What happens when our careers hit the wall—do we stay or should we go? These three women took steps to make a radical change in their 40s and 50s.
When Jill Auckenthaler walked into her first class of nursing school, she stared out into an auditorium of 18-, 19-, 20-year-old faces. At 40, she had decades on most of her classmates. She had worked as a painter up until then, and had already experienced job changes, cross-country moves, getting married, and other transitional moments that come with age.
Auckenthaler had earned a master’s degree, she’d taught, she had a studio space of her own, and had worked her way up into a position as an administration manager of an art non-profit. But with a newborn son at home, she had reached a point where it all wasn’t enough.
“As an artist, you’re doing everything,” says Auckenthaler, now 47. “You’re promoting, you’re networking, you’re working at a gallery, you’re making the art. I usually had five or six jobs. But even doing all this, I couldn’t make enough money to support myself or my family.” During her unpaid maternity leave, she realized her job wouldn’t allow her the flexibility she needed to parent. She quit the nonprofit, which meant leaving a lifetime of career-building behind to restart in a new field.
Women 55 and over are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. workforce, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics projections. Yet career complacency and immobility can be the norm for middle-aged women. Job security—whether it’s the pay, a set schedule, work-from-home flexibility—becomes increasingly valuable as the reasons why women’s work shifts as they get older. Familial responsibilities, such as rearing children and caring for aging parents, traditionally fall on women more than men, meaning career prioritization comes second at best. If women who leave work to focus on family attempt to rejoin the workforce, a 2018 study from the Harvard Business Review found that stay-at-home parents are half as likely to land an interview as unemployed parents and only one-third as likely as employed parents.