40 Years Old and No Career: What to Do

4

40 years old and no careerAre you 40 years old and don’t feel like you have a real career? If that’s the case, I promise you that you are not alone. For many of us, it takes us a while to find our path. Whether it be due to health problems, attitude problems, lack of focus, or just being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of possible career paths, it’s not uncommon to feel adrift in your career at 40. 

The positive thing is that you’re here reading this article. That means that you’ve decided that you want to take action and do something about it. And I applaud you for that and hope this article plays a small part in you discovering and thriving in your best fit work.

Throughout this article, I’m going to unpack whether 40 is too late to start or change careers. I’ll discuss a process that I’ve found to be helpful in deciding what career to pursue, and then I’ll talk through what to do if you have no qualifications for the path that you want to pursue.

Is 40 Too Late to Start a New Career?

No, 40 is not too late to start a new career. In fact, the average age that most people make a career change is 39 years old.

In my view, it’s never too late to start building the life that you want for yourself. In fact, if you don’t take a chance and responsibly pursue a career that you want, there’s a good chance that you’ll regret it.

For his book The Power of Regretauthor Daniel Pink conducted one of the largest studies about regret that has even been done before. He found that one of the four most common categories of regret is what he called “boldness” regrets. A boldness regret is a regret that someone has because they didn’t take a chance and step out in pursuit of something that they valued. 

So if you’re in your 40s, and don’t have a career that you enjoy, you very well may come to regret not taking a chance to pursue meaningful work, rather than play it safe in an area that you know is unsatisfying.

How T0 Choose What Career to Start in Your 40s

Once you’ve decided that you want to pursue a more meaningful career in your 40s, the question becomes what path do you pursue.

Now, you may have a sense of the direction that you’d like to go already, which is great and makes your next step easier.

However, many folks probably do not know where they’d like to go. To that end, I have some steps that I’d recommend that you take to choose the career path that you’d like to go after.

What I’m going to review below is a high level summary of the process that I recommend in the post I Don’t Know What to Do With My Life: A Process to Get Unstuck. If the below recommendations seem helpful, you can review them in more depth in that post.

Establish a Vision for Your Life

In my view, the starting place to decide what career you want to pursue is to start by thinking about the life that you want to build for yourself and then finding work that fits within that.

In American culture, I think that we often get it backwards. We tend to start by establishing a career, and then orchestrate our whole lives around that choice. I think the right way to do it is to reverse the process.

In order to establish a vision for your life, I recommend doing three things:

  1. Defining your values
  2. Writing a future biography
  3. Writing a personal mission statement

Your values help you to define the high level things that are important to you in your life. A future biography helps you to picture building a tangible life around those values. And then a personal mission statement helps you to take the other two exercises and turn them into a short guiding statement of what you’re working towards.

Together, those three things help to frame up what’s important to you and what you want to pursue. From there you can look for work that works for you within the high level life that you’re trying to build for yourself.

Translate That Vision Into Tangible Career Options

Once you have that high level vision of the life that you want to build for yourself, you need to try and figure out some tangible career options that would fit into that life.

My favorite way of approaching of thinking about that is by trying to find your Ikigai. Ikgai is a Japanese concept that roughly means “reason for being” and represents the intersection of the following things:

ikigai

I have a more in depth post about a process for trying to discover your Ikigai but basically what you want to do is list things that apply in each category and try to find the intersection. So for example, you may find that you listed photography as something that you love, that you’re good at, that can make you money, and that people need. That could be your Ikigai and the the path that you want to pursue.

What If I Have No Qualifications for the Career that I Want at 40

If you come to find that you have no qualifications for the career that you want to pursue, all is not lost. There are various ways that you can go about developing skills and or getting your foot in the door of the path that you want to pursue.

Start a Side Hustle

The best way to build the skills that you need for your career is to actually do the work. And you don’t need to work for someone else to build your skills.

Starting a side hustle is a great low risk way to develop skills and confirm that you enjoy a particular career path as much as you think that you might.  

As an example, let’s say that you want to start a career in marketing. There’s no better way to start down that path than by starting your own side business, and learning how to market it effectively.  It helps you develop the skills that you need and gives you tangible stories that you can tell in interviews about your experience doing that particular type of work.

Volunteer

Similar to starting a side-hustle, volunteering in your career path of interest can be a great way to develop your skills. 

There could be local trade organizations that you could get involved with to make connections and learn the craft.

Going back to the marketing example, the American Marketing Association is an example of a trade organization with local chapters that you could get involved with to start to grow your skills and network within the field.

Look for Entry-level Roles

If you don’t have skills or qualifications for the career that you want to pursue, there’s a good chance that you’re going to need to start with an entry-level role in your new path. 

Ultimately, that’s a tough pill to swallow for some folks, and you may need to take a step back financially to do so. 

However, entry-level roles generally provide the training that you need to build your career in a particular field. And they also generally expect a lack of qualifications for the role, so you can start fresh at that level.

Leverage Your Network

Something that can help you jump start the process of entering a new field is leveraging your network. If there is someone you know that works in the field that you’re looking to get into, they can be a great resource to help you get your foot in the door.

It could be valuable to set up a time with them to let them know of your interest in entering their field, ask their advice, and request that they keep you in mind for any job openings.

Go Back to School

I intentionally put going back to school as the last potential thing to do if you have no qualifications for the career that you want to pursue. Going back to school is an option, and getting a degree in the field that you want to pursue will certainly help. Heck, it may even be a requirement in some cases.

However, going back to school is both expensive and time consuming. And, from what I’ve seen, experience and desire tend to be valued more than a degree nowadays.

As the interviewer for a role, it would be much more compelling to me to hire someone that started a successful side hustle than someone that completed a degree. That would show me someone that is hungry to enter into the field, and that demonstrated some proven success in the area.

Conclusion

Being over 40 without a career can be a tough spot. But you’re not alone in that and it’s never too late to start. 

To get moving, it’s important to be thoughtful and intentional about the path that you do want to pursue. And then from there, there are steps that you can take to go out and pursue that career even later in life and without any qualifications.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan serves as a career counselor on the side. He writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

Recent Posts