If you could start over again at 45, what kind of work would you do?
July 9, 2019 8:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm unhappy with where I am career-wise. So here's my situation and a kind of a crazy request for ideas...

I'm currently working a tech/media job that pays in the low six-figures. I have a BA in the humanities and an MBA from good schools.

I'm single and financially secure (could retire now) but I'd like to keep working to keep my brain active and stay relevant.

I could also recast myself by going to school for a year or two, so the sky's the limit. What should I do?

Pay is not that important to me, though a good wage would be nice. I might feel like I'm wasting my time and education if I was making less than $60k, though for the right job I could.

The things I'd like to have are:

* purpose / mentally and spiritually rewarding work -- one of the hardest things about the current job is that all I'm doing is making shareholders wealthier

* work-life balance -- I work early mornings, holidays and weekends. My supervisors keep trying to cadge extra hours out of me. I would like a regular 40-hour work week. Is this even possible anymore?

* international applicability -- related to work-life balance, I'm not sure I'd like to be in the workaholic United States anymore. Are there jobs that are easily brought to other countries?

* longevity -- the work I do is notoriously ephemeral. The industry also changes rapidly. It would be nice to be in an industry where experience matters and I can build some equity.

* not working with jerks -- I think this has something to do with being in an industry where change happens so much (and pay can be good). I'm ok with politics, I just don't want the job to be all about politics (and this has something to do with purpose.)

* deep work -- a lot of jobs involve doing dozens of things at the same time, none of which matter too much. I'm jealous of those who can concentrate for an extended period. I think you add more value this way too.

I'm more qualitative than quantitative-minded, though I did manage to make it through business school. I'm a better writer than analyst.

I'd even go to school to find this path. I admire the way that the coding market is so hot that it lets its practitioners write their own tickets, and if my skills are in demand, I can choose a job based on the other priorities on my checklist. But I also get the sense that coding is also a grind.

Is this realistic? What are your thoughts?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking from personal experience I think you need to take at least a year off before you’ll really be able to address this question. If nothing else you can look at how you fill your time (which is unlikely to be how you think) and make some decisions based on that.

Or better yet, really shake yourself loose and join the Peace Corps for a few years. Both Africa and Eastern Europe need economic advisors to help small economies get off the ground and it sounds like your skills would be a good match.

Once you’ve cleansed your palate of the corporate world you’ll be in a much better position to decide how (or if) to engage with it to get what you want.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:51 PM on July 9 [5 favorites]

I second the suggestion to take a year off but I will throw out the idea of becoming a psychotherapist in private practice. It meets all of your requirements except for international applicability (even state to state transferability can be tricky) but it is deeply rewarding (and an opportunity for your own personal growth as well), you can have work-life balance, setting your own hours with easy option to go part time although you will find it easier to get clients if you work evenings or weekends it is completely your option, you can work well into your 70s, very low jerk factor when you are self=employed, you learn to be deeply present with each client for the time they are with you and then learn to let go and move on to the next one. I know several people from various high tech backgrounds that made this their second career in their forties so you certainly aren't too old - in fact life experience is an asset.
posted by metahawk at 10:08 PM on July 9 [7 favorites]

I think you'll need to look inside yourself to really answer this question. Recently I was able to start envisioning myself not needing to work, and I was surprised at the ideas that came up, and sort of amused that these were the same ideas I'd had back in my early 20s. I agree with the idea to give yourself some time (could you take a sabbatical?) and see what comes up.
posted by salvia at 10:10 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]

I'm in my late 30s and have been been in one creative field since I was 22 but what I really want to do is be another creative field. Between migrating to the States and the precariousness that brings, a long relationship that didn't work out and not entirely hating what I do now i I haven't made the switch yet. I can resonate with many features you cite, working with people who are just not decent, serving the 1%, long hours, bad managers and little agency over my time that make me want to scream everyday.

I just left my last job but can't really take more than a couple of months off, and I'm realizing what folks here are saying is true - it takes much longer to shed what your career and work culture has saddled you with and find your own way of being.

I would also say do something you find gratifying regardless of it's impact on the world - this sounds selfish but it will be hard to sustain doing good, and creating some of broader value if you don't enjoy the medium. Also, unless you want to withdraw from collaborative work and do something singular like writing, painting, composing etc, there will always be the question of other people. especially if you want to enter a field where experience matters and most others who have it will now be younger to you. It's one thing to be an entry level designer at 22 and another thing to do it at 42. But, if you're doing something that engages you - that makes you feel lucky to have had another shot at how your life can be, the rest of the noise could be bearable, even enjoyable.

Having said that, please do it, reinvent your life, it's the only one we've got and this ridiculous work ethic in service of capitalism cannot be the central experience of our time on this planet.
posted by whatdoyouthink? at 11:44 PM on July 9 [9 favorites]

I think you might enjoy working for a non-profit if there is a particular cause or topic that interests you- climate change, cancer research, international aid, etc. Well-run organizations in this sector could use your industry skills, but for a charitable purpose rather than for making rich people richer. For me, that has been a huge motivator. The key is figuring out what you are passionate about, and finding the right role.
As a former Peace Corps volunteer I would not recommend it for you - it is a very grass roots organization and you would not be doing high-level economic advising. For impactful work that utilizes your skills and experience your want something like USAID or a similar NGO where you could have a senior technical role.

Maybe you could just take a few months break and travel, and try to get a better sense of what sort of career change could satisfy you.
posted by emd3737 at 12:05 AM on July 10 [4 favorites]

I know what I would do if I had the security / stability / lack of responsibility for others in which I could just simply decide what I wanted to do, and do it:

I'd travel. I'd write and self-publish and create art. And I'd take one hell of a lot better care of myself - exercise, eating right, actually getting enough sleep, and making time to do all those things that are simply for the enjoyment or experience that I either lack the time or money to do.

If I decided to work at a job for someone else, it would be because I wanted the experience or I wanted to help something I found worthy. It would probably not be full-time, and it certainly wouldn't be disruptive physically or mentally to the lifestyle I desired.
posted by stormyteal at 12:34 AM on July 10 [8 favorites]

I would ask you, what did your childhood play involve. As a child, I wrote newspapers for my tiny school (no reproduction so I'd write out 4 copies and they'd be passed around). One of my job tasks involves preparing books gor publication. As a child, I made a number of flipbook animations. Now, I get to do (very complex) powerpoint presentations. As a child, I started an index card file on characters in my childplay fantasies - now I get to analyse data. As a child, before computers were personal, I had a particular treebranch I straddled and "typed" at. As a child of 4, I remember considering pairs of colours that worked well: gold & silver, pink & purple and black & white (though that was boring so I dismissed it), now I get to choose complex palettes for my design work.

To be fair, I also drew pictures of desert islands and planned where I would plant my crops, and while that hasn't been a job, I have had many gardens (currently 3 planter boxes) which produced all sorts of food.

Who were you as a child? Will that inform your next career?
posted by b33j at 2:57 AM on July 10 [6 favorites]

I would suggest you challenge the idea that you are wasting your time and education if you earn less than $60,000. I have worked for nonprofits my whole adult life, and even though I work for one that pays well (in the nonprofit world), I did not earn that much until I was in my late 50s. You have a great opportunity to not have to think about money in deciding what to do. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that money earned reflects what you are worth or whether you are wasting your time.
I also want to recommend the book U-Turn: What if You Woke Up One Morning and Realized You Were Living the Wrong Life?
posted by FencingGal at 5:48 AM on July 10 [11 favorites]

Honestly, if you can retire, then retire. The idea that you need paying work at a certain salary to keep from "wasting" your time, education, and experience is just going to put you into another career/job that's going to be a drag.

That's not saying you should stop working, but decoupling yourself from the need to earn a paycheck, if you are in a good enough situation to do so, will allow you to figure out what's next. I think we're addicted to the idea, these days, of being "productive" until we all just fall over dead, and if you have the money to not work, then don't work for money, and then if you find something gratifying to do that also will bring in money after that, then do that.
posted by xingcat at 5:57 AM on July 10 [11 favorites]

It might be good to do a Kolbe 1 assessment and also the Strategic Coach Unique Ability Assessment. You do not talk about what your actual ambitions are. It would be good to start with your spiritual/mental interest. If you start there, you can look for common interest companies and organisations. It may require a sharp pay cut.
posted by parmanparman at 6:05 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

In your position I would consider something public policy adjacent, but that's just because it mixes public interest, economic models and increasingly tech.
posted by typecloud at 6:10 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Your question is a pretty good summary of how fired express end up working as specialists in the nonprofit sector. Is there a nonprofit whose work or mission you admire? Are they hiring? If not, you can contact them and let them know you're interested.

I work in a very visible nonprofit. The pay is significantly lower than government or private industry, but the offsets to that are impressive (e.g. not working with jerks, generous time off, impactful work, and so on). A lot of folks come to work for us later in their careers, when they've earned and burned out and are itching to give back, make a legacy, switch things up, you name it.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:40 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]

What would you do if you didn't need to make money? Do that and then figure out how to make it pay.
posted by trbrts at 7:20 AM on July 10

To everyone suggesting working at a non-profit, let me assure you, there are plenty of assholes that work in nonprofits, and a lot of them have been run out of the for-profit sector because they suck so much and the non-profit sector snapped them up because of their credentials despite their personalities.

You listed a lot of wishes, and you'll have to prioritize them. If you don't want to work with assholes, you'll either have to work with animals or alone.

Frankly, if you don't need the money, want to feel appreciated, and want to make the world a better place, I can't think of a better industry than senior care. Tons of options available, very spiritually rewarding, and low-key creative. And there are a lot of people who see it as a temporary job, so lifers are well-regarded and well-rewarded.
posted by juniperesque at 7:29 AM on July 10 [9 favorites]

Frankly, if you don't need the money, want to feel appreciated, and want to make the world a better place, I can't think of a better industry than senior care.

This doesn't insulate you from assholes. I know someone who got a certificate in geriatric care. He enjoyed working with the elderly people, but he ended up quitting because he was so disgusted by the way the people in charge didn't care about anything but making money - to the detriment of the people they were supposed to be serving.

Basically, as long as human beings are involved in any way, some of them might be terrible.
posted by FencingGal at 8:19 AM on July 10

Become a middle school teacher. My kids' most impactful instructor has been a language arts teacher in their mid-40s who is very laid back but who challenged them to be creative with advanced texts and journaling and interesting projects.

* purpose / mentally and spiritually rewarding work -- helping kids at a critical time in their lives; watching the light bulb go off in their heads sometimes as a project clicks

* work-life balance -- probably a lot of work in the initial years as you find your way, but then pretty stable (and summers off if you don't need the $$$)

* longevity -- sure

* not working with jerks -- you can't avoid this altogether but teachers are a pretty chill group overall

* deep work -- if you commit to it, yes (and especially if you can teach an advanced level class)
posted by AgentRocket at 8:25 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

In your position I would consider something public policy adjacent, but that's just because it mixes public interest, economic models and increasingly tech.

I made a mid-life career switch to a position as a government policy analyst and I agree that it scratches many of the itches the OP mentions. Maybe not the lack of political bullshit, though.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:34 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

I have a sideways suggestion for you: as you are reading these answers, is there something you are kind of secretly hoping someone will say? That might give you a clue as to what you’re yearning to do.
posted by aka burlap at 9:19 AM on July 10 [7 favorites]

I am also 45 with a liberal arts BA; my graduate degree was a JD from a lesser-light school. I have been sitting on essentially the same question for about 2 years, afraid to ask it.

Four years ago I essentially `Take-This-Career-And-Shove-It`-ed after 12+ years of (relatively) high-pay, high-stress legal jobs in state executive and legislative branches. I am watching these answers with great interest... but I can't recommend government work. Watching the political machinations at the levels immediately above and adjacent to mine was... unpleasant. [If this was anonymous, I'd say more.]

I've written and trashed a novel, taught myself to code (Javascript => Node, React, Gatsby, GraphQL, MongoDB) , written goofy web-apps and started a couple of home-grown blogs, raised my cooking game from C- to B+, eased two old dogs across the rainbow bridge, trained a new puppy, now 3 (pet tax: PuppyRey.online), and kept the house spotless.

None of which is bringing in income, of course.

Of the answers posted thus far, I find the `non-profit` and `teaching` answers most-interesting. But I also nod when I see "as long as human beings are involved in any way, some of them might be terrible." I can't really afford to avoid other human beings (save my family) for much longer, so we'll have to figure something out.

Thanks for asking this question.
posted by easement1 at 10:19 AM on July 10

Uh, don't be a teacher unless you want to work like 70hr weeks. All that grading and lesson prep happens on your own time and dime.

Working in local government has been especially rewarding for me as a tech person who was in marketing 20+ years. I work as a Product Manager in Digital Services, focusing on usability/accessibility of digital (usually online) services for residents. Hours are stable, benefits are awesome, and I have a lot of vacation time. Most of my co-workers are very hard-working and passionate about our residents. I also get to see immediate pay-offs of my work, directly influence city policy, and even bring in some of my own passion projects (mainly improving relationships with the trans community).

Since you're in tech, you might want to check out your local Code for America brigade, or go to next year's Summit to do some networking. Also check out US Digital Services if you're interested in a shorter tour of duty. Digital Service teams are still a very new phenomenon in government, and there's a lot of opportunity for positive change.
posted by Wossname at 11:03 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Definitely teaching ESL but honestly it took working two different careers (academia and then tech) to figure that out. But I also know the pay is horrible so I just teach on the side when I can.
posted by Young Kullervo at 1:41 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Retire, spend time on hobbies, maybe do some light tech consulting for needy non-profits.
posted by aramaic at 3:39 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

I am one of those people described above --a software developer who in his mid 40s became a psychotherapist in private practice. It worked for me.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:39 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]

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