I’m beginning to think that 40-something is the new 20-something. And no, it’s not because of medical miracles, cosmetic surgery or skin cream. Rather, it’s a strange convergence of rising college costs, a constricted job market and renewed outlooks as a result of the first two economic realities. 

Middle age used to be a locked-in stage of life where home, job and lifetsyle were too ingrained to change without major disruption. Lately, major disruption from outside forces have shaken loose those bonds, and 40-somethings can see their options more like 20-somethings traditionally have. Now they ask themselves, “Why not? I’ve got nothing to lose. Let’s go!”

Let me explain with this real-life example:

I’ve been friends with ”Holly” (not her real name) since we were in high school. We both went off to college, met our mates, got married, had children, and started careers at about the same time. Her husband joined the Marines, the family moved a lot, Holly got divorced… so after the kids graduated from high school, they had two options: attend community college or join the armed forces.

The son went off to the Navy; the daughter joined the Coast Guard. They each felt (with advice from their father) it was wiser to take orders for six years and gain financial security than borrow their way through college with no guarantee of a good job following graduation. They’re each about halfway through their terms of service and can hardly wait until they earn their freedom back, even without the financial safety net the military currently provides. Forfeiting the benefit of self-determination in the prime of life seems too high a price to pay in exchange for a steady paycheck.

Meanwhile, Holly remarried and moved to Boston where her new husband had a nice house and a steady job at a big bank. Holly went back to work as a pharmaceutical sales representative, and all the pieces were in place for financial stability and life balance. But Holly and her husband both hated their jobs; they simply did what they had to day after day to stay ahead of the bills.

That is, until Holly lost her job. Suddenly, a world of options opened up on the horizon. Why not have hubby transfer away from Boston and take a less stressful position with the bank in North Carolina, where the scenery is better, the cost of living is cheaper, the pace of life is easier, and Holly could afford to start her own creative business as a wedding photographer? It sounds like a fantasy, but that’s exactly how things have played out.

There’s something going on here. It’s reminiscent of how the Israelites finally got the nerve to walk away from Egypt, the Pharaoh and a life of slavery for the unknown wilderness as they set their course toward the Promised Land. Or how the Okies left behind their beloved family farms for a new life in California, after their fertile fields had been reduced to a Dust Bowl.

Until Holly hit a major wall, she had too much invested in her miserable way of life to change course. But once that last shoe dropped and she felt she had nothing to left to lose, she finally recognized that there’s a world of possibility beyond her everyday life. Then she finally dared to make a bold move toward something inspiring, idealistic and meaningful… kind of like a 20-something.

A new survey on LinkedIn, the online networking site for professionals, bears this out. According to respondents who rated their level of inspiration at the workplace, the highest scores went to those working in fine art, arts and crafts, professional training and coaching, photography, and religious institutions — in that order. Conversely, the five least inspiring careers turn out to be law practice, tobacco industry, defense and space, plastics, and supermarkets — in that order.

It’s clear to see, the most inspiring careers aren’t those with the highest salaries. And a majority of the least inspiring careers draw heftier paychecks. So, whether you’re a 20-something or a 40-something, the horizon holds the same range of possibilities. You just need to decide what’s most important, and go for it!

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Estelle R. Brown is a freelance writer who lives in Garrettsville with her family. She has written and taken photos for newspapers, magazines and e-zines for the past 25 years. She also enjoys working on public relations projects, including web content, newsletters, posters, brochures, press releases, and other creative endeavors. She enjoys writing compelling stories about her community as a contributing reporter for the Villager.