Last time, I shared my story of my midlife career change, which had its trials in the beginning but worked out well for me over time. The new path I was on eventually crossed that of another woman who was experiencing her own midlife career change. Mine had been voluntary; hers was thrust on her by surprise, bringing with it shock and emotional trauma. I first encountered Becky (not her real name) in the resource center where I work as an employment counselor. We chatted, and she shared with me that she had recently been laid off and was exploring her next options. She was an attractive woman with an engaging smile and an immaculate professional appearance. In my opinion, she looked like a million bucks. I learned that she was 64 years old and was now looking for a new job, possibly a new career direction.
Eventually we met one-on-one and I learned her story. Becky was in marketing; for 13 years she had worked for an advertising agency in a major city, leading a team of 4-6 others which, under her leadership, had achieved many successes. About a year prior to the layoff, the company underwent a major reorganization and transitioned in a new manager who was also a woman, yet significantly younger, to whom Becky would now report.
Becky retained her expansive workload, but her work week was cut from 5 to 4 days, and unrealistic targets were created. Additionally, the new manager arranged one-on-one meetings with individuals on Becky’s team, during which negative misinformation was fostered. Becky continued to do what she had always done – work hard and remain committed to delivering outstanding client service, but from her perspective, her efforts to lead the team were being undermined and she was being set up for failure.
The day eventually came that Becky was called to the new manager’s office and given the news that she was being let go – news that not only hit her like a ton of bricks, but contradicted everything she had believed about her job performance over 13 years. Two weeks after her dismissal a new woman, someone much younger and a former colleague of the new manager, was hired to take Becky’s place.
As Becky shared this deeply impactful experience with me, tears came to her eyes. Upon seeing and feeling her emotions, I observed that what she was experiencing seemed to me very similar to what we sometimes go through when an intimate relationship ends: Shock. Heartache. Feelings of rejection and unworthiness. This experience caused Becky to question her own abilities and everything she had believed about her contributions to the organization. Perhaps she began to question herself in other areas of her life, as well.
I know what you’re thinking as you read this, the same things I was when I heard her story. Deep inside you’re crying, “This is age discrimination! This is outright wrong!” (momentary freak-out: when did we get old enough to be victims of age discrimination?)
Regaining her sense of self-worth was only the beginning of the issues and questions that Becky needed to deal with, and right away. Being single and therefore having no financial support to fall back on, how would she manage financially? Would she qualify for unemployment benefits? Should she try to find another job or, at age 64, throw in the towel and call it a day?
Job loss in mid-life can be both a curse and a blessing. Our ego is grieving, our financial security is threatened, and we feel a sense of powerlessness. But perhaps in this mix there is a little blessing - an opportunity that exists once the initial shock has worn off.. an opportunity for us to stop, be still, and ask ourselves, “Can I now do something more fulfilling? Can I fill a vocational need that to this point in my life, has gone unmet?”
Perhaps this “horrible thing” can lead us to something we would not have pursued, had we not been forced into it. Please join me next time as we discuss walking the path of vocational discovery, in mid-life.
Cindy works as an employment development counselor, and is a mother and grandmother. She has lived in Sonoma County for 28 years.