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Starting Over After Age 40: How These 3 Women Did It

And how you can as well.

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photo collage of 3 women who started over after 40, new life, new chapters
Alice Lagarde
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Starting over is never easy, but when it’s after a divorce, a job loss or a major move? Brutal — but not impossible. We spoke with women who have faced cheating spouses, burnout and more, and emerged on the other side stronger than ever. Here’s how they did it:

Jenna Kardasz

Left her corporate career for a dream job.

Kristen Lettini, 40, of New Jersey, had a comfortable six-figure corporate job in communications for the pharmaceutical division of a Fortune 100 company. The problem? She wasn’t happy. “I was already stressed at work before COVID hit,” says Lettini. But the pandemic took her stress to another level. “I felt like I worked non-stop all day, jumping from meeting to meeting, with little to no time to do my actual work, let alone fit anything else into my day.” She felt like she was on a hamster wheel in survival mode.

Still, it took Lettini a few years to finally leave. The first time she seriously considered switching careers was in 2018, when layoffs were rampant, and she was forced to find a new job. This lessened Lettini’s loyalty to corporate America. Still, she stayed put, even though her new role was getting progressively harder, and she was simultaneously teaching her twin kindergarteners to use Zoom. When her husband asked what she wanted for her birthday in April 2022, Lettini came clean. “I asked for his support in pursuing my crazy dream to leave my steady corporate job and to figure things out,” she says. He agreed.

Not sure of her next steps, Lettini launched her podcast, Build Your Own Fairytale. She and her husband did a financial audit, assessing where they should cut corners to ensure they could pay the bills with just one income. Lettini officially quit her corporate job in June 2022. Today, her podcast has grown to more than 5,000 downloads, and she is launching an online business management business. “I love making my own schedule and choosing what and when I get to work,” says Lettini. “Even more, I love that I’m hopefully inspiring my own daughters to follow their own dreams, no matter how crazy other people may think they are.”

courtesy Courtney Baber

Moved and started two businesses after her divorce.

Courtenay Baber, 57, of Virginia, was married for six years before her life shattered around her. She and her husband divorced, and both her parents died. It was time for a major life change. “I distinctly remember calling a friend one day, sobbing badly, and telling him I did not know what to do anymore,” says Baber. “He told me to pick up my right foot and put it down and pick up my left foot and put it down, and he kept saying that until I realized I was walking, and I was able to move and keep going.”

Reeling from her pain, Baber moved away from the family farm where she had lived her entire life. She bought a new farm, fixed it up and now has horse shows and clinics there. She also set up a private practice as a therapist, seeing clients at her farm for equine therapy and in her office for a traditional approach.

“With big upheavals in our lives, we get a chance to do the things we have only been dreaming of,” Baber says. “If we can face our fears and use the energy that fear creates to help us move, we will find greatness on the other side.”

Today, Baber is grateful for the learning and the healing from divorce, death and changes. Had these not happened, she wouldn’t be where she is now. The hardest changes come when they are only absolutely necessary, she says. “When we are going through these changes, it is almost impossible to believe that it will get better, but it generally does, and believing in yourself is the key, no matter the age.”

courtesy Janet Barrett

Just moved into the third stage of her life.

In her first stage of life, Janet Barrett, 52, worked in the corporate world, focusing on consulting in the retail and apparel industry. She quit to stay at home when her twins were born in 2009 (her children are now 16, 15, 13 and 13). Barrett, who lives just outside Boston, never expected to have a third stage, but in November 2019, she discovered that her husband was having an affair and wanted a divorce. “The news crushed me, but having four kids didn’t allow me to stay crushed forever,” says Barrett. “I had always been able to take on any challenge and plow forward, but this threw me completely off balance.” To figure out what went wrong, Barrett researched how people tend to put their feelings into an emotional backpack as they trot through life. If you carry those emotional traumas around for too long, then even a single new emotional trauma can break you when similar events in the past didn’t.

After getting the divorce logistics out of the way, she returned to school for a master’s degree in organizational psychology, where she learned about proactive mental health. “I learned how to proactively deal with those negative emotions and stressors, which allowed me to be truly present and engaged in life,” she says. Today, Barrett is the author of Stop the Break and the founder of her company, Cerebral Health, which focuses on slaying the stigma around mental health. Her mind is strong and clear. “It’s not that bad things don’t still happen in my life, but I can more effectively deal with them and respond to what is happening rather than react,” she says.

Whether it’s learning how to become more creative or mastering important software programs, AARP Skills Builder for Work courses can help you grow.

Have any of you started over or a new career after age 40? Let us know in the comments below.

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