Boomer Career Reinvention: It Ain’t for Sissies

by Lorie Eber of Aging Beats the Alternative

 

A major career change can shake you to your core. If your sense of self is your career, as mine was, expect a 9.5 magnitude earthquake like the one that struck Chile in 1960.

I speak from experience. My first career was “Lorie the Lawyer.” I practiced law for 23 years as a corporate litigator. I “made partner,” established and managed the firm’s only branch office for the several years, but then that “been there, done that” malaise seeped into my soul and I took early retirement at 49. My farewell email echoed Hillary Clinton: “I have no idea what I’ll do next, but I will not be at home baking cookies.”

Career-Reinvention Lesson: Don’t Take Up Golf, but Do Go See a Shrink

I was totally unprepared for the emotional impact of laying myself bare, after extricating myself from the “Lorie the Lawyer” mantle. Career reinvention is comparable to basic training; you need to be broken down before you can be built up again. Another apt analogy is Bette Davis’ witticism about aging: its “no place for sissies.” Benefit from my experience before you mimic Evel Knievel.

The first few months after my retirement I was a bubbling cauldron of angst, like a character in a Woody Allen movie. Self-doubts arrived at the speed of a bullet train barreling through the Japanese countryside. I experienced a disconnect much like Tom Hanks in Big. It was as if I had time-traveled back to my confused adolescence, yet I looked like a 50 year-old. Profound questions begged for answers. “Who am I?” “What’s my purpose in life?” “What if I’m not special (as the high school teacher recently told his graduating class)?” “What if I’m not good at anything other than being a lawyer?”

In the meantime, I distracted myself briefly by taking golf lessons, which only exacerbated my free floating anxiety. Within a few months, my clubs were on eBay, an implicit acknowledgment that my chances of becoming a decent golfer were comparable to winning the $656 Mega Millions jackpot.

My experience taught me a basic lesson: discarding a life-long identity is one of those major life stressors that warrant professional assistance. Don’t make the mistake of going it alone. Consult a shrink.

Here are my other tips to buffet the slings and arrows of embarking on a second career:

Tip #1: Check your ego at the door. You are now an inexperienced, relatively old nobody. You will not be offered Meg Whitman’s CEO position. More than likely, you’ll be begging for the honor of doing the least desirable job in your new field–on a volunteer basis. I went back to school with 18 year-olds, worked diligently in a volunteer position for a nonprofit and was later rewarded with paid positions.

Tip #2: Get used to feeling like a complete idiot. You’ll have no idea what you’re doing for some time and find yourself reaching out to colleagues the age of your grandchildren for lifelines. Be humble and grab on. I flew by the seat of my pants in learning how to effectively teach, create curriculum, recruit and manage volunteers, and become an effective speaker and a creative blogger/writer. I asked for advice from all quarters. Fake it till you make it. Know that your life experiences count for a lot.

Tip #3: Steel yourself for a roller coaster ride. Ever ride Space Mountain? It’s just like starting your own business. You need a strong stomach to persevere through the highs and lows. Remember Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Plough ahead through mistake #10,001 and beyond, trusting that sooner or later you’ll be touted as an overnight success.

Tip #4: Keep looking for those open doors: Don’t beat your head against the wall. It hurts. Instead, focus on doors that open for you and long-buried talents will rise to the surface like properly cooked gnocchi. I had no idea I had an ability to make presentations in front of strangers or tell stories through creative writing.

To all you career changers, be forewarned: hold on tight, there are Class 6 rapids ahead!

Photo credit: bankrate.com

 

 

  • Priska

    Great tips and very funny.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kerifreemancopcutt Keri Freeman-Copcutt

    LOL!! Love this article. I have been a serial reinventor all my life but definitely finding it more challenging now. In my previous incarnations I have always worked for someone else but now realize that I am totally not suited to that. Working on the gap between where I am and where I want to be!! Thanks for the great advice.

    • lorie eber

      You’re welcome. I’m always happy to share my experiences.

  • Sheri

    So good to read this. After the last ten years in a commissioned sales environment that sucks the life out of you, I returned to school. I still want to use my sales/marketing experience in a different field but I’m in FL with a very crappy economy and can’t seem to find anything, even less qualified positions. So i will have to return to the sales force and hope to get out someday.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charmaine.chin Charmaine A. Chin

    Thank you for writing this. After being severed from 25 years in the public service, I was really happy. Woo Hoo retirement at 49! But after a two month honeymoon, I had all the same anxieties that you describe, who am I, what if there is nothing else I can do. Thanks for sharing your story, I don’t feel so alone.

  • Shannon Colleary

    Love this, love this, love this. The best part of all of it is that at our moderately advanced age we have the opportunity to keep learning. Thereby keeping our brains growing. And humility isn’t such a bad thing. Even though i hate being humbled.

    • Lorie Eber

      Shannon,
      You’re right. I got a mega-dose of humility, but I was also able to experience a lot of personal growth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1410417930 Lori Jo Vest

    I just went through this myself. Left TV production after 25 years and moved into social media. Feel like a newbie and work with a lot of people that are 10 – 20 years younger than I am. Fortunately, being a bit more “mature” helps me approach it wondering what will happen, instead of being afraid of what will happen. Thanks for sharing this, Lorie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1410417930 Lori Jo Vest

    Just went through this myself. I went from 25 years in television production to a full-time gig in social media. It’s been strange, though being a bit more “mature” helps. It’s so much easier to go into something wondering what’s going to happen, rather than being afraid of what might happen as I did when I was younger. Definitely unsettling and shakes you to your emotional core. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Lorie Eber

      Hi Lori,
      Social media is a big jump. I’m still learning. I know I need to be in that “space” (see, I know the lingo ;-) to promote my business. Seems to work pretty well til my computer gets a virus and then I just freak out.

  • http://chloeofthemountain.com/ Chloe

    I think reinvention is ultimately a good thing. Learning new things keeps you young. But it is a bitter pill to swallow living in a culture that worships youth and despises aging. It makes it doubly hard. But this was a very encouraging article. Thanks

    • Lorie Eber

      Chloe,
      This is definitely a youth oriented culture, but being older helped me feel more grounded and confident. You can do it! Think of it as an investment in brain health ;-)

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  • Will

    Lori,

    Hats off. I’m writing a blog on aging myself. The 50+ crowd out of work is huge and growing daily. Your humor and targeted advise encourages even me…and I’m trying to encourage others. Keep up the good work. Well done.

    • Lorie Eber

      Will,
      Please send me your blog link. I’d like to take a look. Good luck to you!

  • Lorie Eber

    Hi Grace,
    Good for you! How have you reinvented yourself and do you envsion more?
    Lorie

  • grace hodgin

    Excellent advice and I couldn’t agree more with you. Reinvention is something I’ve done a number of times and it keeps me creative and aware of my surroundings on those open doors that can help ease the transition.

  • Stillblondeafteralltheseyears

    I changed careers and it happened with quite an easy surprise. Found a good job, lasted for 4 years..and then boom it STOPPED (bad economy). Luckily we were in good shape financially. By then my blog was up and going..kept me busy and brought in some $$. Re-invention can actually be quite fun.

    • Lorie Eber

      I’ve talked with several women who have reinvented themselves after a layoff and they all report that it was a good thing in retrospect. Interesting how life works, don’t you think?

  • http://twitter.com/jenwag57 Jennifer Wagner

    I’ve reinvented myself more times than I like to admit. However, I love change and I enjoyed each new career more than the one before, so it was totally worth it.

    • Lorie Eber

      Sounds like you’re much braver than I. I did it with a lot of trepidation. But, after law, I’d say it’s been a continuing evolution. So maybe I got over the initial hurdle.

  • Jeannie-JB Marino

    Oh yeah – my identity and sense of satisfaction was totally wrapped up in my job. When I didn’t have that ‘shield’ at the age of 53, I definitely lost a part of myself {at the same time I lost my Father}. I’ve always wanted to own my own bus. so I am blessed to be able to give that a shot – that’s my new attitude. I am blessed to be able to choose. Great post!

    • Lorie Eber

      Jeannie,
      What was your firstr job that gave you your sense of identity?

  • Lynne Spreen

    I went through the same thing at the same age; my field was HR. After a couple of unsatisfying volunteer situations, I spent a couple days developing not a mission statement, but a list of values that would have to be present in any work I did. Ten years later, that list is still valid. Here it is, my “RRTMS statement”: Recognition (yes, I want it); Relevancy (i.e. the skills required have to be valid in the current world); Time (I wanted flexibility, no more 50-hour weeks); Money (unless a volunteer effort pulled so strongly at me, I wanted to be paid a satisfying amount); and Service (it couldn’t just be all about me).
    Best wishes in all you do, Lorie
    http://anyshinything.com/2012/07/20/getting-old-is-fantastic/

    • Lorie Eber

      Sounds like the babhy boomer’s mantra!

  • David

    This is great advice. Iam trying to reinvent myself as a freelance writer but so far the going is slow. I will remember these tips. And I plan to check out your blog, it looks good. I hope to get mine back online soon.
    David

    • Lorie Eber

      Hi David,
      Nice to hear from a guy! Yes, it is difficult, particularly if you decide you want to run your own business, which many of us do as we get older. There are many days I do a lot of social networking to get my name out there and feel as if I have an audience of one–me. Hang in there!

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