Archive for the ‘Midlife professional challenges’ Category
I’m reading “Fall of Giants” by Ken Follett. 802 pages long, the first in his trilogy about the 20th century. Since he is 62, I suspect this trilogy will take years of research and writing, and may be his swan song after a long, successful career that began with “Eye of the Needle” when he was 27. Prior to this, he had already published five books before striking the mother lode. He is one of those dedicated, working writers who can now choose to write the books that he wants to.
After reading about him, I ask myself, What if I had stayed on the writing path that I started on when I was 12? Would I now be a recognized author? Maybe, but I would have spent my life doing something that I loved. While I also loved my advertising career, the difference is that I worked for others to promote other people’s products rather than my own.
When I was 12, and reluctantly living in Mexico (after being informed that we were not going home to England), I sat down at my mother’s Remington and typed my first book, “The Glass Stag.” 240 pages, double-spaced. Then I revised and rewrote it three times. My next book came at 13 (considered and rejected by MacMillan as excellent but no audience for a book written by a teenager). At 14, I joined an adult read and critique group, where I wrote my third book.
I knew for certain that I would become a writer.
Then why did I stray from that path?
Young love, having fun, moving, a career, New York and London took over my life. Until I was 21 and in a dull marketing job where I wrote lots of poetry. One day, I looked out of the filthy office window and thought, Is this how I want to spend my life? I quit, typed scripts at the BBC part-time for a living, and spent several months writing a book. This time, I was on track.
Until the day I met the love of my love who whisked me off for a year of high style living and travel before we broke up.
Back I went to a high-flying job as PR for an airline (pun intended) until marriage and a kid led me back to the corporate world and to Mexico, another marriage, another child, and then as a single mother supporting my kids.
Once, a friend from my first read and critique group, who had published several books, took the manuscript written years before in London to his top New York agent who got all excited about it. “Just clean it up and send it back,” he asked. It was a week before my second marriage, I was about to start a new job, and I had a two-year old to look after. The timing was off. I never did.
Fast forward to forced early retirement from advertising, a failed business, and the urge to create came back. In a golden four and a half months, I typed out (yes, an electric typewriter) the first draft of my opus, “Recognition.” As I rewrote 2nd and 3rd drafts, I supported myself with part-time work teaching English and selling my belongings. The agent from before, one of New York’s best, agreed to read it twice, both times sending me encouraging rejection letters. Over the following years, I wrote another seven drafts, joined several writing groups, and often followed up on comments made by agents in the numerous rejection letters. My first chapter won an award. But after seven years with “Recognition,” I wasn’t getting anywhere. So I stuck it in the closet.
I wrote another first draft of a novel, and a personal memoir (five drafts) that everyone, except for me, in three writing groups praised and loved. I was a weekly newspaper columnist and had shorter pieces published.
Next, inspired by Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed”, I took a Writers Digest book proposal course. When I approached several agents, they all wanted to see the book. For several years, while working freelance as a Hispanic report writer, I wrote “Don’t Hang Up!” Initial response from agents: great book, excellent writing, current and relevant theme, “but you need credentials for a publisher to be interested in it.”
An impasse of sorts until online opportunities unfolded before me.
Another writers’ conference and I knew where I was going: Found a small publisher willing to publish my book if I’d promote it. Put up my website, contacted a publicist, ready to go, and …
Hit by the economic downturn that depleted my resources, left me jobless again. And book less.
However, I still had a blog so I decided to make a go of that. Try to create interest in “Don’t Hang Up!” and then publish it.
I became addicted to blogging, not so much writing posts as to reading other people’s blogs and commenting on them. Many blogs inspired me or filled me with such enthusiasm that comments flowed, and I’d spend the better part of a week happily blogging.
I realized I’d lost my focus.
I wasn’t looking for or doing much work.
I got hustling and found freelance work. A lot.
That issue solved.
The other, my writing has been on hold. Meanwhile, several friends have published their books. Where am I with mine? What have I done to get it published? Too busy blogging.
Do I want to be a blogger or a book writer?
I already asked this question in a blog post months before, “Out to Sea. To Blog or Not to Blog.”
The answer is right in front of me.
I’ll never have the time or experience to aspire to reach Ken Follett’s level.
However, I do have two finished and edited memoirs, one first draft, and the outline for a trilogy that starts with “Recognition” (needs another go round/editing).
For me, at 68, time is at a premium.
So I’d better get going – and fast – with my writing.
And I can’t let life and work get in the way again.
Photo credit: Jacob Tron
Job loss often signifies much more than simply that. It can be an emotional loss – especially after long-term employment – or as bad as losing a dear friend of family member.
Many people experience something similar to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) as a pattern of adjustment.
What I saw, and experienced, were reactions that varied from anger, resentment, confusion, disappointment, mourning, fear, and bravado to sometimes, but not always, acceptance and/or renewed motivation. Unlike Kubler’s stages, these reactions had no specific order, tending to jump around or back and forth between one and the other, until settling into a specific mode.
I had bravado – oodles of it.
I could not admit to anyone, least of myself, that I was also out on a limb. No, I had to show them that I knew where I was going, and I told all and sundry just that. It helped that a lot of other co-workers had also been laid off at the same time.
So I pretended and then my pretense became fact and I chose to ignore that little inner voice warned me against it.
In other words, I had to show the world and to convince everyone, including myself, that I was not a loser.
“Every exit is an entry somewhere else.” Tom Stoppard
Here is another excerpt from my book about midlife job loss and making a new start Don’t Hang Up!
What Do You Do When the Good Times End?
Our favorite word is: “Salud.” Over drinks and lunch and more drinks, a group of the Ax Man’s victims share our dismissal from Paradise.
Most of us, in shock and disbelief over our situation, have dawdled in our job searches, blaming the delay on elusive contacts who promise and promise, but don’t fulfill. In the meantime, we live off our severance packages, while convincing ourselves, and each other, that we will find work before the money runs out. Some talk about potential interviews as if they were fact, and behave as if they are being pursued with job offers when they are, in reality, the seekers.
We are lost souls wandering through an unknown jungle. Stripped of our trappings, we have few survival skills. We are sinking, drawing down each other under our mutual load of delusions of past grandeur.
“Stop deceiving yourselves,” I tell them. “Once word gets out that you don’t have a job, ad agencies aren’t interested in you, just give you the runaround. I’m not willing to go through that hassle.”
They turn angry eyes on me for bursting their imaginary bubble.
Truth is, for me, the vista is barren. I can’t look for a job in another ad agency – they would have to call me first. And if I’m not seated behind a desk in an office, it’s doubtful they will. Nor can I, a former top executive, stoop to lower levels or bow my head before people who have been my inferiors. It would give the impression I’m a failure or have lost my edge – and who wants leftovers?
“I’m going to set up my own business,” I tell my friends. “And I can use any help you can give me.”
I have no clear idea how I can use them – the words came out before I could stop them – but I need my comrades beside me. They make me feel that I’m still someone.
“A restaurant and catering business.” I outline my plans as if they were fact and not being made up as I go along.
Their faces are eager, grasping at this hope I extend to them.
“Call it Pennie’s.”
“Pennie’s Deli sounds better.”
“Everyone in the advertising business knows you and they’ll flock to it.”
They all want a finger in my pie. It will give us a mutual goal, like working together on an ad campaign. The difference is that, in this case, I’m the one who will put up all the money. They assume I got a good severance package, and I did. Little do they know that a chunk went on taxes. Or that I’ve lost my focus and have only a vague notion of how to replace it.
Keeping up appearances and my five-bedroom house is important. I can’t give it up; it’s my children’s home. Their rooms are intact for when my older son, who lives in Dallas, and my younger one, studying in Italy, come to visit. For company, I have a live-in maid, a collie, a rottweiler, two chow-chows, and a floundering relationship with my long-time boyfriend.
After years of devoting my energy to the workplace, it’s hard to sleep at night. I stay up until the wee hours drinking Scotch, sleep late in the morning, and nap whenever I feel like it. No reason to keep regular hours. No kids to awaken, no office to go to. Who cares if I’m half sloshed? I dream of making a splash in a new field, and conduct a (frenetic) search for cooking ideas, scouring recipe books and magazines, and making lists, lists, lists.
Nothing will deter me from turning my restaurant project into reality. Not even if I have to invest all of my severance pay in it.
How did you react after job loss? Did you make some bad decisions?
Picture: Gustave Dore
There are some days, I admit, when I see little except for a gray existence ahead for me. At 67, I wonder if I will ever fulfill my life’s dream to become a published author. I fear that I will never find security in my old age. The aches and creaks of age wear me down. And I fall into “stinking thinking” that I’ll never find my way back up again.
None of this lasts for long. I don’t let it.
I can’t waste time on negative feelings. Rather, I have to use the next years of my life to accomplish as much as I can.
We all have our gray days. As we get older, we may feel age has caught up with us and overtaken our dreams to achieve what we set out to do. Maybe there isn’t enough time left, or we’re just too old, physically unable, mentally unwilling, or tired.
On the other hand, if we’re interested in the world and passionate about certain subjects, then we can still accomplish what we set out to do.
History and the arts are full of men and women who made surprising comebacks, achieved greatness, or who revived/had prominent careers at an age when most would have given up. And there must be a myriad of other less known or unrecorded cases.
“Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in.”
Winston Churchill, after an up and down career, and ten years as a political pariah or, as he put it, “Out in the wilderness” during the 1930s, returned at 66 to serve as a wartime Prime Minister in 1940. His leadership and great speeches helped inspire the nation’s morale against the would-be Nazi invaders that were pummeling the cities and coast of England. He told the people of England, “If you are going through Hell, keep going.”
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist in white dominated South Africa, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1962 and served 27 years, 18 as a classification D prisoner – the lowest scale – in the notorious Robben Island Prison. Released in 1990, he returned to lead his party in negotiations that led to multi-racial democracy in 1994. He was 72 when he became South Africa’s first democratically elected South African president in 1994.
“You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.”
Golda Meir came to the U.S. from Russia at the age of 8, and was brought up in Milwaukee, WI. In 1921, she emigrated to Palestine where she worked on a kibbutz and as a teacher before moving up in the political ranks. At 71, she became Prime Minister of the State of Israel in March, 1979. The world’s third woman to be head of state (after Shri Lanka and India), she was portrayed as the “strong-willed, straight-talking, gray-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people.”
“I made a resolve that I was going to amount to something if I could.”
Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65 when his restaurant folded and because his pension was so small; after two years, he went on to wild success. A Kentucky Colonel (in-name military designation only), he gave the chain an image by dressing up in that all-white southern gentleman garb.
“Painting’s not important. The important thing is keeping busy.”
Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses) didn’t begin to paint until the age of 76, when her hands became too crippled by arthritis to hold an embroidery needle and she found herself with nothing to do. She’s usually cited for succeeding for the first time at her art work in her nineties and up to her death at 101. Her paintings were shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as well as in museums in Vienna and Paris.
“I never had a great role in a great film.”
Gloria Stuart, a movie actress in the 1930s, returned from obscurity at 86 when she landed the role of 100-year-old Rose in James Cameron’s “Titanic.” She remains the oldest person ever nominated for an Oscar. The above quote must have been before “Titanic.”
“You cannot just waste time. Otherwise you’ll die to regret …”
Harriett Doerr finished her Stanford degree at 67. In 1983, at 73, she became a darling of the literary world with the publication of her first novel, “Stones for Ibarra,” which went on to win a National Book Award.
“If I had not lived until I was 90, I would not have been able to write this book. God knows what other potentials lurk in other people who keep going into old age.”
Harry Bernstein published a short story when he was 24, in 1934, but it was not until he was 96 that his well-received debut novel, “The Invisible Wall” was published. Bernstein turned to fiction only after his wife of 67 years died, as therapy for his loss and loneliness. He published two more books after his debut.
“If I had known at the beginning of my life that this is where I would get to, I would have said, “Not possible.”
Jessica Tandy, a well-respected actress came out of a career slump in the mid 1980s to a career revival in her seventies when she won both a Tony Award and an Emmy Award for her role in “Foxfire.” She became the oldest actress to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989.
There are many other such stories of late life success that I’d have liked to include but then I’d have to write an e-book about them. It’s a fascinating subject – what drove these men and women to not give up despite rejection, imprisonment, lack of education or opportunity, sexism, ageism, defeat … you name it.
Do you know of someone who “made it” late in life, particularly after overcoming problems, losses, rejection, or other setbacks?
If you do, please share their stories with us.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
At 67, I am not dying. Yet. However, my age group is often treated as if we were at the start of a prolonged death march.
And I will rage and rage against the dying of my light and that of my generation.
We gave light and warmth to a world darkened by war and oppression.
Our generation was the offspring of The Greatest Generation, those who fought in WWII. My English father and American mother met during the war, and I was a war baby born in England to the sound of bombs, and spent my childhood in grim post war England.
Meanwhile, the 50s generation in the U.S. were smug, conservative in their victory, swathed in security and newfound luxuries, and determined to lead lives centered on doing the right thing. A woman’s place was in the home and a man’s in the workplace. Frank Sinatra sang, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.” Then Elvis shocked the nation with his, “I’m all shook up!” until the bosses found a way – military service, movies – to calm him down, and eventually turn him into an overweight, drug addicted Las Vegas entertainer.
We grew up to become the generation of the 60s. We changed popular to have meaning – Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Peter, Paul and Mary. Women lifted their hemlines from mid-calf almost to their thighs, men were released from hats and formal wear, changed customs and attitudes relaxed – men and women could actually sleep or live together openly, and we protested when we disagreed with politics and national policy (Vietnam). Women aspired to and found work in former male only professions.
We overcame a stuffy Establishment to start the modern world, the one inherited by the current generation.
Then we stopped raging and protesting, and most of us settled into respectability, using our creativity and energies to create a better world for our kids. Women carved careers for themselves in a male dominated world so that nowadays, female executives are as much a part of the corporate world as their male counterparts.
We never thought we’d reach an age when the younger generation would start to shove us aside like old relics. We never dreamed the day might come when formerly successful professionals would be out on a limb, scrabbling for work – any work – in mid-life. Or that many of us would be no longer employable despite our qualifications and experience, or broke because of lost jobs, or family homes foreclosed or, except for some notable exceptions, shunted aside. We never thought we’d become victims of another depression caused by the greedy generation that followed ours.
Perhaps some of you can accept this and go gentle into the night of your life.
Or the alternative:
Rage, rage against the dying of our light for as long as we can.
I, for one, prefer the latter choice. What about you?
We raged when we were young and got things done. We still have our voices and we can rage again.
One voice added to another. Mine added to yours added to someone else’s and so on can build up to a lot of middle age voices clamoring to be heard.
Just imagine if a large number of us protested, for example, age discrimination in the workplace.
The same way we used to.
For one thing, it would shock the younger generation. That we still have it in us. That we’re not going out without a fight. That we’re capable of moving again in tandem, but this time against the entitled younger generation that has not learned from history that it repeats itself over and over again.
What awaits them in 30-40 years?
I’m not ready to be shoved aside. Nor are many of my generation or even older.
Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa at 67 after 28 years’ imprisonment.
John McCain was a presidential candidate (a grueling ordeal) at 72.
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi may be making a long overdue return after years of house arrest.
The world is rife with people over sixty who have more than enough energy to go around.
To mention a few: Hilary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, Martha Stewart, Nancy Pelosi, Arianna Huffington, Isabel Allende, Doris Lessing, Steven King, Michael Bloomberg, Donald Trump, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Richard Branson
How about the entertainment world? Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Diane Keaton, Martin Scorsese, Cher, Mick Jagger, and Paul McCartney.
I could add a lot more names and so can you, to that list.
Join my voice that you will not go gentle into the night.
Instead, you will rage, rage against the dying of your light.
Photograph courtesy of Veronica Valades
“I am still in shock and awe at being fired.”
(This is a repost of, “Fired! Going Out with A Roar,” partly excerpted from my book, “Don’t Hang Up!”)
“You’re fired” may not be politically correct these days (except for Donald Trump on The Apprentice) but being fired/terminated/let go/laid off/downsized/given early retirement – however it’s phrased – all mean the same thing: you don’t have a job anymore.
Job loss, particularly in mid-life, can be a bit like a small death – of everything you have worked for over the years. Like a death, it also affects your/your family’s lifestyle, and often leads to a trail of other losses, trials, and struggles. It changes the course of the rest of your life, your expectations, and forces you to face the fact that your best years may well be behind you.
Or wait. Your best years may still be ahead of you.
“Don’t Hang Up!” is not only my story but that of many former successful professionals who, in mid-life, have been cast out of the professional world. We have had to come to terms with job loss, look for a way back in or up, struggle to make a comeback, a new start, or reinvent ourselves in a new career and lifestyle.
This is the start of my story.
Early Retirement? Go Out With A Roar
Someone is “after” my corner office. The whispers and warnings, like damp rot, seep through the ivy-coated walls to where I sit as my colonial desk. I sense the vultures circling, waiting for the moment when they can catch me, down and unawares.
Again? Why is my office such a target? For one, its location in a quiet corner of our building. Add a landscaped patio view, forest green décor and designer colonial Mexican furniture, and size – large enough to contain a small conference table – all make it a desirable status symbol.
In my fourteen years occupying it, many people have aspired to it, and tried, by fair means or more often foul, to wrest it away from me. Foiled every time.
This is my second home. Here, I have celebrated successes and teetered on the verge of dismissal. This office has seen both my laughter and my private tears. It has witnessed my change from the adventurous, optimistic, dreamy eyed young executive who first inhabited it to the hardened, high-powered, stressed-out senior VP of today.
For me, this office represents an important chunk of my life.
For others, it represents status, a symbol of who they want to be in the business world.
In recent months, after we were merged – more like a takeover – with a much larger New York ad agency, our new bosses brought in Marty as manager. One of his tasks has been downsizing, and he’s taken to it with a vengeance unparalleled in the agency’s fifty years. A fierce little man, he zooms around on invisible skates as he goes on his deadly way. Speedy González with a machete.
I must be on his hit list. Everyone of any importance, and some who aren’t, are on it. New York wants to revamp the place and get rid of us old-timers. Even the office boy, now middle-aged, may be walking the plank soon.
Today, I returned from my campaign presentation to a difficult client. Victorious. Still at the top of my game. A reason to celebrate. So when Marty calls me into his office, I’m pretty certain it’s to give me a clap on the back for my achievement.
He embarks on what sounds like an oft-performed speech, so smooth that it takes me several minutes to realize he’s trying to persuade me, in the nicest of terms, how it’s in my best interest to take early retirement. I hear, “Corporate takeover casualties,” and “Anyone who’s been more than ten years in the agency.”
I don’t move, not a muscle or a blink, as if my hearing is my only sense left. He’s the one who reacts to my non-reaction, gets muddled, and waffles on a bit about how I need not worry about my future.
“It shouldn’t be hard for you to find a good position,” he says. A blatant lie. At my age, once you’re out of a job, you’re out of the market. And who wants to join the bunch of middle-aged has-beens in search of work in a youth-oriented world?
“I don’t think I’ll look.”
“Have something else in mind?”
“I’ll get rid of my high heels, give away my business suits, let my hair grow down to my waist… and strangle you with my pantyhose. Then, I’ll open a restaurant.”
His flinch is barely noticeable. He recovers fast. “You should do very well. Congratulations on today’s presentation. You did a great job. You can go out with a roar.”
So someone else will inhabit my office after all.
I hope that my ghost will forever haunt it.
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