How watching her home go up in flames inspired a Dubai resident to change her career

Meet the women in their 40s and 50s who took the leap and changed to more fulfilling jobs

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When it comes to life-altering events it is hard to envisage one more severe than watching your home being destroyed in a fire.

That was the experience of Navita Mathur, a Dubai resident who decided at that very moment to change how she was living her life, despite being in her early 50s.

She made the career change after spending decades honing her expertise in her previous profession.

“My apartment on the Sheikh Zayed Road caught fire in 2011,” said Ms Mathur, from India. "My husband and I were able to get out with just the clothes we were wearing and our passports.

It was a little scary at first because you are used to that paycheque every month but now I feel much younger and more energetic as I am my own boss and can manage my own time
Businesswoman Ana Nensey

“We didn’t even have time to put on our shoes. As we were standing outside I started to wonder why the water sprinklers didn’t work or the fire alarm didn’t sound quickly enough.

“It made me realise that I wanted to make sure what had just happened to me never happened to anyone else.”

This led to the 64-year-old ditching her job in sales and marketing and starting her own home maintenance company, servicing the same kind of equipment that she said was faulty at the time of the fire in her home.

“It was challenging at first but I had the confidence I would be able to do well,” she said.

“I just didn’t want anyone else to go through what I did if I could help it. One company like mine isn’t going to change the world but I can make an effort to help others.

“I might have had to work a little harder as I wasn’t in my 20s any more but I was never scared because I knew I was doing good work.”

Navita Mathur decided she needed to change what she was doing for a living after watching her home being destroyed in a fire. Photo: Navita Mathur

A career change is not an unusual occurrence in the region. A whopping 91 per cent of those who took part in a recent survey by jobs portal said they were considering a switch.

However, the risks involved in starting over again after spending decades honing your craft in a certain sector, not to mention the need to pay bills, can deter people from changing their careers.

A GCC salary guide, released this year by Hays recruitment agency, found that 5 per cent of candidates over 40 were considering a different career path in the near future.

Among the reasons offered were concerns over salary, lack of opportunities, worries over job security and organisational culture.

Quitting stressful jobs

Another Dubai resident explained how she had a high-ranking management job but the stress was so much that she had to take a sabbatical to reset.

“I had already worked for 30 years and had reached the level of general manager for a furniture company but I was facing burnout,” said Indian Ana Nensey.

“It was a numbers game every month meeting targets, if you didn’t meet them then you would have to explain why.

“I had been working in this sector for 30 years and I realised I needed a break so I took a year-long sabbatical when I was 52.”

The now 56-year-old said the time off had helped to clear her head and allow her to focus on what she really wanted to do with her life.

This led to her starting two new companies, one helping people declutter their homes and offices, the other making custom-made saris.

However, the transition away from her old life was not initially easy.

“It was a little scary at first because you are used to that paycheque coming in every month,” she said.

“When you start your own company, it is just a case of money going out rather than coming in.”

She admitted the first two years of being self-employed were difficult and there were times when she considered a return to the office.

“The first few years were full of anxiety and self-doubt and I thought about going back to working for someone else,” said Ms Nensey.

“But my family gave me the support I needed. I persevered and then there was light at the [end of the] tunnel.”

Her quality of life has improved markedly since swapping the office environment to make a living from her passions.

“I lost 20kg when I left my job,” said Ms Nensey. "I realised I was putting on weight because of the lifestyle.

“I was ordering food to be delivered to my desk and I was working long hours and it was starting to affect my health.

“Now I feel much younger and more energetic as I am my own boss and can manage my own time.”

Success versus happiness

Liza Gonzalez Casillas spent 20 years working in the IT sector. Her career was so successful that she was running her own department for a major international company before she'd turned 40.

However, last year she decided to give that up to take up a role in Dubai’s Lighthouse Retreat, helping people deal with burnout and mental health issues.

“I was working from home during the pandemic, which made me take a deep look at my life,” said the 41-year-old from Mexico.

“I started questioning everything and thought to myself, ‘this can’t be it!’

“I have two young daughters and I wanted to show them that you didn’t have to do a million things to be successful, that success should come from within.”

The change in career did not come without its worries.

“I was terrified at first and wondered what had I done. It was a complete 180-degree change,” she said.

“I was asking myself ‘what if I have made a big mistake, what if I’m not good enough?’

“My husband told me he believed in me and to make the change. I wasn’t happy with my life in my old career, it was important to me that my children didn’t see that and repeat the pattern when they grow up.”

Covid changed perspective

Communications consultant Rebecca Rees decided to give up 30 years of work in her industry to become self-employed at the start of this year.

“It was a massive change for me and I never really had the courage to do it before,” said the 52-year-old from the UK.

Rebecca Rees says the pandemic helped her reassess her career options. Photo: Rebecca Rees

“I didn’t have the guts for it before. I always had a regular salary and holidays.

“But then Covid struck and I took a 40 per cent pay cut but was still able to save as much money as before. While I loved what I was doing, it also made me realise I could survive on less and be just as happy, if not happier.”

She said being self-employed allowed her to decide when she worked, improving her work-life balance — and overall well-being in the process.

“It was an itch I had to scratch and it was a case of now or never,” said Ms Rees.

“I knew if I had left it any longer, I would have been too old.”

One of the UAE’s leading employment experts says that while a change of career later in life can be daunting, there are benefits for companies in hiring more mature staff.

“Mature workers bring expertise and transferable skills; they are more likely to have developed foundational skills such as communication, problem solving, decision making, etc to a high level,” said Aisha Amarsi, a senior manager with Hays.

“While age is not a deciding factor for employers in most cases, participation in the workforce can differ depending on the sector.”

Mature workers are actually more likely to find opportunities in the UAE than in many other countries, Ms Amarsi says.

“From my experience, companies and hiring managers in the Middle East are less likely to show age bias or discrimination in their hiring in comparison to other regions,” she said.

“This could be because the UAE is already very diverse in terms of nationalities and cultures, so are more open to diversity of age.”

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Updated: September 28, 2022, 7:09 AM