I really appreciate your coming back to this thread and talking a bit more.
I really think you should work in restaurant (not a fast food chain--nothing against them, but everything you do was planned out by head office looong before you even started) to get a real feel for the hospitality business. Because if you do, you will realize several things.
1) Cooking is a stepping stone to other things. You will find very few 45 yr old cooks--people who just cook. There are a zillion 45 yr old Chefs, whose main responsibility is to ensure the kitchen is running profitably, a zillion owners, or F + B mngrs, all who needed the cooking experience to get to the next level; sales reps, banqueting managers, and many other careers that required cooking as a stepping stone. But you will find very few older cooks.
2) The hospitality business is cyclical. For instance, right now it's christmas season, so anyone in the industry is NOT working a 40 hr week, but a lot longer, and they know that they will have to work those hours because by mid January and especially February, senior staff will be lucky to get 24 hr weeks, junior staff lucky to get 1 or 2 shifts/week, and mngmt will be still working 60-80 hr weeks to cover all the hourly staff positions untill it gets busy again. Feast or famine, it's never just right.
I'm not saying that every kitchen is like that, but it is typical for most a'la carte places. Hospitals and care facilities are very steady, and you can learn a lot and have good shifts and bennies in those places, but there is a caveat: Food is not a money generator for hospitals and care facilities, and labour is one of the highest costs when calculating the price per meal for such institutions. When cost cutting pograms are put in place in such institutions, it's always the kitchen that takes a direct hit to the crotch.
Hope this helps