Recently I came across an exceptionally good article on age discrimination at Forbes Magazine. Read it here.
As the author points out, age discrimination continues. Many companies don’t try to hide it. And it’s hard to prove, especially if you’re applying for a job in a competitive arena.
If you sue, you’ll probably have to leave, win or lose. If you get the job you might be laid off a year later. And then you’re back on the job search circuit.
The article falters when the author promises “solutions.” She suggests positioning yourself as problem-solver so the company “can’t afford” to overlook your application.
The truth is, not all hiring executives are rational. Some won’t hire you for your problem-solving skills; they’ll see if they like you and feel comfortable talking to you. In fact, many executives openly acknowledge that they don’t look for a skill set. They look for someone who’s a “fit.”
Even if you do get the job, you might be uncomfortable working in an environment where you have to downplay your experience to avoid stepping on toes. You might not be taken seriously, especially if you’re in a field where everyone knows jobs are hard to get.
Books on encore careers drive me nuts. They paint a rosy, false picture. They encourage readers to be happy with low-paying positions where they can leave a “legacy.”
Then there are those articles with titles like “Best Jobs Over 50.” One such article in money.msn.com drew 392 comments, nearly all derisive. The article suggested that boomers investigate fields such as medical assistant, custom garment maker (seamstress?),assisted living facility professional (“an aide’s responsibilities can range from dispensing medication to taking their charges on outings”), financial adviser, tour guide, and private investigator. Be still, my beating heart.
If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know where I stand.
- When you reach your 40s – and definitely your 50s – begin planning for self-employment. Start something on the side, just to get used to entrepreneurship. Some people take the plunge and feel inspired; others feel like they’re drowning in a tub of icy water and they can’t wait to get out. Don’t despair: it’ll get easier.
- I don’t recommend starting with a coach, unless you need a session or two to get going. Take a course at a local community college. Talk to your SCORE advisor at the Small Business Administration. The quality varies widely, but then so do private coaches.
- At some point you just have to get a business license, announce you’re available, and just do it. You can start simply with something like dog walking or gardening. You might create an online business, perhaps beginning as a virtual assistant. You might have to go through two, three or a dozen ideas before something gains traction.
But every time you stumble, just remind yourself of the alternatives. Do you want to be in a one-down position when you’re applying for jobs in your sixties (or even seventies)? Do you want to see the look on someone’s face when you walk into an interview and they think, “OMG, that person is OLD?” Do you want to make a strong contribution, only to be denied promotions and raises because “at your age it doesn’t matter?”
Of course I don’t recommend that you stop looking for a “real” job. Use your network and keep your options open. I know a fifty-something woman who got recruited from a law firm to be a hospital administrator. She’s got an awesome personality and she’s just plain fun to be around – and she’s superbly qualified. The pay is good and she loves the job. She’s also becoming more marketable by the day and she knows it.
But if you’ve been pounding pavements or wonder whether you’ll be recruited for a new, better position, don’t wait. Think “entrepreneurship” and take the first small steps as soon as you finish reading this post.
So … what do you think? Is this advice too strong for you? Please leave a comment in the space below.
Today’s Wall Street Journal features a story about ex-convicts who started their own business. A classic example would be a former computer hacker who now consults on security. You can read the story here.
This story isn’t new. Frank Abegnale, hero of the book and movie Catch Me If You Can, became a security consultant. He claims he’d have headed back to a life of crime if he hadn’t been able to start his own company. Nobody would hire him, even to run a movie projector in a dark room of a theater.
But convicted felons aren’t the only people who have trouble getting jobs. If you’re over 50, not especially attracdtive (or even unattractive), experiencing a visible disability, have an odd work schedule or just don’t fit the mold, you might be unemployed for a long time.
I know: career advisors aren’t supposed to say this. We’re supposed to offer you cheery, upbeat advice on how anybody can do what they want if they just put their minds to ti.
The truth is, you need to start developing your entrepreneurial chops as early in life as possible. Create a business – even a micro-business – where you have to come up with a service or product that people want. Figure out how to get them to buy it. Learn how to anticipate their needs and how to deal with clients and customers.
My dog walker had been a school teacher for many years. When she started earning money as a dog walker she opened a business and walked out of the classroom for the last time.
Her horrified parents said, “But we spent all this money on your education!”
She replied, “I couldn’t pay my bills as a teacher. I can make more as a dog walker.”
Of course she’s more than dog walker. She asks, “How can I make even more money?” So she subcontracts to others who walk dogs and check on cats whose owners are out of town.
My dog walker in Seattle came up with a different solution. She created dog adventuers: she bundles up 6 dogs in her large car and takes them to a secure dog park. She charged just $25 per dog per visit and she made more than if she’d walked each dog individually for an hour. She still had time to offer shorter walks and look in on cats in the evenings.
That’s the kind of spirit you need to cultivate. These dog walkers will be bringing in a comfortable income while their friends in more traditional office jobs are terrified of layoffs or worse.
When I work with clients in Career Strategy Sessions, we often identify ways to get started. During those sessions, after I understand my clients’ needs, I can recommend additional cost-effective resources.
Recently ABC News ran an article, “And Now, the 50-year old intern,” by Alan Farnham. Read it here.
This article seems disturbing because it seems to reinforce norms supporting age discrimination.
The author refers to people 50 years and older as “aged newbies.” Fifty is hardly “aged.” Today’s 50-year-old was born in 1962. He or she can’t collect full retirement social security benefits for another 17 years. That’s hardly retirement age. This “aged newbie” can expect to live another 20 to 30 years, probably working the whole time.
The article goes on to say, “some employers are happy hire to hire them–not just because they work cheap, but because they bring with them mature judgement and valuable experience.”
Translation: They’re working DOUBLE cheap. These companies recognize value but aren’t willing to pay for it.
Worst of all, the article doesn’t talk about what happens to these workers post-internships. Do internships really lead to new jobs? Or do employers take the cheap labor and say, “Thank you very much. Now we’ll hire another intern or a younger worker.”
What’s better: Try to find a way to create your own business. I recently talked to a neighbor who created a business of dog walking and cat sitting. She earns more now than she did as a teacher, even with extra taxes and expenses … and her work clothes consist of old jeans and sweatshirts.
Freedman’s latest book purports to be about midlife transitions and challenges. Ultimately, it boils down to a lesson: Midlife is just another life transition. We can learn from other people’s stories, but only up to a point, because each of us has a unique story to live. There’s no clear pathway and we’re still looking for a how-to manual.
The book really begins with chapter 2, where Freedman quotes Joseph Campbell “Midlife is when you get to the top of the ladder and discover it is leaning against the wrong wall.
He then gives a good example of a woman named “Meredith Mackenzie,” who “created her own gap year” when she took a 2-year retreat in a small house. She had already had one shift – gone to law school and realized she didn’t want to be a lawyer. She moved into a 300-sq ft converted garage in Kernville, Nevada. There’s a great quote on page 24: ” The change in life directions is usually much messier in real life than in magazine features.”
That’s the best part of the book and I wish he’d pursued it. He spends a lot of time noting that we have few guidelines for the new midlife.
I liked p 85 where his mother in law defines her life stage with, “I’m on my next to last dog.”
The weakest part of the book comes in the suggestions for what “we as a society” ought to be doing. The feasibility of these ideas is way beyond the control of most of us. The majority of readers will want to know the answers to 2 questions: “Who else is dealing with these issues?” and, “What can I learn from them?”
The Big Shift gives partial answers. Many exemplars come from strong corporate backgrounds so they have a lot to bring to the table when they enter the non-profit arena. Others opt for education, exploration and special programs. It seems to be a combination of luck and energy … exactly the same qualities you need for a life transition at any age.
Marc Freedman, author of Encore, wrote a provocative, timely post about Steve Jobs’s advice to baby boomers. Read his post here. Like so many leaders today, Steve Jobs sounds more like a life coach than seasoned business executive.
Job said: “…[F]or the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ … Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
“Time matters at 50 or 55 or 60 in a way that it doesn’t when you are sitting at college commencement assuming an endless expanse ahead, even if some wise person is telling you otherwise. There’s no more dress rehearsal. You’re on.”
“[The] longevity tables tell us [life] is likely to go on for quite a while, for a period that could easily approximate or exceed midlife. This simultaneous expansion and compression of time is a unique feature of the new stage of life opening up between the middle years and anything resembling old age.”
So far, so good. Freedman goes on to propose a mantra “as we prepare to storm the barricades of age: mortality, longevity, urgency. Add demography and we might be poised to witness something transformative, the emergence of an entirely new stage of life and a new segment of the population, neither young nor old. 60 is neither the new 30 or the old 80. It is the new 60.”
That’s also very good advice. but it’s a lot more problematic than Freedman suggests here. Longevity and urgency seem to be contradictory and the challenge of mid-life is to deal with this contradiction. When you are 50 and you’re enjoying good health, chances are you’ll still be around in 10 years, able to continue what you are doing now. But when you are 60 and in good health, there’s a long tail to the probability curve. The *average* 60-something will still be enjoying life. More will be experiencing health problems, some for the first time, and some will be enjoying an even higher quality of life as they shed their careers and enjoy retirement.
The truth is: Life coaching gets harder as your life gets longer.
Traditional wisdom doesn’t apply. How do you plan for the post-60 life? If you live each day as though you’ve got a year to live, you won’t defer gratification to work so you can preserve your nest egg and life style. But if you bet wrong and the clock ticks more slowly, you’re in trouble.
In the best of both worlds, you have a career you enjoy so you don’t have an either/or decision. That’s usually possible – but requires some creativity, planning and a large amount of luck.
Reading over Jobs’s commencement address on the day of his obituary, there’s no denying the sadness that Jobs himself won’t be around to help blaze this new territory himself. He was just beginning to navigate the terrain between ages 55 and 75 – an age was once a wasteland, yet has all the ingredients to be the new crown of life.
Life coaching calls for a life design with built-in breaks along a much longer trajectory, that is fitted to the new lifespans of the 21st century. You can’t run a marathon the way you run a spring. We’re going to need to coach ourselves or get coached to this new view of life. Half the children born since 2000 in the developed world are projected to see their 100th birthdays. Let’s pass on to them a life trajectory that’s sustaining and sustainable, that pays off on the promise of the longevity revolution, for now and for generations to come.
As a life coach, Steve Jobs wasn’t bad. Life just gets harder to coach with every year.