza

  • Rigo

    Very inspiring. As a now 40 year old, I went to Grad school three years ago as a 37 year old to improve my career opportunities and earned my MBA. I’m thinking I may need to go back again to either teach full-time or become an attorney. Still, I’m glad I did. Kudos to you.

  • Danielle

    You are never too old to learn. Excellent story.

  • T.J. Diggs

    Wow thank you for this. I really needed to read this article. At 44 I find myself laid off and about to start training as a MFT – Psychotherapist. This really gave me the confidence to keep going!

  • CPalm

    Hate to burst the bubble here, but I’m not impressed. But most single people have the ability to do this if they are willing to sacrifice. Quit a job, work part-time, go to school, and work all hours of the day. You want to write an inspiring story? Do it married with kids. You think you were panicked before? I’m not so sure you would have handled it!

    • Nicole

      Really. Everyone in life has their challenges and exercising compassion for anyone’s struggle is one of the first signs of a successful and positive person. People that are single don’t have the same responsibilities as those married. People who are married also quite often have their spouses financial support to support them not to mention, if in a healthy marriage, the emotional support as well.

  • Vicki

    Love this story!!!! Thanks for sharing

  • ESP

    I have to agree with Cpalm. I can see how it is
    inspiring for some, but honestly I don’t see it being much more difficult to transition
    in your 30’s, 40’s or 50’s than in your 20’s sans kids. I’ve transitioned from corp, to academic, and then to semi-pub-sector with 2 young kids and a pt stay-at-home spouse. Many trade offs and ultimately sacrifices for the good of the family.