I talk a lot about self-care and how to live a happier life, but one thing we need to look at more closely is our careers
It's hard to live a pleasurable, balanced or meaningful life if we hate our jobs.
I want to talk to you, specifically as a woman around 40, about the possibility of changing career.
I understand this sounds like a terrifying prospect - and it definitely is, but it can be wildly exciting too.
Maybe you don't hate your job? Perhaps you're settled in your career, earning a reasonable salary and in a role that you're comfortable with and is secure?
But does it excite you? Does it challenge you? Does it reward you creatively or intellectually?
If not - is it time to think again?
THE PERFECT TIME FOR A CAREER CHANGE
Let’s put this into perspective; The retirement age for women in the UK is now 66 - up from 60. We still have at least 26 years of our working life left; this is a very long time.
That's 26 years, of eight hours a day, five days a week, 48 weeks a year, and that’s not even including the dreaded, godforsaken commute. So let me repeat this, you still have 26 years left of work.
Do you want to continue what you’re doing, or do you want to do something different?
WOMEN OVER 40
The reasons why considering a career change is so significant for women our age are plenty.
Firstly, and most importantly, we’ve changed; we are no longer the young women who set out at 18 years old to go and try and make our way in the world. And society has changed, massively - we'll investigate both these points in far more detail below.
At 40, we still have time to retrain, even go back to university if we choose, and have at least 20 more years in our new career. That’s a long time, enough to re-establish ourselves and work our way to the top, if we want.
If we look around us we can see that the job landscape has changed drastically over the last two decades, entry requirements have changed, there are now jobs that didn't exist before, blogger, UX designer, influencer!? And because of the internet, we can work far more flexibly, and we can work globally. This new landscape is incredibly exciting and opens up vast opportunities for a career change.
THE CHOICES WE MADE
At 18 when we're still just babies, we're expected to make the huge choice of what to do with our lives. At this tender age, we don't know enough about life, and we lack the confidence, or in some cases resources, to go and explore the options available to us thoroughly.
BORED TO TEARS
You probably did A-Levels in the most uncreative and uninspiring subjects or, you did B-Tech qualifications (which were severely looked down on). If you were a female, this meant you could do Hair and Beauty or Travel and Tourism; the boys chose between Joinery, Mechanics or Plumbing.
How did you decide what to do at university? What did you consider?
Were you allowed the luxury of choosing what you were passionate about - did you know what you were passionate about?
Two decades ago (for a working/middle-class white girl in the UK) it was more or less incomprehensible not to consider going to university. There were barely any jobs with any real potential for growth and development for a school leaver.
Anyone who couldn't quite face university yet would go and get a job in a call centre, as it was one of the only options available, but realise quite quickly the horror that this entails, and sign up for uni a year later.
We were a generation forced to choose from almost nothing.
A TEDIOUS SLOG
My own story is an eye-rolling, exhausting affair. I hadn't identified my passion just yet, although all of the signs were there. Anyway, I enjoyed fashion, I knew I didn't want to do Fashion Design, but I found another course, 'Fashion Promotion'.
They wouldn't let me on the course with my A levels in the Social Sciences, so I had to complete an Art Foundation course for a year, and then I got accepted. One year after that, I had a small baby to look after on my own, and that was the end of that. Was I bothered? Not really.
After a year out having a baby, I retrained as a social worker. Why? Because I had 'some' experience as I was volunteering at a community project. I was also reasonably interested in the subject, but I chose it mainly because I knew that the starting salary was higher than most, and I was now a single parent with a child to support.
It would be no surprise if you fell into a career that wasn't suited to you, that you're not passionate about, and that you chose because it was the only seemingly viable option at the time.
BUT THERE'S MORE
Times have changed, we have moved forward. Back then, even if we had an interest in wood panelling or any other kind of male-dominated activity or profession, it’s just not something that we would have considered, because of the oppressive male-dominated environment that we would inevitably find ourselves.
I wonder if any of you, at any point in your teen years, found yourself on a building site or at a builder's merchants? As a young girl, I had to regularly walk past building sites on my way to school, and I would get constant abuse. Whistling, catcalling, and on one occasion I can remember vividly, comments about my breasts alongside cheers and laughs. I was reduced to tears every time I walked past.
Did I want to be a builder?
No, I didn't want to be a builder.
But I just wanted to make a point. The situations are endless, I could go on forever, as I'm sure you could - certain environments were off limit to us.
Maybe you had a passion for gardening, you love to plant and see things grow and be outdoors, but you didn't fancy working alongside gangs of men stuck in pick-up trucks when it was raining - who would blame you?
Happily, women are now moving more into traditionally male-dominated professions successfully, so if you missed out before, maybe it's time to look again.
Although that it's worth noting that research shows that the bravely fought #MeToo movement which exposes sexual harassment at work, has not necessarily been effective in reducing sexual harassment or supporting victims.
The difference is that it's no longer socially accepted or tolerated, we can call it out, and there's a legal framework for us to do this.
I have worked in many male-dominated workspaces with a culture of sexism, misogyny and toxic masculinity.
My 40-year-old self will no longer accept it. I will no longer allow the too close physical encounters in the corridors, the conversations about blow jobs in the office, the comments about 'being too pretty to write a good news article.' All of these actions are wrong, and are used to objectify and belittle women.
The start of things to come
My working life started as a waitress in a tea room in Hebden Bridge; I was 13. The boss's dad, who was around 60 years of age would pass me closely at any given opportunity and grind his body up next to mine; it was disgusting. I didn't know what to do, I didn't want to 'cause any trouble', yet I felt violated, humiliated and ashamed. I told one of my senior colleagues (aged 15) she said: "Ah yes that's just creepy Mike try and stay away from him."
This dreadful first experience would be the foundation of a working life spent enduring sexual harassment from colleagues or clients/customers in varying forms.
Is it any wonder that we are sick and tired of this shitshow, and that as women we are driven more than ever to create our own businesses, our own organisations, our own spaces on our own terms?
The GENDER PAY GAP
Writing is my personal calling, it excites me, it challenges me, and it rewards me both creatively and intellectually. My work isn’t a chore; it’s a pleasure.
I look forward to every day with vigour and a thirst for each exciting new project. This is my daily experience, and I am incredibly thankful for this.
But I didn't start my working life as a freelance writer - this only came in my thirties after stumbling around in professions that were not choices, just the best options at the time.
WAKING UP AT 40
It starts with a feeling; it's hard to put our fingers on at first. Eventually, there's a big realisation, and we wake up. We wake up to the limiting, oppressive, and unfair yet very fixed ideas about women that are inherent in our society.
We realise we've been told who we should be, and how we should be, we have been dictated to. What we should wear, how we should behave, how we should feel, which career we should choose, how desirable we should be.
I’m not sure what it is about turning 40 that helps us to see everything so clearly, but when it hits home, we get angry, we get mad, and so we should.
We've had enough.
With this new realisation also comes power; the power of no longer allowing ourselves to be dictated to, and rejecting what society thinks about us - we no longer care. There is nothing more powerful than a woman scorned.
There is so much freedom in choosing a new unlimited path, and we can apply this to our careers with joy.
Often, when we don’t pursue a path that we feel drawn to, it is primarily based on fear, on our individual self-limiting beliefs, and I can certainly attest to that from my own life.
All of the stumbling blocks, all of the times that I said no, all of the times that I didn't follow my heart, it was all because of a deep underlying fear that I wasn't good enough, that I would be a failure, or I was overly concerned about what people might think of me.
Now, at 40, we do still have some fears, but they're not the same. The concern isn’t about what people will think about us because we don't care anymore.
We’ve lived under the constraints of these set ideas that have controlled and oppressed us for the last 40 years, and we've had enough.
We no longer accept the constraints of the patriarchy.
"I'm a feminist. I've been a female for a long time now. It'd be stupid not to be on my own side."
- Mary Angelou
Feminism isn't a dirty word; it's not a radical movement spearheaded by lesbians with skinheads, as we are sometimes led to believe. It's the simple notion that women should have the same opportunities as men, which includes being safe from sexual harassment, assault, rape and murder.
Feminism has paved the way for us to be 'allowed' to have jobs, be allowed to have bank accounts, be allowed to own our own property and be allowed to vote.
Feminism is the reason why my daughter is doing a science-based degree at University. Women before us fought for the right to go to university. Women before us fought for the sciences to be more accessible to women.
Each generation builds on the achievements of the last. It's disappointing that we have to continue the fight, but we must when two women each week die as a result of domestic violence in the UK alone.
I DON'T WANT TO START FROM THE BOTTOM AGAIN
I know it’s hard even thinking about going back to the start, back to the bottom, perhaps taking a pay cut.
But don't forget, we've changed, and society has changed. It's no longer acceptable to treat interns, apprentices or juniors like shit. And if it happens, we have more confidence to challenge it.
I've been through it all. The difference this time is that I'm now far more knowledgeable and experienced, and I can recognise when things are 'not right'.
In 2016 I got an internship with a leading global magazine (I can’t mention the name as I signed a confidentiality agreement) and this was, in my eyes a dream opportunity. Something my 17-year-old self would have killed for.
I left after four days.
Why? Because they treated me like a 13-year-old intern with no skills or personality.
I was outta there. Life's short. I don't believe that we have to face these difficult situations to get to where we want to be anymore. Just because one thing didn't work out, this is fine, we walk away, and we try the next thing.
Every experience we have, positive or negative, is a step towards our goals.
What I found inherently on my path to my new career was that generally, people were really rooting for me. They totally respected my decision to make such a significant change, and they helped me out in any way they could. Family, friends, the wider community, and other freelance colleagues.
LET'S GET REAL
There are certain sacrifices that you will have to make if you decide to change your career initially, and these consist mainly of money and time - the most valuable (perceived) commodities in modern life.
Firstly, financial. You will (probably) have to pay to re-educate yourself.
I have invested significantly in my own personal development over the years, I continue to do so, and I always will. There is no better investment than an investment in ourselves.
I didn't have lots of savings when I embarked on my career change and yet I still managed to achieve everything that I wanted - including studying for two years on an MA course and working fewer hours to concentrate on the program.
Where there's a (40-year-old woman's) will, there's a way. If we want it enough we can do it.
Misery costs money
AND it will (probably) take time before you're earning a salary of the level you are now.
But if we look at what we spend money on, generally because we're so miserable and hate our jobs so much, we can cut all of that out. When we're positively working towards our goals and can see that change is on the horizon, we don't need the usual pick-me-ups, you know weekends away, binge drinking with friends (eek), or new clothes or gadgets.
This is SO important.
Female role models of the 80' and '90s were extremely few and far between. Growing up if I could have landed a part in Neighbours or Home & Away and got to marry Jason Donovan then all of my dreams would have come true. There wasn't a lack of women doing great things, but there was a lack of women being shown to be doing great things.
And lest we not forget that it was the era of the supermodel. Those almost ethereal creatures sent from heaven, given immediate superstar status based purely on how attractive they were to men, and reinforced that we can only really do well in life if we are desirable.
Is it any wonder that we've spent half of our lives in front of the bathroom mirror trying to get validated, somewhere, someway, somehow? Please read the post A Message to my Daughter for more on this topic.
Now, what's really exciting is that we have role models. Real life successful women who we can look to for inspiration. This is partly due to the internet which allows us to create our own platforms, and partly due to feminism making more strides, women being afforded more opportunities, and women having the courage to step out on their own.
We can now look at a successful woman, and if we want to stand in her space, we can see what she has achieved and how she has achieved it, and we can take lessons from her.
Women’s labour in the home is not seen as valuable by society, but we’ve now had 40 years of it, and we know how valuable it is. We are warriors in emotional, physical and intellectual labour.
There is nothing that we cannot handle, cannot manage, cannot organise, cannot deal with, cannot excel at. We now realise how transferable these skills are and this gives us immense confidence. If there's a job to be done, we can do it.
We’re here, we mean business, we can do this. We look at our lives and see what we’ve achieved and realised we can do whatever we set our minds to.
The question is what we will put our mind to?
We now seem to have more time on our hands. Our children (if we have them) are getting older, and this creates a vast space. We have less of a social life as going out is no longer as appealing.
We drink less, because you know, hangovers are awful - we've realised that life is very short and we don't want to spend any more days dying on the sofa eating shit and watching Netflix.
We're also much better at saying 'no', we can say no to the things we don't want to do, the requests from friends and acquaintances, and we no longer have FOMO - the fear of missing out.
I know many of you are tired, tired from raising children, tired from fighting the patriarchy, tired from being all things to all people. Do you have the energy to embark on a new career?
From my experience, when I'm doing something that I love, I feel energised, it doesn't deplete me. Every day I wake up and think 'ooh what am I writing today'?
The turning point in my career came in 2011, a significant transitional period in my life. I looked around and realised I didn't like much of what I could see - and this included my job.
When we actively hate our jobs, when going to work each day is unbearable, we are motivated by a sincere desire for change, and as quickly as possible. I'm glad that I hated my job because it provided the drive, that fire we get in our bellies, to do something about it.
A stroke of luck?
I feel lucky that I had this almost nervous breakdown at that time in my life, although it didn't feel lucky at the time - you can read my story here. But if I hadn't it wouldn't have forced me to scrutinise every aspect of my life, and I might still just be plodding along miserably, struggling with every aspect of my life, rather than sitting by the pool, writing this for you, in Thailand.
There is nothing to stop you creating a life that you desire too.
There is no secret to it. We identify then set our goals and then make an actionable plan of how to get there.
Mine was a five-year plan, influenced mainly by the time my daughter would be leaving home. I planned it, worked hard for it, and now I can enjoy it - and so can you!
So what's the next step?
What is your passion?
At first I thought mine was writing and of course, it is, but it's so much more than that:
I want to help all women reach their full potential in all aspects of their lives. We need it, we deserve it. Writing, alongside sharing my experiences, striving to be a role model, and coaching is my way of facilitating this.
I wrote this article in the hope that it may ignite a spark, get something started, create an itch that needs scratching.
We don't have to do jobs we hate, we don't have to do jobs that are boring. We can find a job that we are suited to, that we are passionate about, and that is meaningful and by doing so we inspire other women to live life on their own terms also.
You’re not too old, and it’s never too late. Namaste.
To receive honest and absorbing stories to help us try and make sense of our world please get on my email list.
Hannah Anstee is a former British Wellness Journalist turned Women’s Midlife & Wellbeing Coach.
You may know her from her work as Beauty Editor at YOGA Magazine or her contributions to The Independent or Psychologies Magazine.
Hannah uses a kind and candid approach to help women rewrite their stories.