What’s your dream job?
Really, though: What would you do if you didn’t have that student loan debt or that mortgage, or if you weren’t so attached to the sandwich place next to your office?
If you’re already doing it, congratulations. If not, you aren’t alone. Surveys over the past few years have spit out some less-than-encouraging stats—in fact, a 2010 survey found that 80% of workers are dissatisfied with their jobs.
Why do we stay, if we aren’t doing what we love? There’s the steady paycheck, and the logistics of switching jobs or careers—restructuring the budget, creating a new network of business contacts. Change is hard, and as we get older, it gets harder.
So most of us stay where we are. But some of us don’t—some of us realize we want something different, or something more, and set off to create an entirely new path. Below, meet three brave people who decided mid-career, in their 40s, that a new path was the one to take.
Mary Lou Quinlan, New York, NY
On Mary Lou’s 45th birthday, she asked herself, “What do I love to do?” The answer was clear: She loved writing, public speaking and working with women. She took five weeks off from being the CEO of a major New York advertising firm to figure out how she could turn over 20 years of experience in communications and advertising into a new career that incorporated all of her passions.
In 1999, Mary Lou found the answer and started Just Ask A Woman, a marketing and branding consultancy focused on female consumers. She spent the next decade and a half traveling the country, connecting with real women and interpreting their needs for corporate clients. She also authored multiple books on the insights she gained along the way.
When Mary Lou left her job to become an entrepreneur, she was financially prepared. “[My husband and I] never lost the more conservative style we had as newlyweds, where our combined income had been less than $40,000,” she says. “We never adapted to the spending lifestyle that seemed part of New York City living.” She and her husband (who at the time worked for Time Warner, but has since retired and is currently pursuing a masters degree at NYU), spent years saving a substantial nest egg that allowed each of them to forge their own paths without worrying too much about money.
And Mary Lou didn’t stop with one business—around this same time, she lost her mother to blood cancer. She discovered handwritten prayer notes her mother had left in boxes, praying for everyone from her family to people she met in passing. In tribute to her mother’s memory, Mary Lou published a book about her mother’s “God boxes,” and adapted it into a one-woman, one-act play that she now performs around the country. “Performing the play is the realization of a long-held dream and a way to connect with the woman who inspired me most,” she explains. She performs on stages across the country and donates all proceeds to women’s charities.
Where she was once an advertising CEO, Mary Lou is now a communications expert, consultant, actress, and writer who has authored four books and written for numerous national magazines. “I approach life as a student of a dream,” she explains. “I’ve never looked back with regret, and I relish my fresh start and the feeling of freedom that comes with it.”