Posts Tagged ‘Reinventing yourself’
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
“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
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 after 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.
Is it taking you years to achieve your goal?
Or much longer than you envisioned when you started out.
Only a few of us ever make it on our first try, and many, not even on our second, third, fourth or more attempts.
So how long should we keep going before giving up?
It depends on how much we believe in our dreams and goals, and wanting them badly enough to battle for them. It depends on our determination and perseverance.
It depends on treating every setback as another learning experience rather than as another defeat.
And ultimately, it depends on never losing sight of what we want to achieve.
The Spider That Wouldn’t Give Up.
The quote, “Try, try, and try again,” comes from a legend about the 14th century King of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, and a spider.
After Robert the Bruce was defeated for the sixth time by the King of England, he fled and hid in a cave. He lay there, ready to give up all hope, when a spider caught his eye. It was hanging by a long silvery thread from one of the wooden beams above his head, and trying to swing itself to another beam. It tried again and again, failing each time. Six times.
Robert thought, “I too have failed six times in my fight for Scotland. But if this spider succeeds the next time, I will try once more to regain my kingdom.”
The spider swung again – and on its seventh attempt, it succeeded.
Robert the Bruce threw off his despair and went on to battle the English and eventually, won at the Battle of Bannockburn.
He regained his kingdom – all because of one spider that wouldn’t give up.
This story’s premise holds true in almost any battle in our lives. Robert the Bruce’s success followed a series of failures. The same can happen to any of us – if we’re willing to try again and again and have the courage to look beyond failure.
My own story is not a success story – yet.
“There is no telling how many miles you will have to run while chasing a dream.” ~Author Unknown
Youthful dreams vs. adult reality
I wrote my first, full-length novel – 240 typed double spaced pages – when I was 12. And rewrote it twice. I dreamed of the day when I’d become a famous writer.
At 14, I wrote my second novel. It was “considered” by MacMillan but rejected because a book written by a young adult would not find an audience. Years later, “Eragon” written by 16 year old Christopher Paolini would become both a bestseller and a hit movie.
I wrote my third novel at 16. I still hope to get it published – some day.
When I was 22, I started another book, but gave it up to travel around Europe. Several years later, a published friend showed the first chapters to his agent at William Morris. I received a note saying it was magnificent, and to clean it up and send him the rest.
This happened one week before I was married, two weeks before I started a new job, and a month before my three-year old started pre-school.
Instead, I shoved my manuscript into a box in a closet where it remained for the next quarter century.
The long road to nowhere.
In my early fifties, I pulled out the yellowed pages of my unfinished manuscript from its box. I’d revive my “magnificent” book and this time, it would be published. I wrote a whole new draft in four months on a manual typewriter. Once more, I dreamed mt childhood dream and that my novel would become a blockbuster.
My “blockbuster” required tons of research, dedication, brushing up on craft, and editing with a read and critique group. I spent five years working on it – ten drafts – until it was in good enough shape, I thought, to look for an agent. Rejection letters piled up, including from the same agent who had loved it years before.
Reality set in. So the book went back into the closet.
In the next years, I wrote three more books. I received the best rejection letters (one, two-pages handwritten) ever, but no takers, for one of my non-fiction books.
The computer age had changed everything. More people than ever were writing books. Agents, inundated with query letters, seldom had time for unknown authors. You had to go to a conference to meet them. And publishers were accepting fewer books.
In the decade of 2000, the publishing world experienced a radical change.
The way I’d hoped/expected to be published, the traditional route, seemed barred for me.
I’d missed the boat. Time to give up.
There’s still a way – just not the way I envisioned
Then I thought about all the people who had encouraged me and believed in me over the years. All the work and the sacrifices I’d made to become a good writer.
I thought about my father who, when he died, left an attic full of finished manuscripts.
No, I couldn’t give up. Or better said, I’d come too far to give up.
So I’m still at it, as anyone reading this blog can see. I’m learning as much as I can about this, for me, daunting new world of Social Media, and focusing on my non-fiction book, “Don’t Hang Up!”
And what about that all important novel?
I’ll be damned if I let it wither again on my closet shelf again.
If I don’t lose sight of my goal, it will find a publisher. Of that, I am certain.
Worse, do your memories hold you back from seeking new opportunities? Or make you see yourself as a has-been rather than an “I could be?”
Maybe there are times when you, like me, yearn for your days in the sun. We remember when we were big shots, or held important positions, or made six figure salaries, or had this or that, etc. This may lead to the next step down the road of “stinking thinking,” to comparisons with our current situations. We can feel victimized or sidelined by events beyond our control.
If we continue on that road, we may conclude that since those days are gone, what’s the use of trying something new? Why bother to pursue unfulfilled dreams or ambitions? Better just sit back and enjoy the rest of our lives.
“I mustn’t give in.”
Most of you, I’m sure, have heard the ballad, Memory from the musical Cats. Some of you may even know the lyrics based in part on poems by T.S. Eliot. The highlight is when the old cat, Grizabella, reminisces about how easy it is to leave her all alone with her memory of her days in the sun. All the same, this determined old cat looks forward to the promise of a new day and a new life.
I must wait for the sunrise,
I must think of a new life,
And I mustn’t give in.”
Let your memories lead you.
Memories are such a powerful tool that they can uplift us or devastate us, inspire us or cripple us emotionally, gladden our hearts or enrage us. They can exalt us or hold us back.
Instead of letting our memories of our days in the sun drag us down, why not use them to motivate us to carry on and fulfill our unfulfilled dreams, passions, ambitions?
True, we’re not as young, attractive, energetic as before but we have qualities we didn’t have then. The former high flying business executive or aging actor/musician/sportsman, etc. may not fly high anymore, but that doesn’t mean they have to stop flying.
Instead of our memories pulling us back, why not use them to pull us into the future?
Smile at your old days in the sun.
Mine began when I was just 18 and hit New York City with $50 (roughly the equivalent of $500 today), one year’s college credits from a university in the Midwest, and all the bravado of one of the heroines in the bestseller and movie, The Best of Everything.
I stayed in a small hotel on the Upper East Side ($50 a night) and on my first day, went to an employment agency I found in the phone book.
In a new suit, I was a personable, bilingual (English/Spanish), with typing and writing skills, 22 year old (why not? In those days, they seldom checked age or credentials), with two years at a Liberal Arts college.
I was sent for an interview in the international section of an advertising agency. (Think of the TV show, Mad Men, which for me is a nostalgic reenactment of that time.) They needed someone who could type out, proofread and even edit, in both English and Spanish, medical newsletters destined for South America. I aced the typing, spelling and grammar tests, but what clinched the interview and got me the job was a missing accent mark in Spanish.
That is how I began my 30 year career in advertising – because of a missing accent mark.
My advertising career ended in mid life with so-called early retirement. Then I had years of ups and downs before starting a new career that lasted a decade until the current economic environment slowed things down.
Make your today another memory worth looking back on.
If I could make it then, why can’t I make it again? And so can all of you in your late fifties and sixties who may think that you’ve come to the end of the road. Agreed that today’s demands are very different from then, and technology rules the world, and it’s tough keeping up.
But… it was tough for a woman trying to get ahead in the early sixties. Perhaps as tough as for a woman in her sixties trying to get ahead in today’s world.
I have to remember that plucky young girl in New York. Something of her must still be lying inside me waiting to come out again. I don’t have her looks or her energy or her age anymore. But I do have the wisdom of years of experience – and many memories that I can draw on to take me into my new day.
For that new day awaits us all, whatever our age, if we can just look at it as a new opportunity.
Instead of saying, “I used to,” we should be saying, “I can still” make it.
As Grisabella sings in the theatrical version:
“Let your memory lead you
Open up, enter in
If you find there the meaning of what happiness is
Then a new life will begin.”
Scenic photograph courtesy of Veronica Valades
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