It’s an odd feeling to be faced with the question of, “What am I going to be when I grow up?” at the age of 44. When you’re younger, you feel like you have your whole life ahead of you, and so your career decisions are usually based on where to find the most money for the least amount of work. You don’t expect to know what you want to do for the rest of your life… you hardly give it a thought, because you feel like you have all the time in the world to figure it out. Some of us are lucky enough to know from an early age what our true life-niche is, but for most of us, it takes time.
In our twenties, we’ve either stumbled into a career path that happens to pay the bills, or we’ve adopted the career path that comes along with the degree that we obtained in college. Rarely do we settle on a career at that age that fulfills the question, “What do I want to do with my life?” Interestingly, our education system forces us to choose a career path and spend a lot of money on a degree at a very young age when most of us aren’t even capable of making that decision yet. According to a study done by CareerBuilder, 47% of college-educated workers said their first job was outside of their field. For most of us, whether we went to college or not, our twenties are spent hopping around, looking for as much money as possible, with the thought that, “I won’t do this forever.”
In our late twenties and throughout our thirties, most of us start to develop costly goals like houses and children, and so we end up settling into a job for the long-haul, whether we are happy or not. For some reason, we feel that we need to give our souls to that job. We come in early, we work late, we don’t take breaks and we neglect our own families and friends, all in the name of being committed to our jobs. Sometimes the job pays well, and sometimes it doesn’t pay well at all, but we still feel that our measure of success is somehow related to the number of hours spent slaving for it. We feel judged by our peers and our co-workers if we don’t commit that heavily to our job, and we accept that scenario as a given… it’s just something that everybody has to do to be successful.
When we get to our forties, something begins to happen to our psyche. Perhaps our subconscious mind senses that we’re at the traditional half-way point of our career cycle… perhaps we’re teetering on the edge of a mid-life crisis and mourning misspent youth… or perhaps we’ve spent the first half of our life making decisions based on our comfort and necessity, and now we’ve started to realize that deeper, less obvious desires are within us. What used to feel like an acceptable amount of daily work suddenly feels like way too much. We begin to regret the amount of time spent away from our kids, who are now almost grown, and our spouses. The tasks that we dutifully performed for years begin to feel tedious and stale. We begin to ask ourselves if the job that we’ve been slaving for is everything we’d hoped we’d accomplish by this age. According to a survey done by USA TODAY, a third of people aged 40-59 are looking to change their careers in an effort to find “better balance in their life, more flexibility and the chance to learn.”
So, what to do? This is a very personal question for me, as I find myself in my forties, facing a self-induced career change. After spending the past four years as a private elementary school teacher, I realized that I was completely missing my daughter’s final years at home. Instead of helping her with her homework, taking time to talk to her about life, or experiencing the world with her, I was at school from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm each day, followed by hours of grading each night. The worst part was, when I was available for her, I was very stressed out and somewhat grouchy. That woman is NOT the mom that I want my daughter to remember.
But when we decide to change our careers, we are faced with so many obvious dilemmas. What will make me happy? What if the new career doesn’t make enough money? Am I too old to start over? How will the change affect my spouse or children? What if the leap ends in disaster? These questions are difficult and they inevitably exist in a realm that is destined to remain unknown until the leap of faith has been taken. We might have an idea about what we want to do, but we can’t possibly answer those questions until after we have set everything in motion… which is very scary, especially if you’re a control freak like me.
The self-help experts tell us that we can find true happiness in a career, that we can find abundance and happiness at the same time. They advise us that we should ask ourselves what will make us happy, what we already enjoy doing, and then find or make a career that allows us to do that. Is that possible? Is it really that simple?
When you search “successful people that followed their heart” on Google, you will find article after article about people who quit their successful, steady jobs to work with their passion, and made lots of money doing it. There are celebrity stories (did you know that George Clooney was a door-to-door insurance salesman before he became an actor?), along with stories about your everyday Joe. So many people, young and old, have taken that huge leap of faith and attained that coveted prize. If they can do it, can’t the rest of us? I believe the answer is yes.
But we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that it will be easy or quick. If you’re the primary earner of your family, or you’re on your own, it can seem impossible to leap into a new path because let’s face it, you have bills to pay. If your leap of faith ends in a splat, then your family might not eat. If you’re sharing expenses with someone else, then it might seem a bit more doable, but the reality is that our budgets inevitably match our checkbooks, and most of us can’t afford to lose one whole income when we’re already used to two.
Not to mention, if we decide to walk away from something that was paying a paycheck and go for the passion path, it will put a definite strain on our partners, emotionally and financially. Even though they might be supportive and encouraging, the financial burden of the household will be solely on them, at least for a while. It takes time to create or find a job that you haven’t had professional experience with, and while you’re home working on all of that, they have to get up and drag themselves to work each day. Even if they love their career, subconsciously they might feel a little trapped, like they have to go to work whether they want to or not, because someone has to bring home the paycheck and you are out of commission right now.
But a leap of faith is a leap of faith. At some point, if we want to find that sweet spot of abundance and happiness, then we have to trust that more is going on in the universe than just paychecks, resumes, applications and college history. We have to let go of “this is impossible” and embrace “I’ll be in the right place at the right time.” The fact is that most of us have seen impossible things happen at some point. We might try to rationalize what we’ve seen and try to find a logical explanation for it, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve seen other people in the right place at the right time, and we’ve felt envy and called them “lucky.” When it comes to what we are meant to do on this earth, I believe that we are led through a series of circumstances, little nudges from the universe, or God, or whatever you believe in, that push us in the right direction. When we work like horses and our bosses don’t compensate us or they degrade us, that’s a nudge. When our job duties change and we no longer enjoy any aspect of it, that’s a nudge. When we get fired or laid off, that’s a nudge. The trick is to see these seemingly irritating and depressing circumstances as the gifts that they are! Without them, we would sit in one place forever, never finding that passion that gives us purpose, abundance and fulfillment.
If we are on our own or supporting a family and we can’t risk any loss of income, then we can find a new position before we leave the old position. While the new position might not be exactly what we’d hoped for, it might be a stepping stone onto a better one down the road. Perhaps we will meet a future business partner there, or we will gain a skill that will come in handy. If we are in a position where there is another income earner in the picture, then we can find a part-time job to supplement our missing income while we create the new thing. The important thing is that we keep trying, because an opportunity will be there, at the right place and the right time. We are meant to evolve and progress in our lives. We wouldn’t have such a strong desire for change if we weren’t meant to grab it.
So now, in my forties, what am I going to be when I grow up? I’m going to run with this life-long passion of mine: writing! I’m going to take that leap of faith and hope that there is a massive pool of water beneath me to catch me when I land… and deep down, I KNOW there will be, because that’s how the universe works. As we are reminded in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come.”