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How I Launched a Totally New Career After 40

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This article is from our friends at LearnVest, a leading site for personal finance.

What’s your dream job?

Really, though: What would you do if you didn’t have that student loan debt, or that mortgage, or if you weren’t so attached to the sandwich place next to your office?

If you’re already doing it, congratulations. If not, you aren’t alone. Surveys over the past few years have spit out some less-than-encouraging stats—in fact, a 2010 survey found that 80% of workers are dissatisfied with their jobs.

Why do we stay, if we aren’t doing what we love? There’s the steady paycheck and the logistics of switching jobs or careers—restructuring the budget, creating a new network of business contacts. Change is hard, and as we get older, it gets harder.

So most of us stay where we are. But some of us don’t—some of us realize we want something different, or something more, and set off to create an entirely new path. Below, meet three brave people who decided mid-career, in their 40s, that a new path was the one to take.

Mary Lou Quinlan, New York, NY

On Mary Lou’s 45th birthday, she asked herself, “What do I love to do?” The answer was clear: She loved writing, public speaking, and working with women. She took five weeks off from being the CEO of a major New York advertising firm to figure out how she could turn over 20 years of experience in communications and advertising into a new career that incorporated all of her passions.

In 1999, Mary Lou found the answer and started Just Ask a Woman, a marketing and branding consultancy focused on female consumers. She spent the next decade and a half traveling the country, connecting with real women, and interpreting their needs for corporate clients. She also authored multiple books on the insights she gained along the way.

When Mary Lou left her job to become an entrepreneur, she was financially prepared. “[My husband and I] never lost the more conservative style we had as newlyweds, where our combined income had been less than $40,000,” she says. “We never adapted to the spending lifestyle that seemed part of New York City living.”

She and her husband (who at the time worked for Time Warner, but has since retired and is currently pursuing a master's degree at NYU), spent years saving a substantial nest egg that allowed each of them to forge their own paths without worrying too much about money.

And Mary Lou didn’t stop with one business—around this same time, she lost her mother to blood cancer. She discovered handwritten prayer notes her mother had left in boxes, praying for everyone from her family to people she met in passing. In tribute to her mother’s memory, Mary Lou published a book about her mother’s “God boxes,” and adapted it into a one-woman, one-act play that she now performs around the country. “Performing the play is the realization of a long-held dream and a way to connect with the woman who inspired me most,” she explains. She performs on stages across the country and donates all proceeds to women’s charities.

Where she was once an advertising CEO, Mary Lou is now a communications expert, consultant, actress, and writer who has authored four books and written for numerous national magazines. “I approach life as a student of a dream,” she explains. “I’ve never looked back with regret, and I relish my fresh start and the feeling of freedom that comes with it.”

Joel Greenwald, St. Louis Park, MN

After completing his residency from the University of Minnesota in 1990, Joel worked as a physician in internal medicine for 10 years. However, bringing up three young children in a two-physician household—his wife is a radiation oncologist—proved difficult with the long and unpredictable hours of a doctor. Both the time and the money gave Joel pause: He and his wife wanted to be more available for their children, and he found that his job no longer fulfilled him as it had in the past.

At the age of 36, while still working as a physician, Joel enrolled in remote financial planning courses through The College for Financial Planning in Denver. He took his exams, and at age 38 began working part-time as a certified financial planner. He made the transition to full-time at the age of 40, and now works for himself advising doctors and dentists with their financial planning—an obvious clientele for a former practicing doctor. “It’s my natural market,” he says. “It’s who I know.”

Joel credits the success of his career transition to his wife, who covered the financial burden while he established his own financial planning practice and wasn’t contributing to the household income. He remembers that when he made the move, his wife would joke, “What’s going on? I thought I married a doctor!” But now, they’re both happy with his career switch, which has given them the flexibility to be more present for their children. He’s grateful for the freedom to run his own business and keep his clients happy.

“I get to help people,” Joel explains. “It’s incredibly similar to being a physician; after health, finance is probably second most important.”

Nancy Berk, Pittsburgh, PA

If you ask Nancy about her job, she’ll tell you she’s a “stand-up psychologist.” After a decade working full-time as as a clinical psychology professor at the university level, she’s spent the last eight years as a stand-up comedian and humor writer. Her interest in medicine led her to her first career, but she had never considered that the humor she infused into her day-to-day life could be her second.

However, a career shift at 45 didn’t come without financial implications. Nancy took a pay cut; in fact, she says the financial risk was the most difficult part of the transition. “It was scary, knowing I was giving up a financially stable position to take a chance,” she remembers. Luckily, she and her husband, who is a physician, had been saving consistently and were able to soften the blow. Though the risk paid off, Nancy maintains that she is still “cautious in spending and religious about saving.”

She credits part of her ability to connect with her audience to her years examining and learning about the human mind. “It helps me blend psychology training and humor, which is a perfect combination for me,” she says. These days, she spends her days writing material from morning to night; her humor writing can be seen in The Huffington Post, USA Today, and other national publications. One of her books is featured in the film Admission.

For Nancy, “shifting gears,” as she puts it, has led her to an “emotionally, financially, and creatively profitable” career.

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