Career hacks I wish I knew in my 40s
By the time you reach your 40s, chances are you have a couple of decades of work experience under your belt. This is a good thing! Having been around the block a few times, you’ve learned about yourself, you have a picture of your likes, dislikes and strengths in the workplace, an understanding of what it takes to navigate the work environment and developed expertise in your field. Sure, you may have a few more wrinkles and grey hair (or less hair) but you’ve gained wisdom.
So, what’s next? This is the challenge many professionals in their 40s face. Having worked hard to acquire knowledge, skills and a professional reputation, how do you continue to learn, grow and enjoy your working life?
The Saggy Middle
You can hit a saggy mid-point in your career in your 40s. Perhaps you don’t feel the same drive and ambition you felt in your 20s? Or maybe you’ve asked yourself “is this what I really want to do for the rest of my life?”
For most of us, retirement at 40 isn’t an option. We have financial responsibilities, which means we have to work to keep the money coming in. But that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to feeling bored, frustrated, trapped or just going through the motions so you can pay the bills.
Be a Life-long Learner
One way to find your career mojo is to become a life-long learner.
I often hear my clients say “my job is boring” or “I’m losing my brain cells doing the same work over and over”. And guess what? It’s true! According to psychiatrist, Dr Daniel. G. Amen, you’re brain trims away unused brain power.
“Our brains are designed to prune away unused synaptic connections, our cognitive skills tend to dip after we graduate from college or retire from work. To stay sharp as a whip, continue to challenge your brain on a daily basis,” said Dr Amen.
Gaining new knowledge and skills is a great way to stimulate your brain, spark your energy and stay relevant.
Maturity gives you the wisdom of experience and the ability to think and react in a considered way. However, grey hair can leave the younger employees thinking you’re a dinosaur. You don’t want to be the office fuddy-duddy who doesn’t know how to use the latest technology. There are many courses you can take online which are not expensive and you can do in your own time. Also talk to your employer about a professional development program (hint: tell them how it will help their business). It’s important to keep your knowledge and skills current so you’re not left behind, especially if there are redundancies in your organisation.
Move Up the Ladder
Career-wise, your 40s are a good time to focus on promotions, especially if you’re clear about what makes your skills unique and valuable. Having accumulated 20 years of experience, you’re in a good position to become a leader in your organisation or a thought leader in your field.
But, there is a difference between a good operator and a good leader.
If you want to step up, then consider some leadership training. It’s a common, but untrue myth that leaders are born not made which deters people from pursuing leadership roles. It’s rubbish, you can learn leadership, don’t let your inner critic hold you back! Another myth is you have to be an extrovert to be a successful leader. What do Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Michael Jordon, Elon Musk, Zuckerberg and Barack Obama have in common? They are all highly successful introverts.
As a career coach, I can help you understand your leadership strengths, traits, skills and the capabilities and qualifications you need to acquire to become a successful leader. I can also provide support as you step out of your comfort zone and reach up to the next level.
Clean out your wardrobe
If you can still fit into the work clothes you wore in your 20s & 30s, congratulations for staying in good shape! But that doesn’t mean you should still wear the clothes you bought 20 years ago! It may seem like a superficial thing but the way you dress does influence the way you feel about yourself and how others perceive you, which is part of your personal brand. Dressing well and appropriately for your age has many benefits: it makes you feel confident, people notice you, it helps you connect and it helps your credibility. I remember a mentor of mine once telling me “it is important to dress like your audience. It helps them relate and connect with you.”
If your work wardrobe is looking tired, retire those old garments. You don’t have to buy lots of expensive clothes, just a few quality pieces that spark your confidence when you wear them. Sometimes, as you age, your body changes shape, and you don’t always know what looks good on you anymore. A personal stylist can help you sort through your wardrobe, get rid of the clothes that don’t suit you and shop for a sensible wardrobe that will do the job. A small investment in a fashion make-over can really help you find your mojo.
Do a Career Stock Take
If the thought of a promotion doesn’t stoke the fire in your belly, then maybe it’s time to change direction.
Late in 2018, I wrote an article Is it Time for An End-of-Year Career Stocktake? A career stock take isn’t just an end-of-year activity, it’s equally helpful if you feel stuck in a career rut. In the article, I suggested you consider:
- Where am I now (including your careers assets & liabilities)?
- Where do I want to go?
- How am I going to get there?
The important thing is if you’re feeling low, do something about it. Feeling unhappy is okay in the short-term but if you continue in this mindset, it will affect your work performance, well-being and potentially your relationships with the ones you love.
If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, talk to a career coach, who will help you create an achievable plan for a career that plays to your strengths and gives you purpose.
Take the Pressure Down
If you’re in your 40s then you’re old enough to remember John Farnham’s ‘80s classic “Take the Pressure Down”. It was the tune that relaunched his music career and made him relevant to a new generation of music lovers. It’s easy to laugh at “Farnsy” but his song has a message for all of us: if you’re feeling overwhelmed, then you need to take the pressure down!
Your 40s can be a demanding time in your personal life. At this stage, you may have caring responsibilities for children and aging parents, which means you can feel pressure from the generation below and the one above. It’s also a decade when both physical and mental health issues can arise. Perhaps you give all your time to work and family and don’t make time to exercise to release the pressure valve and stay physically and mentally fit?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the pressures of work, family and health, it’s time to re-assess. Do you have to do it all now, have it all now? What changes can you make in your career and life to take the pressure down? Your career is a marathon, not a sprint, so you need to pace yourself accordingly so you can last the distance. You’re at the mid-way point, with another 20-30 years to go. What adjustments do you need to make so you stay mentally and physically well until the end of your career (and more importantly, well enough to enjoy your retirement!)?
If you can’t see clear to make a re-assessment yourself, then speak to a career coach. We can help you make a sensible plan, so you can lighten your load.
Creating a Legacy
If you work full-time, you invest more than 2000 hours a year of your life at work. A friend of mine has a great quote on her fridge. It reads:
“You don’t buy things with money. You buy them with hours of your life”
For many, this really hits home in their 40s. Other than paying off the mortgage, they start to wonder ‘what is the point of my career?’.
Of course, working for money is important. It allows you to provide for you and your family but it doesn’t always give you a sense of purpose.
If this is you, I have some suggestions on how you can find meaning in your work, beyond earning money.
Give back to your profession
If you have been fortunate to learn from others in your profession, your 40s are a great time to pay it forward. Here are some ways I think you can give back and connect with your sense of purpose.
Be a Mentor
Being a mentor offers no financial benefits but the intrinsic rewards of helping others can be very satisfying. Remember how daunting it felt when you started your career? As a mature worker, you have the knowledge and skills to help someone else navigate their career and achieve success. This is very satisfying (I know, I’ve made a career out of it).
Publish and share your knowledge
By your 40s, you’ve learned a lot and a great way to help others is to publish what you’ve learned. In some professions, there are formal ways to do this, such as journals. But if that’s not your thing, the digital age provides many ways you can self-publish including:
- Publishing articles or short videos on LinkedIn
- Creating your own blog (there are many low-cost platforms to do this)
- Writing your own newsletter
When you publish not only will you will be helping others but you’ll also help yourself to:
- Learn new skills (writing, social media, publishing)
- Build your professional brand by sharing your expertise
- Create and share a legacy
Another wise friend of mine always says “when you help someone else, you help yourself”.
As a professional, chances are you have skills, which you can use to help others, particularly people who can’t afford to pay for someone like you. Helping someone else less fortunate than you is a great way to remind yourself that your work is valuable, and to feel satisfied knowing you have the power to make a difference. Also, some progressive workplaces will even give you small amounts of paid time off work to volunteer. This means volunteering doesn’t cut into your family time.
There are other great spin-offs from volunteering. For example, you can widen your professional network by meeting other volunteers, learn new skills and knowledge as you do work outside your normal sphere and create a professional legacy. Who doesn’t want to be known and remembered as a someone who helped others?
Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Just like a marathon, reaching of the mid-point of your career in your 40s can leave you asking ‘can I keep going like this?’ If you’ve lost your career mojo or need help moving forward, I offer a free 45-minute career conversation to discuss how to move your career forward and re-connect your sense of purpose. Book an appointment with me today.
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