Approaching 40 – the BOOM times and career dilemmas


By Helen Slingsby – Fri 31 Mar 2017 @ 16:18

If you’re in the 36–40 age-bracket you may well have found your career to date has been managed for you. Promotions and opportunities have come your way, and there was, until the economic downturn perhaps, a surfeit of choice.

But somehow, all is not quite right as you approach 40, and you’re beginning to question yourself and your career. It is what developmental psychologist Daniel Levinson called – “becoming one’s own man” (or woman) – BOOM.

It is the time when, for some, a need grows to gain more authority and control over one’s career. It might represent a switch from roles that fall under the “doing” label toward the managing/strategy tag. It will almost certainly involve risk.
BOOM can also mean a wholesale questioning of the importance of work in general and the impact it has on family life. Those with demanding roles that keep them away from the home are questioning if status and income really matter when the children only see them at the weekend.

Career is at a crossroads and there are some typical dilemmas:

  • Move upwards, but how do I become more “senior”, where is the toolkit to being a good senior manager?
  • Stay where I am, but how can I reconcile becoming ever more experienced and specialist, with lack of challenge?
  • Rethink the career to embrace family life, retrain, become a consultant, go “plural”, but how will I pay the bills?

You are not alone.

Here are some useful career self management tips for BOOMERS.

TALK to people

  • Sound them out. If you’re at the stage of considering the options above, ask your network what it’s like to step up the ladder/become a consultant etc. Get off the computer and meet face to face. Firsthand knowledge, from the horse’s mouth, is vital for making these decisions.

Be proactive

  • Don’t wait for change, make it happen. You’d love a more senior role but it hasn’t materialised yet, so what do YOU need to do? Know your story inside out and sell it to key influencers. Know where the gaps are in the business and how you can fill them. If you are brought in for your expertise, use it to drive business, don’t wait to be told what to do.

Be worthy

  • Recognise you are worthy of a senior role and don’t hold back through fear of failure. There is no Senior Manager Toolkit (unless, perhaps you’ve grown up with the M&S’s and BPs of this world). If people are ready to promote you, have confidence in their belief you can do the role. As a client of mine was once bluntly told when asked for “management tips”; upon being made a publishing director: “Buy at three, sell at five”.


  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you feel stuck take time to reflect and don’t automatically assume the job’s at fault. Two recent clients were eager to quit their jobs with great companies and came to see me. Three sessions a piece later and one is seeking a senior role abroad because he now feels confident in his ability and the other has acknowledged he has been too passive and should sell himself harder internally.

And remember… A good career coach can provide clarity where mist currently exists.