What It’s Actually Like To Make A Career Change In Your 40s

Career changes are becoming more and more popular in midlife. Sarah Walker presents two case studies of women who have made the transition and are now successful and happy in their new roles.

By Sarah Walker

Women throughout their lives have to be adaptable and open to change when it comes to career choices.  Whether it’s bringing up children, looking after elderly relatives or managing the house which is their priority they need to be prepared to go part-time, move jobs, possibly retrain, go freelance or set up their own company.  Recent research from the book ‘Enjoy midlife: be inspired’ which surveyed 150 women aged between 39 and 81 showed that 22% of women had retrained in a different career,17% had worked from home, 28% had changed their career to something more satisfying and 29% of women had set up their own companies to give them maximum flexibility in their careers.

Jennie Saunders – Clinical Researcher turned PT

Jennie 42, changed direction when she realised that working in Clinical research for a pharmaceutical company was not very compatible with having children: ‘I organised drug trials and rolled them out.  I was there right at the beginning and would manage the whole process through to the end.  It was stressful and involved lots of international travelling too.  Sometimes I was away every week.  After having children I knew it wouldn’t work and I had to rethink my career.  I definitely wanted to be there for them and I was determined to do that.’

Retraining as a Personal Trainer (PT) was an obvious next step for Jennie: ‘I really got into exercise when I was at University and became friends with a girl who was a national standard swimmer.  I really was in awe of her!  So I started doing aerobics with her and just really enjoyed it.’  A year after having her first child Jennie signed up to become a personal trainer, and just four years on had set up her own business working from home after gaining experience working in a local leisure centre as a PT.  It has been an ideal job to enable Jennie to manage being a Mum to two children (now aged 12 and 14) and be around for them when they come home from school.  She can work early mornings or evenings if she needs to but prefers to work mostly during the school day to enable her to be around when the children are back from school.

The number of working mothers in the UK has surged by 1.2 million over the past two decades.  It said there are now 4.9 million mothers with dependent children in work, up almost a third from 3.7 million in 1996, according to the Office for National Statistics. The increase means close to three-quarters of women with dependent children are now in work

Challenge yourself: sailing to the Isle of Wight

The training to become a qualified PT comprised a combination of residential weekends away in Wiltshire plus home study (online coursework) and practical assessments.  ‘It was not academically challenging but it definitely was physically challenging and time-consuming.  When I qualified it was 2009 so Ellen was four years old and William just two.  I had already started the qualification before my divorce as I suddenly realised that financially I needed to be able to earn money to help support myself and the children.  I worked at the gym before to get some practical experience but I was only getting £10 an hour so it was a ‘no brainer’ really to set up my own business and work from home.  I sat down and brainstormed ideas for the business with my partner Andy and a friend.  We came up with the name ‘Change PT’ after looking up at the TV and seeing some campaigners carrying banners with the word ‘Change’ on them!’

Many of Jennie’s first clients were found at the school gates, ‘Chatting with other mum friends, I found two who were keen to start training and they became my first clients.  It was nerve-racking to start with but went really well and word spread locally so I built up a number of clients relatively quickly.  I also now regularly advertise on Facebook and in the local village magazine.’

The business has grown rapidly.  Jennie now fits in between 20 and 30 PT sessions per week, ‘When the children were younger it would be more like ten sessions but now they’re older I aim for at least 20.  Above all having my own business gives me flexibility.  My daughter now comes home later from school, at 5.45, so I’ve cut out a lot of my evening work so I can be around for her, except mid-week when the children go to their Dad’s so I fit in three back to back evening clients.  I just think it’s very important to be around as much as I can for them.  When it’s the summer holidays I can go back to more evening work as I’m with the children most of the day.  It is a juggling act.  I certainly don’t consider myself the best Mum in the world but I am here for them.  So many times my son will come up and give me a hug (at the age of 12!).  If I wasn’t there I wouldn’t benefit from that!’

Jennie has recently had a fully-equipped cabin built in her garden which features a treadmill, exercise bike, kettlebell weights, fitball, TRX and there is also a separate room for sports massage.  ‘I am proud to have set up a successful business and can now do my own tax returns, marketing, retain clients, but above all I enjoy the one to one aspect – building that relationship with the client.  I probably could push myself more – but if I did would my children suffer and would my other clients suffer?’

Pros and cons of being a PT

Jennie says there are lots of reasons why she loves being a personal trainer, ‘I love to see people’s progress from being completely unfit and scared of exercise to seeing them blossom and become confident exercising and seeing their bodies change as they lose weight and tone up.  They put their faith in me completely and I do my best to make them feel at ease and confident in themselves.  Exercise is very important to me and even in their 40s and upwards people really can learn to love it!’

However personal training can sometimes be frustrating, ‘There are some people who can’t be motivated and I’ve learnt not to take it personally.  Some are very anti-exercise and I would like to be able to help them – but sometimes its clinical psychology they need as a few also have very deep-seated problems with food.  I have to work within my barriers as a service provider. I can’t be advising on psychology and I would definitely refer a client to a clinic/psychologist if I was worried they had an eating disorder, for example.  But mental health is not my big interest; I’m more interested in Motivation and healthy living – Health Psychology.  I’ve also recently completed a Diploma in Sports massage which was lots of work – practical assessments and a theory exam to pass – so I can now offer sports massage to my clients.’

Never too late to start exercising!

Jennie’s advice for anyone who has never exercised before?  ‘It’s never too late!  Why not have a go!  It doesn’t cost anything to go for a walk.  Try to go walking with a friend and then gradually build up the distance you walk.  If I haven’t walked for a week I will notice a difference in my body so it is important to keep it up.  Exercise not only makes us look better it also helps us mentally and aids our circulatory system and reduces fatty deposits – not to mention counter-acting against the effects of wine!  Sometimes I understand it must be insurmountable for people who comfort eat to make themselves feel better and some people put obstacles in the way all the time.  But take the first step and you’ll be amazed what you can achieve.  One client of mine who is a Fashion designer has lost half a stone in three weeks and the improvement in fitness can be seen already and she loves it too.  She feels really good about herself and is really glowing!’

Jackie Howard – switching antiques with cupcakes

Now in her 50s, successful business owner Jacky Howard set up her ‘Loveacupcake’ company (www.loveacupcake.com) six years ago when the antiques business she’d had dried up during the recession.  Prior to that she’d been buying and selling antiques, specialising in glass and ceramics, but she needed a new project when that ended.  ‘I couldn’t bear just being a doormat for everyone else!’ she said, as she has a husband and four sons (aged between 19 and 28) who are all living at home.

Then Jacky read in a magazine about a cupcake delivery service and said to her husband, ‘Cupcakes!  I can make cupcakes!’  Jacky has always baked and had a business in her 20s called ‘Simply cakes’ selling cakes to family and friends.  She was inspired to start a business, and began by baking a selection of cupcakes and taking them round to local cafes and garden centres.  Orders came in from the Cinnamon Café in Windsor and Longacres Garden Centre near Camberley and the business took off.  ‘It was hard work going round with the samples.  I think my more adventurous, ‘can do’ attitude has been encouraged by my husband Nick, who inspires us all to try new things.’

Award-winning cupcakes: Tracey, Nicola and Jacky (far right)

Great taste gold award

Jacky was not only supplying cakes weekly to two different outlets but then also started selling at the regular street market which takes place in Windsor.  Her cupcakes have since been recognised by the food industry, with the Chocolate Guinness cupcake being awarded the Great Taste Gold award 2012 and the Sticky Toffee Pudding cupcake winning a Great Taste award 2013.

Jacky not only bakes and decorates cupcakes with piped buttercream (beautifully decorated as flowers for example and presented as a ‘bouquet’) but also bakes novelty birthday cakes, celebration birthday cakes, wedding cupcake towers, 18th and 21st birthday cakes.  ‘The cupcakes are great for any occasion – weddings, baby showers, birthdays, parties, anniversaries, new arrivals and get well presents,’ adds Jacky.

Jacky has expanded the business into Cupcake classes, which can be in small groups or one-to-one sessions and take place in Jacky’s own kitchen/dining room which is spacious yet cosy.  The classes for groups teach how to decorate the cupcakes with piped buttercream, and the one-to-ones last a couple of hours and cover the baking and decorating of the cakes.  ‘The classes are very popular.  One-to-ones feel more like having a coffee morning.  I teach how to make the cupcakes, we sit down and have a coffee and a chat while they bake and then decorate them together.  It’s really fun!’

Flexible hours

Having her own business has enabled Jacky to work the hours to suit her busy family life, with all four boys still living at home (though two are at University during term time).  ‘Some weeks it feels like full-time – such as around Valentine’s Day when we had a lot of orders for cupcake ‘bouquets’ which can be fiddly to make – until my son who is very good at crafty things – showed me an easier way to do it!.  The business can get very busy at times but I can arrange my own hours which suits me.’

Jacky thinks she would still be a full-time secretary if it wasn’t for having children, which enabled her to set up her own business and go part-time – and she realises how lucky she is to be in that position.  Setting up her own business has given her the flexibility to work the hours she wants.

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