Thinking about changing careers in your 40s? Writer Tracy King explains why it’s the best time to take a risk; despite what we’re taught about stability and a career for life
Once upon a time, there was such a thing as a job for life. This was partly a good thing – the security and consistency of a job for life enabled sound financial and family planning – but partly also a bad thing.
Working for one company for your entire life could lead to job stagnation and wage ceilings, and many people had to sacrifice professional progress and personal happiness for the sort of security that comes with loyalty to one firm.
But then, the job for life was replaced with personal careers. As companies ceased to be family-run and no longer loyal to long-serving employees, workers stopped giving loyalty in return, and instead started prioritising professional and personal development. This kept wages competitive, and forced companies to offer other incentives to encourage loyalty.
In pursuit of passion
Even so, by the time I entered the job market in the mid-90s, it was generally accepted that you would stay in one job for a couple of years and then either move companies, or get promoted internally.
At the time, I hated the idea of a 9-to-5 office job. When I started my working life, I wanted to be a musician. I worked casual jobs in shops and pubs to support my chosen career. When you’re 19 or 20, you have youth and few responsibilities on your side.
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It was perfectly sensible to at least try for a career in the arts, even though success was statistically unlikely in a very crowded playing field.
But, I tried, and I had several very good years which peaked with gigs at world-renowned jazz club Ronnie Scotts. Sadly, it wasn’t to last. Without relocating to London, I couldn’t find enough opportunities to sustain myself, so I decided to change careers.
The freelance dream
I got an entry level job in the marketing department of a local newspaper group. I discovered that I was a natural marketeer and office jobs were, in fact, no bad thing.
And so began my second career. I was very good at marketing, and worked my way up until eventually I was experienced enough to branch out on my own.
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After a decade working in marketing for other people, I set up my own marketing and PR agency. It was a blast. The sacrifices that come with being self-employed are enormous, but the autonomy was glorious.
I spent my early thirties being my own boss and travelling around the world for clients, who ranged from tiny little start ups to huge banking corporations. For the first time in my life, I had money and options.
Staying true to what you love
But of course, the pull of the arts never leaves you. I started to use my marketing and PR skills to help friends – writers and performers –promote their work.
I had some major viral successes on YouTube which coincided with me at last moving from Birmingham to London. Such a major change of location inspired another change. In my mid-thirties I decided I would take another risk and change careers once again.
I became a producer and writer, first mainly working on YouTube videos, then eventually branching out into journalism and podcasts. As a freelance writer and producer who mostly finds work online, I’m part of what’s known as the gig economy.
Flexible working in the gig economy
I’m far from the only one. A 2018 study from the Department of Work and Pensions estimates that nearly three million Brits per year work in the gig economy, everything from courier or taxi services to freelance writers like me.
The benefits are obvious – flexibility and autonomy. Many are in further education, or have childcare responsibilities they need to work around.
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Flexible, no-commitment work can be ideal for myriad reasons. The DWP report suggests that the majority of people who work in the gig economy don’t use it full time, but to supplement other income.
But there are downsides, too. Average hourly earnings are lower than minimum wage, for example, and there is no holiday or sick pay. There certainly isn’t any job security.
But for me that’s a trade-off I’m happy with for a couple of years. Unlike my young self, age 19 and trying to get a record deal, I have two decades of working experience and transferable skills to fall back on.
Changing careers: an ambition for any age
If anything, my early 40s is the best time to take the risk of changing career. I now have the time to work on my first book, and I’m even considering finally pursuing a master’s degree.
Many of my family and friends are making similar changes – one family member learned to drive in her forties and changed careers from graphic designer to social work, and a solicitor friend recently gave up the law to retrain as a primary school teacher.
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I believe it’s possible to change career at any age, if you have a clear idea of where you’re going and how to get there.
With more and more professionals choosing to take a travel or parenting break, mid-life can be the perfect time to re-assess whether the career path you’re on is the right one.
It may take a few sacrifices, but you’ll be making them at a time when you’re old enough, wise enough and confident enough to weather the storm.
If there’s no such thing as a job for life, then there doesn’t have to be a career for life either.
Take time out to rethink your career
Grab some head space with one of these brilliant escapes
Let loose in the jungle hills of Bali
Soothe your soul in a unique riverside retreat by the jungle hills of Ubud, with anti-gravity yoga and rousing treks. Then, climb a live volcano at sunrise, snorkel a shipwreck and wind down on the idyllic traffic-free island of Gili Air. Dreamy.
Think big on the plains of Zimbabwe
There’s nothing like the golden plains of Zimbabwe – with all her majestic wildlife – for putting life into perspective. Join us on safari across one of the country’s best-loved nature reserves, along with luxury camps, river rafting and a helicopter ride above Victoria Falls.
Reset your work-life balance in Chile
Knock back red wine at sunset in the Atacama Desert, white-water raft down the Petrohué River and sail between glaciers in Chilean Patagonia. Not to mention an epic day-long hike through Torres del Paine National Park.