Monday, January 14, 2013

Sometimes You've Got To Eat The Elephant

Jan. 14, 2013

Today I am 193.0 pounds of rolling thunder, but it's been a while since I've been out on the streets, so I'm anxious to get back out running.

A recent article in the Business Day section of the New York Times stopped me right in my tracks, and it will probably tumble around in my head as I hit the streets today for my run.

"Over 50, and Under No Illusions," the headline shouted from the NYT website. But it wasn't the headline that stopped me so much as the first two or three paragraphs of the story written by Caitlin Kelly.

"IT’S a baby boomer’s nightmare. One moment you’re 40-ish and moving up, the next you’re 50-plus and suddenly, shockingly, moving out -- jobless in a tough economy.

Too young to retire, too old to start over. Or at least that’s the line. Comfortable jobs with comfortable salaries are scarce, after all. Almost overnight, skills honed over a lifetime seem tired, passé. Twenty- and thirty-somethings will gladly do the work you used to do, and probably for less money. Yes, businesses are hiring again, but not nearly fast enough. Many people are so disheartened that they’ve simply stopped looking for work.

For millions of Americans over 50, this isn’t a bad dream — it’s grim reality."

And the real twist of the knife came with this line, "For a vast majority of this cohort, being thrown out of work means months of fruitless searching and soul-crushing rejection."

Crushing rejection? Had Kelly somehow been spying on my existence over the past three years? Had she crawled up in my psyche and somehow learned my inner secrets, or was my story of job searching as familiar and transparent as so many others.

Yes, up-and-comer in my 30s. On to middle management in my 40s. But the 50s have been a bear, and I'm just getting started.

After my first media layoff, I bounced back into a job as an online editor. Nice work, fun, educational, interesting and rewarding. But then came round two of media layoffs.

While my first time without full-time work had lasted less than two months, this second go-around has taken longer. But it's not from not trying. I've added skills, tried new things and applied to as many jobs as I can.

How was I to know that 50 was the new 60. Throughout the early 2000's we were all told that 40 was the new 30 and 50 the new 40, but then the recession hit and from the sound of Kelly's article 50 is the new employment purgatory.

During the past 18 months I've been tested, tried out, screened, poked, prodded, grilled, skewered and twisted more than 20 times in the job-seeking process. I laughingly refer to myself as the king of runners-up for job openings.

One of the things I've learned through the job interview process is there are a lot of really cool people out there doing rewarding and interesting stuff. So many of us get into a career and spend our lives at one type of work, so we're cloistered away from seeing what other people do.

Because my skill set ranges from writing to photography and now online and social media, I have been invited to interview for a wide variety of jobs at universities, businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. Each interview has been an opportunity for discovery. Perhaps fruitless in terms of getting a job immediately, but important for personal growth and education.

 If LinkedIn were a degree-offering institution, I'd have my PhD by now. Twitter is thinking about a hall of fame induction, but they fear I've been using performance-enhancing tweets, so I'm off the ballot for now, so I've moved on to courting Pinterest.

At this point, I've lost 20 pounds and 20 years off my resume in hopes of getting hired. My portfolio lives online. My LinkedIn profile is razor sharp, and my elevator speech goes clear to the top.

I love doing online and social media work, and to this point I've been able to do enough contract work to keep the dream alive. 

Still I go back to these lines from Kelly, "Too young to retire, too old to start over. Or at least that’s the line. Comfortable jobs with comfortable salaries are scarce, after all. Almost overnight, skills honed over a lifetime seem tired, passé."

I'm definitely too young to retire, but I'm going to mull the NYT story over as I go for my run.

Most important, for all my job-seeking friends, don't give up the fight. Rejection is only soul-crushing if you let it be.

Remember, you eat an elephant one bite at a time, and 50 will one day again be the new 40.


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