Switching Careers (twice) After 40

As a young man, even as a high school student- I had no clear direction for my life in regards to “what I wanted to be when I grew up”. I read a quote from an unknown source that said “You can’t be anything if you want to be everything”, and that was my problem- I wanted to be everything. A teacher, a performer, a firefighter, an electrician, a carpenter, a radio DJ… the list didn’t stop. I had no clear path.

I did however know I wanted to be a dad. Getting a girl pregnant when I was 20 seemed like a natural introduction into adulthood and to my future. I had 3 kids before I turned 24, a ton of student debt from not finishing my teaching degree and no clear career path as I went from job to job looking to support my family.

It wasn’t until I was 29 that I found myself with an industrial sales company that I discovered a place where I was happy with the work I was doing AND supporting my family. It was a win-win. Before that, jobs were just that- a job. A paycheck. Something to fill time until something better came along. With this new job I had career opportunities. I spent over decade with them before a massive restructuring and I found myself for the first time ever in my adult life let go from a company.

I’ve never been fired or let go from any job before. I always left on my own terms, so after giving this company a decade of my life and becoming a sales professional, they offered me a very generous severance package and I was looking at my 40’s unemployed.

I spent the next 6 months looking for my next opportunity. Surely I had made enough connections in the industrial sales world that SOMEONE would hire me? I went from interview to interview just to hear “we aren’t really hiring right now”. I pulled every string I could calling in favors with all of my connections just to hear “if anything comes up, we’ll let you know”.

After a demoralizing period collecting unemployment checks, we decided it was probably time to look in a different direction. I no longer focused on the industrial sales companies and started looking at everything. I had no idea which direction I wanted to go in, just that I was growing more and more desperate.

That desperation led me to a sales position with an insurance company. Or so I thought… it was less of a “sales position with an insurance company” and more of a ponzi scheme. It was a multi-level marketing company with less than moral strategies when it came to selling life insurance. I did not succeed. Well… I succeeded in getting my license to sell life insurance, but I failed at selling their product through their “tried and true strategy” of dark manipulation. The longer I was there, the harder it was on my soul.

With the support of my wife, I quit that job and once again started looking. But now that I had a bona fide license to sell insurance, why not stick to that path? I spent the next several months looking for work in the insurance industry. Funny thing, industry insiders say that the past few years have been a historical low period for insurance sales. Great timing on my part. I eventually landed a job with a local insurance company doing home and auto insurance.

They sent me back to school to get my general insurance license (needed to sell home and auto insurance) as well as allowing me to use my life insurance license. I felt like I was truly on a path that I could sink my teeth into and find a home for myself. Then Covid hit. In the end I spent less than a year at that insurance company before they had to let me go “due to lack of work from Covid”. I don’t blame them, they had to do what they needed to do during unprecedented times. I still refer people there. But once again I found myself collecting unemployment checks.

I turned 42 during Covid, my oldest child turned 21 just before it really hit in February, meaning he is now the age I was when he was born, and I have just as much career clarity now as I did back then.

My wife works for a bank, one that is perpetually atop of the list of “Top Employers To Work For”. I have been to company events with her and rubbed shoulders with company top brass and was blown away by the culture and people that are employed there. My wife and I discussed the potential of working for the bank and 6 months after not working due to Covid I was hired to work a maternity leave position with one of the branches of the bank.

I have been there exactly 4 weeks now. I still don’t quite know what my job involves but I am told eventually I will be doing loans and mortgages and accounts.

My wife said to me one day a couple weeks ago, “I’m proud of you. Switching careers isn’t easy and you have done it twice in the past 3 years”. I never really thought about it, but yeah- I have. Going from industrial sales to insurance and now to banking… it certainly hasn’t been easy, especially with an unhealthy amount of depression to mount on to the journey.

While being off due to Covid, self isolating at home, being a social person… depression set in hard these past few months. I felt useless. Unable to help support my family. Even worse, the deeper the depression got, the harder it was to accomplish anything at home. So many projects that I WANTED to accomplish I simply couldn’t due to the fact that I was in a dark corner of reality and couldn’t find my way out.

And to make matters worse, because of Covid I have been separated from my therapist. We tried phone appointments but I am not much of a phone talker and those sessions ended up being very unproductive, so I haven’t spoken with her since April. That scares the crap out of me… I muddled through quarantine as best as I could and I am meeting this new career head on with as much gusto as I can manage, but as anyone with depression can tell you- it’s just a matter of time before the next big wave hits.

I’ve used up all my self management techniques. The next strike could be uglier than I can possibly imagine. Distraction only goes so far and I have been distracting myself as much as I can with the new job and working with a local theatre company to TRY and get a fall production in the works just in case things get better and we can actually go back to performing live theatre again.

Working is good but there are the doubts that creep in. Am I doing this right? How bad will it be when I mess something up? Can I recover? Am I making enough money to actually help provide for my family? Switching careers after 40 IS hard. But it’s not the end of the world. I’m trying really hard to look at it as the start of the next chapter of my life.

My youngest just turned 19. My first marriage is officially over and I am no longer responsible for my kids who are now starting to find their own way in the world. I have a new wife; in less than 3 weeks we will be celebrating our first year of marriage. This is my focus, my direction.

New wife, new life, new horizons.

I can’t predict the future or how I will feel down the road. I know right now everything is new and scary again. When you’re young(er than I am), new challenges are much easier to overcome. I hate sounding like a doddering old man because I am ONLY 42, but it is hard to learn new skills- but not impossible. As long as I can keep myself focused and begin to find purpose in the new job, I am fairly certain I can keep the darkness at bay, but it’s the potential setbacks that worry me.

In the end, we can only control what we can control. Staying positive and open to opportunities I have found can be the best defense against the darkness, finding a new work-life balance that keeps me challenged and motivated is my new task. One day at a time.

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I KNOW I don’t want to be an unemployed burden on my family.

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