How I Started My Dream Career After 40

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new job after 40What’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.

tMLQ signing humbnailMary 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.”

  • Single Mother

    While I’m happy for all three of these people, the common denominator is: spouse who makes a decent income. And having high-paying, successful jobs prior to the switch, that provided them a nest egg that they could use to springboard into their new careers.

    I guess the rest of us are stuck.

    • cocoachanel74

      I of course noticed the same pattern and was about to comment the same but saw yours….very happy for them…but that’s a dynamic (someone to hold the line while you chase your dream) that cannot be ignored!

    • ana

      I don’t know I’m middle class, one income and I feel like I could do this when I’m older. If I have enough emergency savings and start the second career part time for however long it takes before it can be taken full time it can be done. I’d have to plan and be very smart about it but I don’t think not having a spouse’s income makes it impossible. I hope not at least cause at the rate I’m going I don’t see myself ever being married!

    • Kathryn V.

      Yep. I noticed that as well. What about stories of people who did NOT have a perfectly funded safety net? Huh?

  • Career Coach

    I am also disappointed to see that this article does not outline how your “typical” American, working at a median-income (or lower!) salary, does it. I was hoping to share this article with some clients but I don’t think they would find themselves in these stories at all and they would be unable to relate. Like Single Mother, I’m happy for all the people who were featured in the article, but I would like to see stories like this about your average assistant retail manager, coffee barista, and administrative assistant.

  • BaconCheddaScone

    Agree with Single Mother — changing careers when you have some money is easier compared to when you don’t have a security net. I mean, it’s still hard especially in your 40s don’t get me wrong… but not everyone is a CEO, physician, or a professor.

  • jessrabbit

    I too had high hopes when I saw the title of this article… back to the drawing board for this middle class wife… :)

  • ChangingToo

    I was also hoping to see some ‘real folks’ here. I am in the process of making a change in my 40′s. I’m not looking to be an author, actress, or anything else like that. I simply want to have a wedding chapel and a little shop that offers some unique items for unique people. I would enjoy these things. I know I can’t just jump into either one full time, especially given where I live. But I’m doing planning to get these things going on a part-time basis. There won’t be any living on my husband’s salary. It will be a lot of hours of planning and implementing. I was hoping to see these folks doing that when I saw the article title.

  • Cynic

    Well and good for all these people, but as others here have noted, it is much easier to make this transition when you are already in a high-paying job, or have significant savings, or have a high-salaried spouse who can prop you up. In my case I would love to start my own business, but as a Type I diabetic, it is literally impossible for me to find health insurance on my own, and I literally cannot live without good healthcare. Yes, there are no more pre-existing conditions clauses, but the cost of individual policies is still ridiculous at least where I live. It would cost me $1200 a month just to cover myself decently, and that is twice what I pay in rent! Unfortunately I see nothing to indicate that will change under the new law (which is why it sucks, but that is another rant for another day.) So I guess unless I luck out and marry a rich man (not very likely) or at least a guy with good benefits who is willing to carry me, I guess I am doomed to a life of “hanging on in quiet desperation” (thank you Pink Floyd) in
    a soul-crushing corporate world that I despise. Come on, LearnVest, how about showing us how someone who doesn’t live a privileged NYC life

  • ckatj

    As with the rest of the readers here, I found the title of this article exciting, and the actual article quite disappointing. None of the three examples provided above seem remotely relevant to most of us out here. Where was the story of someone with an average income, basic 4-year degree and a very modest nest egg? It seems to me that Learnvest is getting increasingly streamlined for only one type of reader. Unfortunately, I don’t fit into that elite category.

  • drea

    Yeah – how many of us opened this looking for inspiring stories of someone who did it without a full bank account or a working spouse. I am a 3rd year law student at age 48, but I have no idea how I’m going to make the transition from paralegal at a regular job to attorney and still pay my loans and regular living expenses.

  • ajarljs

    I’m also disappointed. The tagline of this article in the e-blast reads: “Ever dreamed of doing a career 180? These three entrepreneurs will show you how to make it happen.” Not only were all three of their stories the same (they all had big savings and a spouse to cover them while they got started), the stories were short and fluffy, and did not share any concrete tips or advice for other entrepreneurs. I work in the communications industry and am really surprised an editor would let this story run with such an obvious, uninspiring redundancy.

  • Dan

    These people are highly driven. They were successful at their prior careers and could afford to switch to another endeavor. The real point here is to 1. Start off your life highly intelligent. 2. Add an incredible work ethic, then 3. Get bored with your success and start another line of work. I’m 0 for 3.