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Career Change at 40: How to Know What You Are Good At

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Changing careers at age 40 means you’ve had time in the workforce to discover what you enjoy, but deciding whether your skills line up with the work you'd rather be doing requires some active investigation. It may be time to dig out some old work evaluations and focus on the “strengths” portion of the reviews or have a chat with a few trustworthy folks who know you well. It may surprise you to learn, however, that the best insights often come from contemplating what you get praised for outside the office.

Think It Through

When you started working, you may have headed into the career that paid the most, suited your college degree, or had enough openings to let you get a foot in the door. By 40, experience on the job counts as much as your degree, and that entry-level paycheck is a thing of the past. At this point, getting your foot in the door may not be as exciting as finding something you love. But since you still have to earn a wage, today might not be the best time to quit your job and focus on your passion. Take time to plan and explore your options.

If, for instance, you dream of writing the next best-seller or painting a masterpiece but the only writing you do is reserved for your diary and the last person who admired your paintings was your kindergarten teacher, don’t make a career move until an objective party has judged your skills. You could enroll in a writing course at a local college or take a few art lessons to gain insight about whether your passion translates into ability or not.

Take the Volunteer Test

Volunteering is an outstanding opportunity to test your skills and offer value to your community at the same time. Working at a homeless shelter can nudge you toward social services, whether it’s working directly with people in need or developing fundraisers that keep the agency running.

Coaching a little league team may highlight your patience as well as your coaching skills. Or you may find you’d rather use your management skills to organize teams or teaching skills to train coaches rather than work directly with young athletes. Volunteering can also provide insights about skills you possess but aren’t interested in using full-time.

Consider the Source

You are probably the best judge of what skills you possess, but it’s sometimes hard to be objective when it comes to rating our own skill set. But odds are you’ve heard from others about the skills you exhibit in your work and home lives. When friends often ask for your help with accessorizing a new outfit or how to best rearrange their living room furniture, you may have a flair for design. If yours is the door neighbors regularly knock on to discuss their gardening woes or landscaping dilemmas, consider whether your skills in those areas translate to a new career.