YOUR CAREER CAN BE MORE SATISFYING AFTER 40
Your Career Can Bring Greater Contentment After You Turn 40, If You Allow Yourself To Explore What Is Meaningful To You. Stop Making Assumptions That You Can’t Make A Change And Get All The Information. Then Go For It!
When I was turning 40 I felt like I should have been 20. In the work world I felt like I was 20 because I was surrounded by co-workers much younger than I was, and because I was constantly trying to learn new things and keep up. But in reality, I was married with two small children and had been working for many years in many jobs. I had taken a circuitous path to where I was at this point in my career. I should note that even saying I had a career was a generous description, perhaps a bit of a stretch. I had been following the flow and saying yes to situations that came my way, but I was never proactive enough to make a decision about what I really wanted. I had no idea what I really wanted. I wished I was 20 again to think it through and plan accordingly.
And then, shortly after turning 40 and while I was working in an advertising agency, I made a positive connection with an executive who was writing a book about interactivity. He asked me to read the galley and I was hooked. Here was something brand new that engaged me, that excited me, and it didn’t matter that I had no experience. No one did! I felt like was 20 because was energized by what I saw happening around me. There was always a feeling of possibility, of new inventions that might improve the world, and the heady feeling that I could be a part of all that.
The Dot Com Era
This was the dot com era (yes, it was that long ago!) and the internet and the concept of working interactively was just starting. In the late 1990’s and all the way up to the dot com bubble bursting in 2000, there was an unprecedented growth in internet companies giving global access to the World Wide Web. The percentage of households owning a computer increased from 15% - 35% between 1990 to 1997, changing the perception that computers were now necessities, no longer luxury items.
In fact, start-ups were just starting up and I found myself working with the 2 founders of a start-up. We quickly grew, hired more staff, went after VC funding and outgrew our tiny office space. After working at each other’s houses for a month we eventually took over an old garage space with no HVAC and turned it into an open space for dogs, phone calls and popsicles when it got too hot. Most of the time I felt like I belonged with this group of 20 something’s (until they went out for drinks after work, and I went home to help with homework). The new technology abounding and the brilliant brainstorming gave me the feeling that everything was achievable if you could just whiteboard it. I thrived on the crazy energy of my 2 bosses, who were easily 15 years younger than me.
Once again, I had followed an opportunity rather than created something intentionally. However, this new situation afforded me career growth. I was initially brought into the start-up to help a friend get organized (she badly needed help). I outlasted her, took over some of the finances, and eventually handled the marketing. My openness and willingness to take on new challenges and assignments worked in my favor, and I loved constantly learning, even if some of the technology would never be clear to me (an engineer I’ll never be). I reinvented myself as someone who could bring some experience to the kindergarten room, without being a bossy pushy mom, of course.
If a start-up doesn’t get VC funding, then often it is acquired by another company. That is what happened to my start-up. Unfortunately, it was not a good fit and didn’t have a happy ending – we all left the big enterprise company within six months. But I had gained a new career trajectory – marketing – which took me to a new client-side company and another new learning challenge.
Why does this matter to you?
You may not be turning 40 in the midst of an epic global change like I did but you may find yourself in the midst of some kind of change going around you. Even if you are turning 40 in a time of relative peace, step back for a moment and notice what, if anything, intrigues you in your industry. Can you imagine a role for yourself that you may not have considered previously? Are you holding yourself back because you are making assumptions and not making the effort to learn more first? We all want to feel competent and content in what we do in our career and tend to play it safe by not putting ourselves in positions of potential failure. Saying yes to something you are being asked to do at work that is outside your comfort zone is a great way to discover that you can indeed survive and maybe even master the task. Additionally,
you may want to allow yourself the space to engage in some out-of-the-box thinking without taking any great risk. Identify where you can bring value (it will undoubtedly align with your strengths and what you enjoy doing) so that you create a win-win situation for yourself and your employers. This may be possible in your current position, or it may require pushing yourself to move on.
Hindsight is 20-20
I’d wished I was 20 when I was 40, and now 20 years later 40 seems like elementary school. Now I wish I was 40 again! Actually no. I am grateful for the experience I’ve gained since I was 40 and now, I understand how the erratic path I took from 20 to 40 and beyond led me to contentment I couldn’t have achieved any other way. Going through some of that experience, especially when I was constantly trying to prove myself and get approval from my work world, was painful. Self-doubt is no fun. But I am happy to report that I paid attention to my achievements, the ones I defined, not necessarily the ones my senior management noticed. At the end of the day, you really want to please yourself, and if it works out in your favor to gain acknowledgment from the management around you, so much the better. Your own contentment should not be solely defined by the approval of others, in fact I hope your sense of worth comes from inside.