I’m stuck at 41. I want a more fun career.

I am a 41-year-old single mom who needs to change the direction of her working life as a matter of mental survival. I’m a classic ENFJ kind of person and have been working behind a desk in isolation (I work in a suite of offices but the nature of our work is to remain quiet and alone) and it’s been wearing down my sanity.

I am absolutely in love with advertising and have always been but when I was young I didn’t choose to study it; it was too intimidating for me then. I’d love to be an ad account executive someday but getting started seems impossible from where I’m sitting. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on (marketing, too – it’s much drier but important to understand the basics) and bothering ad people for advice on how to get my foot in the door.

I have about two years to update my skills (before my daughter graduates from high school and I can focus on a career and/or live wherever I need) but very little money in which to make that happen. I can’t be a full-time unpaid intern; I have to pay bills and feed two people. I can be an evening and weekend person who is poorly paid, but with the abundance of free labor out there it’s tough.

I have a BS in Psychology, an MSW in Social Work and a strong background in writing and research. By nature I’m a collaborator, diplomat, convincer and intuitive, but those qualities can’t be put on a resume. I am not stubbornly stuck on working in advertising; something that is stimulating in a similar way would be wonderful, as long as it’s focused on people and ideas.

If you have any thoughts or advice for me I would very much appreciate either.

6 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    You’re just stuck on advertising because you need to feel like you have a way out of your current situation and that’s all you can see as a path. There are a million paths out of your current situation, but you have to be more flexible. ‘

    What you really want is interesting work with interesting people. You are a people leader not a desk worker. So you need that.

    You need to look at the skills you have and the experience you have and figure out how to rewrite your resume so it looks like you have already done the job you are trying to switch to.

    This seems like an impossible thing to do when I say it, because it’s very hard for us (even me!) to see our resume and work history in a totally different light. But someone outside – a friend or a career coach — can see lots of different resumes from just one resume.

    So the key to getting out a situation you don’t like is to find the easiest path out. For you, advertising is probably going to be hard. It’s an industry that is very hierarchical and rewards people climbing a ladder. It’s perceived as glamourous so lots of people will do it for free, and it favors young people. All things going against you. If you focus on advertising things look grim. But if you look for a path that goes from a new version of your resume to a new job that you will enjoy a lot more than your current one –that will start to look very manageable.

    And you won’t need to hang on to advertising in order to stop feeling trapped.


  2. Alexis
    Alexis says:

    As an ENFJ at an isolated desk job, I feel her plight.

    Change the resume – ok, great. But for which industry?

    Is it as simple as needing to try out a bunch of new jobs to find one that sticks? Interesting people are found everywhere – that doesn’t give a whole lot of clear direction. Is there any to be found?

  3. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    You don’t need to worry about the industry so much as the job duties. So, for example, if you have a few instances of human resource roles on your resume, but you have been a technical writer your whole life, you can rewrite your resume to focus on human resources and then get a job in human resources. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in.

    Or, you could look at it another way: you look at the industry you’ve been in and instead of changing inudstries, just rewrite your resume to focus on a different role within that industry.

    Each of us has a certain type of thing we like to do each day — lead, help, think, craft, etc. — we can feel fulfillment doing those things in any industry. Focus on rewriting your resume to look as though you’ve already done the type of work you want to do all day so that you can switch to that type of work. The industry is not so important except at higher levels, where you need specific skills and specific industry experience.


  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Dear Penelope,

    Thank you so much for your advice back in November. You were absolutely right.

    The sanity-threatening job I had at the time was as someone who conducts research for nonprofit fundraisers in a higher education setting. I researched and wrote biographies on prospective donors, helped fundraisers strategize and did some analytics, among other things. The environment of my office was very strict, stressful and (although we all conducted ourselves professionally and held master’s degrees) we were treated with suspicion and intimidation.

    When I wrote you, I had already applied for a job as a fundraiser but hadn’t heard back in so long I didn’t think I’d made the first cut. I emphasized the work I had already been doing for fundraisers in my resume and cover letter as well as my social work background (researchers have reputations as introverts and I wanted to address that up front). I got the call for my first interview the same afternoon that you wrote me with your advice, interviewed twice and got the job! Today is my 6th official day and I’m over the moon!

    What fits so well with your advice – in addition to how my resume should reflect my work – is that with this position I will have the opportunity to do a little marketing and advertising. I’m responsible for small-gift campaigns throughout the year so I will be able to try my hand at segmenting, crafting appeals, writing phonathon scripts and designing collateral materials. I’m earning a little more as well. Not much more – it won’t make a difference in my finances – but it’s definitely a job that can lead to a better one, and has the potential to help me grow in different directions as well. I can move in the direction of nonprofit marketing or major gift fundraising, depending on how well I do this.

    I am also treated as a valued professional: my new bosses are excited about my background and want to utilize my experience to make a few changes. As long as I’m doing my job well and attending meetings on time, I can pretty much do my own thing.

    It took me a very long time to get out of my previous job. I was nearing the end of my rope and had looked for YEARS for the right thing to come along, so I don’t want to give the impression to anyone that it was simple. But it is true that if you open your mind to more types of jobs that have an element or two of the career you think you’d like to have, you can take advantage of those elements to be happier and/or keep moving in the direction you’d like to go. And preserve your sanity in the process. Some of it, anyway.

    Thank you Penelope!
    No Longer Dying

  5. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    Woo-hoo! Someone directed me to this! Just the advice I was looking for. I can’t leave my position yet but when it become financially possible, this will be key. I alwaydd thought I was constrained by industry.

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