Nancy Irwin was in her early 40s when she changed her career from stand-up comedy to psychotherapy. Having made such a dramatic turnaround, she thought to herself, "If I can do it, anybody can." So she collected dozens of examples of people who also made major life changes after 40, including many who switch careers. She documented their lives in the book "You-Turn: Changing Direction in Midlife." We caught up with Irwin to find out what she's learned about venturing down new paths.




Q. What are some of the professional changes featured in your book?




A. I have a man who was a Ph.D. theater critic, who went to medical school at Brown University at age 40. He's not a psychiatrist. I have a Harvard lawyer who is the head of UCLA law department who is now a new-age healer (he does both). I have a woman who was a big-city corporate designer, and when her father passed away, she took over his small-town knitting company, saving the jobs and lives of numerous elderly employees. There's a laid-off air-traffic controller who's now a rabbi.




Q. What do you need to have inside yourself to make such a professional change?




A. You need a wonderful support system, positive people surrounding you. You need to take stock of all of your experience and skills and know that everything is transferable. There are no dead ends. Nothing is a waste. Everything can be turned into something else. Don't limit yourself to what's in the classified ads. You can make up something that has never existed before.




Q. What else can you say about making up something that hasn't existed before?




A. This is a shining example of that: A man who was a culinary institute catering director has started a nonprofit, rehabbing used cars for low-income people. That never existed before. He was a cook! A chef! And he loved cars. You want to look at all of your hobbies and untapped skills. You never know what you can turn them into.




Q. What usually precipitates these changes?




A. My book is divided into two sections. Change by default &

they were dumped, they were fired, or they had a disease or injury. And then the other ones were change by choice. People who knew something was missing and wanted more. You want to just take a deep breath and take a positive look at where you can go. It's an opportunity to look forward, not think you're stuck, which is what most Baby Boomers were trained to believe. We can change any aspect of our life. I have a 79-year-old who is in law school.




Q. What distinguishes change after 40?




A. The Baby Boomers were affected by the depression-era parenting. Our training was, pick a major very young, know what you're going to be and stick to it. We were trained to fear change, and security was the be-all, end-all. What I'm training people to do is realize the greatest security is you can deal with anything life presents you. There are only two innate fears: fear of falling and fear of loud noises. It's not natural to be afraid of career change.




Q. How can a person prepare for such a change?




A. Having money helps. You don't have to &

certainly people have started businesses with five dollars &

but it does help if you have a cushion of money. You want to make sure you're taking care of your health. You want to eat right, work out, get enough sleep, all of those things. Watch your alcohol intake, get massages, really nurture, and know that what you're going through is perfectly natural and that it can be an exciting challenge.