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Career change at 40: invite your fears to tea.

Updated: Jun 25

Changing careers in your 40s can be exciting and empowering, as well as daunting. I won’t pretend that it’s easy or offer a simple five-step guide, because I understand that these changes are far from straightforward. Fear of the unknown and self-doubt can often hold you back. However, many people have successfully risen to the challenge and reinvented their careers, as I’ve witnessed countless times as a psychologist and career coach.

With the right mindset, you can too. So, let’s address the most common doubts together.

Career change in your 40s: invite your fears to tea.

Take it from Buddha.

As the story goes Mara, the demon, tried to tempt Siddhartha Gautama away from his path to enlightenment with distractions. But instead of ignoring Mara, Siddhartha said: "I see you, Mara" and invited him for tea. Eventually, after many failed attempts, Mara would leave on his own, powerless against the Buddha's acceptance and kindness.

So, let's hear out those fears and offer them some tea and cookies.

Fear #1 : "I don't know anything else."

Thanks, fear, for acknowledging all the effort I've put in to get here. It shows I've become skilled, and that means I can do it again, right?

Assess your transferable skills.

While you became an expert in your current job, you've also invested years in developing skills like leadership, collaboration, communication, problem-solving, and time management, which are valuable in any field. So, while a new career may require new skills, you have a solid foundation to build on and a clearer sense of what you want.

"You’re not 40, you’re 18 with 22 years of experience." - Unknown

Learning new skills.

What you also must be quite good by now is picking up new skills. Let's find out what it means to bridge the gap for the new role, it might be only a course away.

Woman in her 40s planning her career change.

Fear #2: "It's too big of a leap."

Thank you, fear, for trying to protect me from a big fall. Let's see how big of a jump we're looking at here!

Scale and types of career change.

Instead of viewing career change as a drastic 180° turn, consider it as a gradual shift where you explore different scenarios step by step. There are many ways to transition, such as shifting roles or industries, making lateral moves, relocating, downshifting, starting a business, turning hobbies into careers, taking courses, freelancing, or taking a sabbatical. Sometimes a small adjustment is enough, while other times a big change is needed—let's explore your options, as they might be closer than you think.


Knowing what you want allows you to plan ahead and take the time to prepare for an even bigger change. This makes the transition smoother as well.

Fear #3: "It's too late."

Yes, I've heard that before. But let me ask you, fear, what if it's too late not to do anything about it?

What if the best work is yet ahead of you?

In average, a person starts working at 22 and retires around 65. So if you're 40 now, you've likely worked for 18 years but still have 25 years ahead of you. With longer lifespans and later retirement ages, some of us could work even longer, well into our 70s, even 80s. As we live and work longer, we "move away from the constraints of a three-stage life (education, work, retirement) to a way of living that is more flexible, and more responsive – a multi-stage life with a variety of careers with breaks and transitions. This allows us to make a long life a gift." (Brown, Wond, 2020).

Many have succeeded before you.

As a psychologist and career coach, I've seen many who dared to redefine or shift their careers and found work that feels very meaningful. Research also shows that

"82% of those who attempted a career change after the age of 45 were successful"

Caroline Castrillon

Fear #4: "I can’t afford it"

Good point, fear. Let's think through how much we're actually talking about, though.

Assess your true needs.

To address this fear head-on, start by doing the math. Ask yourself how much you truly need and what your priorities are. A career change might come with a pay cut, at least initially. Some people find that they are better off with a more modest lifestyle but love what they do. Others change for higher salaries and more opportunities. Assess your financial situation carefully and plan for any potential transition period. Saving a cushion can alleviate some of the stress. Making the change gradually, relying on family and friends, and applying for scholarships and loans can also help.

Fear #5: "What if the new career is not the right fit?"

Again, fear, thank you for watching out for my fulfillment. If I take all this risk, it'd better be right, right?

Information is power.

To navigate a career change successfully, look inward and outward to understand yourself and the new field. Identify your values, skills, and strengths through self-exploration, taking stock of achievements and seeking feedback. The more you know who you are now, the better you can assess your options.

Experiment by testing the new field through research, shadowing, volunteering, conversations with insiders, and small trials, much like user testing in product design. This approach helps ensure the change aligns with your goals and allows you to pivot early if needed.

Conclusion: a helpful mindset for changing careers in your 40s

Getting started in a new field will definitely require time and effort, so feel free to reach out for help when you need it. Inviting your doubtful thoughts into the conversation can eventually bring clarity. When discussing fears, I encourage my clients to reflect on how these thoughts and feelings have served them so far. Sometimes, they prepare us for future challenges; other times, they hinder our progress. I invite you to get to know these thoughts—write them down or talk to a friend, a colleague, or a career coach.

Be like a good host: welcome them in, but don't let them take over. You still get to be the owner of your life and career. Maybe you just need to host other, friendlier visitors who voice encouraging opinions from time to time.

About the Author

Nelli Csarno is a licensed psychologist and certified career coach specializing in career transitions and personal development. With over 10 years of experience, Nelli has helped countless individuals navigate significant life changes, including mid-life career shifts. She believes in the power of self-discovery and lifelong learning to achieve personal and professional fulfillment.


Brown C., Wond T: Exploring mid-life career reinvention, Career matters, October 2020 Issue 8.4, p10,11

Castrillon, C.: How to reinvent your career after 40, Forbes. carolinecastrillon/2019/11/17/how-to-reinvent-your- career-after-40/#2196a780386d. [accessed 12th August 2020].

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