In the Suburbs / Over-50 workers better have a Plan B
Published 8:41 am, Saturday, January 26, 2013
As someone who had to shift careers past the age of 50, a piece in The New York Times on Jan. 13 struck a chord.
"Over 50, and Under No Illusions -- How Five Older Workers Took Their Chances and Reinvented Careers" offered a fresh perspective on a lingering problem. Not enough folks over 50 -- and especially over 55 -- haven't read the handwriting on the wall when work evaporates or the ongoing recession forces the termination older workers.
According to the report, "Everyone, whatever age, needs a Plan B. And maybe a Plan C and a Plan D. Who doesn't know that loyalty and hard work go only so far these days."
The stories of the five workers reinforced my own philosophy about being out of work later in life, but surviving and even doing better than before.
Two people created new inventions after careers in men's clothing or sales.
One woman was such an excellent networker that when a position in Pakistan opened up, she was recommended for the job and took the risk.
Another had sold real estate and began renovating homes.
And the other, a financial services professional, parlayed his LinkedIn connections into a successful management consulting business.
"For millions of Americans over 50," the report said, "this isn't a bad dream -- it's grim reality. ... People 55 to 64 -- an age range when many start to dream of kicking back -- are having a particularly hard time finding new jobs. For a vast majority of this cohort, being thrown out of work means months of fruitless searching and soul-crushing rejection.
"To which many experts say, `What did you expect?' "
Amen, brothers and sisters. I've been there, done that. I've learned from 35 years of working as a public relations professional in corporations and agencies that nothing is forever. While I learned to be a team player and assumed (never assume anything) I was doing everything right in management's eyes, I still lost the job and found myself on the street looking again for that perfect job.
And I'm sorry to disappoint anyone, but that "perfect job" just isn't out there.
Even in my early 50s, I was lucky enough to find what I hoped would be permanent positions in very short time frames, thanks to my being a strong networker and through recruiters who contacted me. But there wasn't a major recession at the time, and jobs in public relations -- especially in agencies -- were more plentiful.
Nevertheless, whenever I began any new position, I kept networking and always have had a current resume and up-to-date portfolio of results. And I never turned down an opportunity to interview. Even when my last agency job went to a half-time position in late 2001, after 9/11, I was so well-networked, I was able to pick up enough freelance work to make up the half-time salary. In 2002, I was strong enough to leave my agency and remain a consultant -- a role I still play today.
I reluctantly interviewed for but then landed a full-time corporate communications position with a Stamford company in 2007. To ensure greater success, I had hired a job coach. But just seven months later, I was terminated abruptly one Friday in 2008, despite having received a pay raise, a bonus and glowing reviews. So I faced the same reality as the folks in The New York Times article. It was time to either reinvent myself or go in a different direction. And I had no plan B.
After calling at least 20 of my networking colleagues, I noticed that the Fairfield Board of Education was advertising for substitute teachers. Landing that job began my odyssey into reinvention, but I had been a middle school teacher in a former life, so I felt right at home.
Today, I remain a busy public relations consultant, but have added substitute teacher, part-time manager of public relations for a museum, dog sitter/walker and part-time associate at a bookstore to my work portfolio. And I love my routine, which is never predictable.
A member of our museum board recently told another board member, "This man is everywhere." Not really. I am just trying to marry the best of my skills to create an income stream. So I guess you could say that I've reinvented myself as a normally manic whirling dervish.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.