Finding a career after 40 can be a scary undertaking. At that age, many people are settling down for the last 20 years before retirement, not striking out to embark on something new. Don’t compare yourself to others. Remain confident in the fact that you know what’s best for you. Keep searching until you can answer the million-dollar question: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Decide what type of career you would really like. You’ve spent enough years doing what you think you should do, or what other people want you to do. After 40, you career should be focused on what brings you joy. As Confucius said, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Go back to school, if necessary. Don’t be intimidated if your field of choice requires specialization. Sign up for classes that will give you the competitive edge you need. If you decide to pursue a career doing something at which you’re already skilled, challenge yourself to take additional training so you’ll have the most updated knowledge in your field. If you decide to go into business for yourself, take classes on communication, management, grant writing (for funding sources), advertising, marketing and promotion. Resist the urge to think you already know everything you need to know. Be willing to learn.
Brush up on your networking skills. Talk to other people who are already engaged in your newly chosen career. As the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Soar to new heights with people who share your interests. They will be able to give you an insider’s perspective about what to expect on your new path. Ask for tips and suggestions to get you started.
Take a crash course in computers and social networking. Learn how to promote yourself on business and social networking sites. Use your new skills to combat the stereotype that people over a certain age aren’t “hip” or “cool.” Although your new career may not require an online presence, knowing how to navigate technical territory will prove useful.
Take risks. You don’t have to do what you’ve always done. Take a painting class. Learn the fine art of French pastry making. Enjoy dinner and a movie all by yourself. Go salsa dancing in high heels. Cut off all your hair or dye it blond. Train your spirit to expect the unexpected. Prove to yourself you still have plenty of tricks up your sleeve. Allow your new sense of adventure to boost your courage professionally.
Update your resume or CV to reflect your years of experience and wisdom. However, keep your cover letter focused forward. Briefly highlight your many accomplishments, but recognize that speaking too much in the past tense could cast an unwanted spotlight on your age. Instead, use your cover letter to discuss your long-term goals and future aspirations. Show that you still have plenty of miles on your odometer.
Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.