How I Started My Dream Career After 40


Joel_Greenwald-4Joel Greenwald, St. Louis Park, MN

After completing his residency from the University of Minnesota in 1990, Joel worked as a physician in internal medicine for ten years. However, bringing up three young children in a two-physician household—his wife is a radiation oncologist­—proved difficult with the long and unpredictable hours of a doctor. Both the time and the money gave Joel pause: He and his wife wanted to be more available for their children, and he found that his job no longer fulfilled him as it had in the past.

At the age of 36, while still working as a physician, Joel enrolled in remote financial planning courses through The College for Financial Planning in Denver. He took his  exams and at age 38 began working part-time as a certified financial planner. He made the transition to full-time at the age of 40, and now works for himself advising doctors and dentists with their financial planning—an obvious clientele for a former practicing doctor. “It’s my natural market,” he says. “It’s who I know.”

Joel credits the success of his career transition to his wife, who covered the financial burden while he established his own financial planning practice and wasn’t contributing to the household income. He remembers that when he made the move, his wife would joke, “What’s going on? I thought I married a doctor!” But now, they’re both happy with his career switch, which has given them the flexibility to be more present for their children. He’s grateful for the freedom to run his own business and keep his clients happy.

“I get to help people,” Joel explains. “It’s incredibly similar to being a physician; after health, finance is probably second most important.”

nancy berk 2Nancy Berk, Pittsburgh, PA

If you ask Nancy about her job, she’ll tell you she’s a “stand-up psychologist.” After a decade working full-time as as a clinical psychology professor at the university level, she’s spent the last eight years as a stand-up comedian and humor writer. Her interest in medicine led her to her first career, but she had never considered that the humor she infused into her day-to-day life could be her second.

However, a career shift at 45 didn’t come without financial implications. Nancy took a pay cut; in fact, she says the financial risk was the most difficult part of the transition. “It was scary, knowing I was giving up a financially stable position to take a chance,” she remembers. Luckily, she and her husband, who is a physician, had been saving consistently and were able to soften the blow. Though the risk paid off, Nancy maintains that she is still “cautious in spending and religious about saving.”

She credits part of her ability to connect with her audience to her years examining and learning about the human mind. “It helps me blend psychology training and humor, which is a perfect combination for me,” she says. These days, she spends her days writing material from morning to night; her humor writing can be seen in The Huffington Post, USA Today, and other national publications. One of her books is featured in the upcoming film “Admission.”

For Nancy, “shifting gears,” as she puts it, has led her to an “emotionally, financially, and creatively profitable” career.

  • 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.