What do you want to be when you grow up?
It feels like a question you’d ask a child. You’d likely get answers like astronaut, princess, ninja, or some well-known professions like doctor, firefighter, or scientist.
But when is it appropriate to stop asking?
The comedian and movie star Jim Carrey tells a story about his father “playing it safe” as an accountant instead of pursuing a career as a comedian or in jazz as he wanted. When he was 12 years old, Jim’s father was let go from his “safe job,” and the family suffered for a long time anyway.
“When you compromise, and you fail, that hurts a lot more than failing at what you love.
You can fail at what you don’t love, so you might as well do what you love. There’s really no choice to be made.”
If a career change at 40 seems unrealistic, scary, or downright impossible, then read on because it might be the best thing you ever do.
You’re never too old for a new career. In fact, this could be the prime time in your life to leap into something new.
Here are a few notable examples of people making a career transition at 40:
Vera Wang was a figure skater and journalist before entering the fashion industry at 40.
Joy Behar, the host of the View, was a high school English teacher until 40.
Donald Fisher opened the first Gap clothing store when he was 40 years old and had no prior retail experience.
Sure, there are fresh obstacles when switching careers later in life, but there are plenty of benefits as well. It’s never too late to make a change, and there’s no “average age” where it’s socially acceptable to change careers either.
Do it when it feels right and when it’s an affordable risk for you and your family.
For starters, people change careers on average every four years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Maybe you’d like to join the millions of other Americans who love working from home. Or maybe industry threats or a lack of growth opportunities are making it a great time to try a more promising field.
People change careers for both personal and professional reasons. For some people, the demand for their skills is simply shrinking. For others, it’s out of a desire to try something new.
Some of the top reasons for changing careers include:
The company’s closing down or downsizing
The company’s relocating its headquarters or facilities
The company’s restructuring and the changes don’t benefit you
Leadership is taking the company in what you believe is the wrong direction
A lack of recognition leaves you feeling unimportant
Poor peer relationships with co-workers or management
You believe some variety would spice up your life
Work-life balance isn’t what it used to be
The reasons matter more than you think. If your job search is leading you to a new field entirely, then you can virtually guarantee that you’re going to have to learn new skills, so having a strong motivator is important.
Changing careers is both exciting and terrifying. There are a lot of opportunities to seize, but the risk of things not working out is real.
Let’s take a look at both.
You’re more experienced and likely more confident in your as you age.
While it may seem late in the game, you still have 25-35 years until you hit retirement age (65 or older).
Career changes can improve your mental health, physical health, and work-life balance. Those benefits could help you live longer, be happier, and spend more time doing what you love with who you love.
It’s harder to take a leap of faith once you hit your 30's because typically you’re facing larger obligations, and more of them, like a family and housing payments.
More expenses and more people relying on you make risky changes less tolerable.
With higher bills, you likely need higher pay. Starting in an entry-level position might mean a pay cut for a while.
You may have to overcome older worker stereotypes and potential ageism amongst hiring managers.
It’s ultimately up to you to decide if the pros outweigh the cons.
Alright, you’ve decided you’re ready for a change, and the pros outweigh the cons.
Here’s where the fun part starts. This is where you decide how bad you want it and whether you’re going to learn things the hard way or take advice from those who’ve done it.
Here are a few tips to help you on your way:
Only you’ll fully understand what’s practical and realistic, so take time to really think it over. Ask yourself if you’re willing to go back to school, start at the bottom of the ladder, or take on financial risk to make this happen.
If you’re single, there’s less to worry about since it’s all your risk. If you have a family, then it’s vital that you have their full support. Have a long conversation with them and lay out the good and bad, so everyone knows what they’re signing up for.
Sure, you may be passionate about becoming a firefighter or a web developer now, but that shine might fade with time and the effort you exert to make the change. The long nights and stress of switching careers can pile up. Find a partner or some creative way to incentivize yourself and stay the course.
Passion is important, but what do people in the industry think of their job? Is it safe long-term from automation? Do you fully understand both the good and bad? Doing your due diligence means less heartache later. Read reviews, send cold emails, and find ways to connect with people in the new field and get in front of them! You’ll be happy you did.
Talk to role models if you have to or find a mentor. Take it day by day, and don’t be afraid to shift course if it’s not exactly what you imagined.
Now that you’ve got a taste for what it will take to pull off a career change at 40, it’s time to explore your options.
If you know it’s time for a change, but you’re not sure what exactly you want to do, then explore these five career options.
Project management is a highly complex field that transcends many industries.
Project managers are responsible for leading projects through initiation, planning, execution, performance, and project close. That means forecasting, planning, and coordinating resources.
It also means reporting to stakeholders and keeping the team on track at all times.
As far as career options go, project management is a highly sought-after skill that’ll keep you plenty busy.
**Avg National Salary: **$79,000
**Qualifications: **Beyond communication skills, many project managers have advanced degrees in business or computer science. It’s also quite common to get several certifications like Project Management Professional (PMP), but people new to the industry choose to get less intense certifications like Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) or some specialty certifications.
Web developers can work in-house for a company, at marketing agencies, or as freelancers.
Most professional web developers focus on front-end development, which requires design skills and the ability to create content.
On the flip side, some web developers specialize in back-end development, such as writing the code or framework the site runs on.
Avg National Salary: $68,000
A dental hygiene professional examines dental patients for signs of oral disease like gingivitis.
They operate under the dentist’s supervision and clean patient’s teeth by removing plaque, buildup, and harmful bacteria.
Avg National Salary: $74,000
Qualifications: Becoming a licensed dental hygienist requires graduation from a program that’s approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). You’ll study general dental education, biomedical science, dental science, and dental hygiene science. You can get an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree in dental hygiene.
Medical assistants provide both clinical and administrative support to physicians, nurses, and specialists in outpatient clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities.
Typically they’ll keep patient records up to date, prepare bodily fluid samples for lab testing, and assist doctors with patient care.
In larger clinics or hospitals, some medical assistants even have a specialty in either clinical or administrative duties instead of both.
Avg National Salary: $35,000
Qualifications: Unlike most jobs in the healthcare field, the medical assistant role only requires a high school diploma or equivalent and a few months of on-the-job training. Some employers prefer having a more qualified candidate and hire registered medical assistants (RMAs) or certified medical assistants (CMAs).
You can do a lot worse than system administrator as your career choice.
You work inside and spend most of your time preventing bad things from happening that would take the company offline. System administrators ensure hardware and software are up-to-date and working properly. You’ll also install new systems, maintain user records, and troubleshoot potential problems.
Avg National Salary: $66,000
Qualifications: It’s not uncommon for employers to desire system administrators with a computer science or engineering degree. Some certifications like CompTIA Network+ or CompTIA Security+ are helpful as well. If you’re learning specific programs, it’s a good idea to get certified in those.
You’ve made your decision, and now it’s time to get down to business. You might be wondering, “how exactly do I take the first step?”
If you're still employed part-time or full-time, there’s a lot you can do while you work your current job, such as:
Starting to save cash and paying down debt.
Updating your online profiles for work: Jobcase profile and LinkedIn profile and, if possible, building up a portfolio.
Starting to work on the technical skills necessary for your new role.
Searching for a mentor — someone who’s done or is still doing what you’d like to do.
Starting to "moonlight" if you can. Work early in the morning or late at night.
If you're currently out of work, then you have even more free time to dedicate resources to your career change. You can:
Start working on a side gig by working part-time or volunteering.
Check-in with your local Department of Labor office for career change resources.
Learn to write an effective cover letter and resume so they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Apply for paid or unpaid internships to begin learning the skills necessary to get a new role.
Start filling the gaps in your resume by working on transferable skills, like communication.
Changing careers after 40 won’t be a walk in the park, but it’s far from impossible. The real question now is, are you going to continue to “play it safe?”
Or will you venture out and seek the answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up?”