scorecardStarting a new career in my 40s was the hardest and most rewarding thing I've ever done
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Starting a new career in my 40s was the hardest and most rewarding thing I've ever done

Heidi Borst   

Starting a new career in my 40s was the hardest and most rewarding thing I've ever done
Careers3 min read
  • At 35 I left my job as an accountant to take care of my newborn.
  • To flex my brain, I started freelancing as a writer taking very few assignments

Ringing in the Big 40 in 2019 triggered some weighty introspection. It wasn't reaching middle age that troubled me. I felt like I'd reached a roadblock in my life. Five years earlier, I left my job as an accountant to raise my newborn son.

I cherished my life as a stay-at-home mom, but not working chipped away at my confidence. The more time passed and the less contact I had with other adults, the more irrelevant I felt.

According to Hilary Berger, founder of Work Like a Mother, a career counseling method integrating careers and motherhood, that's a familiar feeling for moms who leave the workforce. "When we're focused on raising kids and running a household, we lose touch with our professional identity. The loss of ourselves becomes a real obstacle," she told Business Insider.

I started writing for a local parenting publication once or twice a month to flex my brain. Returning to a finance role wasn't for me, and since I have a Journalism degree (and am a parent), it made sense. But when my marriage got rocky, I felt trapped — I was financially dependent on my spouse. I wasn't confident in my ability to support myself, so I stayed put.

I had lost touch with myself

When 2020 hit, I fell into a deep depression, and it wasn't only because of the pandemic. In my marriage, I felt more like an employee than a partner or even a friend. I couldn't deal with the constant chaos of fighting, so I checked out emotionally.

I was sleeping more, walking for hours every day to escape, and felt myself getting physically sick. I felt so drained and exhausted that I was sure I had an autoimmune disease.

I'd lost touch with so much of myself that I was afraid there'd be nothing of "me" left soon. I needed out of my marriage. But that meant finding a way to support myself and, most importantly, convincing myself that I could. Driven by self-preservation, I hit the ground sprinting.

I started writing more and more

Berger said experiencing evidence of your competence and capabilities helps build your relevance and confidence. She advises getting support from a professional or peer group to sharpen your focus on the kind of work you truly yearn for.

For me, that's writing. I joined a few Facebook writing groups and signed up for a couple of online writing classes. I took a low-paying gig from a content mill writing non-bilined medical articles for popular health websites.

Over the next year, I pitched dozens of publications. Most of the time, I received a kind rejection or no response. But each time a new editor gave me a chance, it sparked the fire that kept me going. Landing my first major national byline in 2021 — followed quickly succession by several more — gave me the self-assurance to break free.

Now, I'm not 'just' a mom

Three years later, I'm divorced and hustling. I take on as much work as possible because part of me is still terrified that I won't make it. I contribute regularly to a few publications and do part-time editorial work for a healthcare company. Making money has to take precedence over passion projects, which I need more time to pursue. That can be frustrating.

Berger emphasizes the importance of patience when you're juggling work with parenting — there may be weeks, months, or even years when you need to put some aspects of your career goals on a shelf. "Look at what you can accomplish across 20 or 30 years versus this year. If you allow yourself to keep moving and growing, you'll be totally ready and positioned for the next stage," she told BI.

While I'm not pursuing new bylines every week, working remotely and setting my schedule lets me show up for my 10-year-old when he needs me. "Mom" is no longer my sole role but is still the most important. I know this precious time during his childhood is limited. I feel guilty that I have to work, and on really tough days, I feel like a total failure. But my home is a safe space full of love, and that's not nothing.




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