Not since the great depression of 1929 have we seen such a financial crisis, and frankly, the lack of national leadership that we are experiencing now. Banks are failing overnight, Wall Street greed and the chase after quick money has finally caused this country to grind to a financial halt. All Americans are worried now — from those with money, wondering how much their nest eggs will shrink, to those who need the money in their bank account just to live each month. My guess is that a majority of Americans, especially those of us over 40, are worried about simply making ends meet month to month. The challenge of whether to pay the car insurance, make the car payment, or simply buy food for the family, becomes a trade-off every month.

Sleepless nights over credit

Many people in this country didn’t sleep well last night, waking up to worry about whether it was more important to avoid being late on their payments (letting their credit slip), or buy food and paying the electric bill to keep the house warm for the cooler fall weather. I would guess that the last thing on anyone’s mind right now is how to do the work they love for the rest of their lives. Of the 70 million plus Americans between 40 and 65, my guess is that more than half don’t love their work, let alone like it. In fact, many dislike their work, and even just HAVING to go to work each day, while worrying more about keeping their family fed, is causing stress and illness.

The problem is overspending

Many of us have over-spent, and the regular bi-weekly paycheck for the job we dislike barely covers our obligations — and leaves most of us drained at the end of the day. Just this week, in the small city where I live, the local planning department announced plans to lay off half the department. I made a call to offer outplacement services for their employees who would be out of work, but the city representative sadly told me they couldn’t afford this service.

The head of this planning department committed suicide just a few days later. He was 55 years old, and distraught over the possibility of losing his job, and perhaps his home — it was just too much.

This new crisis must be faced with a sense of urgency

At one level, I wish our leadership was having around-the-clock meetings over the lack of health care for millions of Americans, the out-of-control cost of education, and the homeowner crisis. On the other hand, we have a history of acting quickly without a long range plan.

You need a long range plan for your work and life when you’re over 40

Given the climate of uncertainly, this is the best time of all to make a plan for your life that centers around your work. Over 40, you have probably, on average, another 40 years to live — that’s half your life. You can, like so many people do, just wait for what life has to offer, but soon, you will wake up and find yourself at 50, 60, 70 years old … and wonder how time moved so fast.

The better alternative

The better alternative is to make a plan for your life around doing the work you love. This is the path to an authentic life full of integrity. Take, for example, the job you don’t like — the one you are doing today — the one that barely pays the bills. Well, one way to start is to move immediately to another similar low paying job doing what you love! This doesn’t solve your financial problems, but it does start to improve your sense of confidence, self-esteem, and emotional strength.

One of my clients — we’ll call him Bill — works as a sales director for a company in the food industry. He has had his current job for 10 years, and he just hates it. He travels most of the week, he doesn’t care about the product he sells anymore, and he has a demanding boss.

What should Bill do?

Bill saw the doctor the other day because he is having trouble sleeping. The doctor said not to worry; Bill was just having some anxiety attacks. Thanks, Doc!!

I told Bill, given that he had very little saved and very little in retirement funds, and is living month to month, he needed to take action. After much work getting him thinking about it, Bill told me his greatest passion was reading. He just loved to read, especially history books. Bill never thought he could make this passion his vocation, but it turns out Bill is also quite a good speaker, given his long years as a salesman.

A new beginning for Bill

After much trial and error, today Bill is working on a transition plan. He has decided to go to school at night to get the necessary credentials to become a high school history teacher. This will only pay half of what he requires to maintain his household, so in addition, he has been interviewing with an educational firm that sells textbooks to schools — history textbooks! He can spend two afternoons a week on this role given his schedule as a teacher, and make up some of the extra income he needs. Bill also found that he loved history so much, he wanted to start a non-profit firm, and he was even able to get some small funding for it. His new firm will provide programs to schools to help children connect with American history. Bill was very fortunate in having a supportive partner. His wife went back to work part-time in local retail. Her small wage helps to pay the mortgage. Overall, Bill has a new sense of freedom and control over his life. While his economic situation in the short term has not changed, he now has a plan which, with discipline and daily actions, will move him towards an authentic life that will make him happier — and make those around him happier as well.

What can you do?

Negative thinking brings more negativity. Looking at new possibilities will bring new creativity and possibilities into your life. It all starts with a vision. Envision what you want now with regards to your work.

Write it down — this is where the magic happens.

Start talking to others about your plan — this commits you to moving forward.

Take small daily steps; Measure your progress; Learn to celebrate!

Like Bill, you can define a new plan for yourself based on your own situation. Build a sense of urgency now about your life and your work. This will force new decisions, new plans, and new movement toward a better life.

You have many gifts and the world is waiting for you to offer them!

What are you waiting for? This is the best time ever to stop worrying about the economy and start living a more joyful and fulfilling life centered around your work.
Happiness doesn’t have to end or start based on the balance in your checking account. It can start and grow based on the love and joy in your heart. This can occur when you do the work you love — after 40 this is absolutely necessary!

I’ll be cheering you on as you go!

Craig Nathanson