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Amanda Orr Headshot

A New Kind of Midlife Crisis for Women -- From Sea Turtles to Social Work

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Last weekend, I attended the birthday brunch of an old friend, surrounded by people with whom I started my own career more than two decades ago. Throughout the afternoon, I heard a phrase I've been hearing a lot lately whenever I bump into female friends I haven't seen in a while: "My goal is to be a story on your blog in the next couple of years. I read it every week and it's given me hope that I don't have to do what I'm doing for the rest of my life."

These confessionals were delivered in hushed tones or in quiet corners far from the potential eavesdropping of other guests. One woman admitted she was looking into part-time graduate school programs for social work and another only half jokingly said that having just returned from a beach vacation, she had the crazy idea that she might like to do something related to marine biology after hearing a scientist discuss his recent sea turtle rescue trip. "I mean, I know it sounds crazy," she said. "But I mean, maybe I could do something related to it, right?"

"Well, sure you could," I replied. And furthermore, there's no reason these women should be talking about these goals in secret as if they're silly ideas that will probably never happen. For a huge number of professional women today, having a midlife crisis means anything but Botox and convertibles. More and more women are walking away from stable and lucrative, yet stale, careers. They may have loved them once, but now, the thought of staying in them until they're 65 makes them weep -- literally.

These confessionals all started four months ago when, really almost on a whim, a friend and I decided to find some of these brave women -- women who leapt from safe and sometimes prestigious careers to start over and do something completely new mid-career. We had no idea how many we would find -- our initial goal was 12. "Maybe we can find enough for a magazine article?" we ventured over coffee, giddy at the prospect. After all, we ourselves were two women who, in our early-to-mid-forties were beginning to think, "Is this all there is?" Or, once you've worked your way up the career ladder, can you start over? Can you pursue a dream from long ago that got pushed aside when you got promotion after promotion and then got saddled with a mortgage?

And now we know the truth. With Career 2.0, we have discovered the stories are endless. Not only is it possible to turn a passion into a profession, it's even feasible to pursue a career in something you never even knew existed when you were starting out as a young professional.

Once we started digging, we were blown away by what we found and now laugh at our initial goal. In addition to what we researched online, we started getting referrals about amazing, inspirational women who had made the switch. They just started coming out of the woodwork.

There's Andie Grace, who left a rewarding and high profile job at Burning Man to help launch an independent film label, Deborah Hernan, who followed up an amazing career at Revlon and amFAR to manufacture her own line of tween skin care products, Srirupta Dasgupta a software industry exec who launched a social enterprise and Aud Melås, a former banker and online start-up founder who moved to Norway and currently brews the number one artisanal beer in the region.

To answer your next question, these are not women who have tapped into a trust fund for a pet project. These are women who have worked their whole lives and are seeking greater fulfillment and new adventures. They want to take charge and are putting their teeth in the game to make it happen.

What do these women have in common? They all invested in themselves. They needed to make a change so badly that they took loans from 401Ks, sold their homes, or downsized their lives in such a way to make it happen. Some returned to school to get new qualifications, others revisited skills or passions they had in earlier, more carefree times before climbing the corporate ladder. Personal fulfillment and happiness were the driving factors and none had any regrets about the decision to re-launch.

But for those of us who have a desire for change but are perhaps somewhat risk adverse, there's a whole industry springing up to support you. There are crowd funding platforms like MoolaHoop just for women to launch their second acts and women-run co-working spaces like HeraHub offering women a space to network, launch their businesses and ease into a transition without having to have the capital to rent commercial space. Even Stanford University is getting in the game, launching its Distinguished Careers Institute, not just for women, but for anyone who's had a long-term successful career and wants to take a midlife gap year to figure out what to do next.

And why not? We're living and working longer, and we have more opportunities than ever. You may not imagine that you can have a second life, but you can. Just take the advice of one of our international stories. As Erja Järvelä recommends -- and she should know as a logistics-executive-turned-shamanic-energy-healer -- "Quiet down a bit and listen to yourself." You might be surprised at what you will hear. Or maybe you won't be surprised as you've known it all along. You just needed to find your voice.

I'm just hoping that next year, when I go back to the annual birthday brunch, I find my friend with a fresh sunburn, ready to regale me with stories of rescuing sea turtles.