Waiting for my Nespresso coffee machine to heat up, I heard the plop of my newspaper outside my apartment door. Bending down to scoop it up, the headline shook me out of my Monday morning pre-coffee stupor, screaming at me to wake up: The New Poor: For the Unemployed Over 50, Fears of Never Working Again.
It was only 5:30 a.m., so I could have gotten away with jumping back into bed and pulling the proverbial covers over my head, even for a little while. But, I forced myself to read the article which was on the front page of one of the world's most respected newspapers, The New York Times.
The article was filled with statistics and stories about hardworking men and women who, after turning 50, lost their jobs, for various reasons, but mostly because of the economic downturn. Person after person told about being close to the brink, worrying about paying bills, and trying their hardest to push down the almost constant feeling of hopelessness, despair and fear. Fear that they would never be employed again. Ever. As the Times pointed out, because there are so many people (of all ages) who are unemployed now, it will take years to absorb them back into the workforce; and for those over 50 it could be even harder.
The takeaway from this article? Men and women over 50 are doomed.
Shortly after reading the paper, I made my way downtown to attend a conference, where some incredible and very successful women--including Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, Melinda Gates and Arianna Huffington--were scheduled to speak. The symposium, Women: Inspiration & Enterprise (WIE) , was designed to bring women together to share ideas and experiences with each other and, even more importantly, to help each other.
Diane von Furstenberg said she has never met a woman who isn't strong. No matter what the circumstances, and how dire they may seem, we always fight through, inspiring others along the way. I was sitting up straighter in my chair just listening to her.
Arianna Huffington talked about how we must harness our inner strength, creativity and most importantly, the internet, to forge our own destinies. We can't be passive, just waiting for the next job to come along, but proactive, using our natural communication skills and engagement with new media to get us to where we want to go. She also suggested that the best place to look for the leader to guide you to your future is in the mirror.
The more I heard from these remarkable women, the more I knew that the story in the Times was only a fraction of the story. There were far too many men and women I knew or had heard or read about that, even though were affected by the economic slump, still managed to muster up the spirit and courage to confront the challenges, and forge ahead ... fearless after 50.
I was on a mission to disprove that article, or at least, put it into some proper perspective.
After the event, I contacted Julia Moulden, one of the many brilliant people I interviewed for my book, "The Best of Everything After 50." Julia was uniquely qualified to discuss The New York Times article with me, as she is a highly respected observer of the changing workplace. She's written one book about the search for meaningful work, "We Are The New Radicals: A Manifesto for Reinventing Yourself and Saving the World," and is almost finished with another one about career paths after 50. She is also a career transition coach who has worked with clients on four continents, and a weekly columnist for The Huffington Post. I asked Julia to give me her reaction to the article:
I am angry. On the front page of The New York Times, one of the worlds' most respected newspapers, was a story that was factual, sure, but told only part of the story. I wouldn't be surprised if the suicide rate of people over 50 spiked as a result of this article. Yes, it's true that a percentage of the population is experiencing this financial agony, but it's not the whole picture. The notion that it's all down hill from here is wrong, misleading and destructive.
In my work, for the past few years, I've been tracking people who are having a completely different experience. So many of us who are over 50 are on top of our games, and our careers. We feel alive, energized, skilled and capable, and we see a world of opportunities in front of us. In fact, I love to say that the future is bright for the boomers, because it is. My new book, which will be out in January, is all about meaningful work after 50, and how to get it. Some will want to reinvent themselves, and start over completely, and others will stay where they are, but continue to thrive and be productive. It's all a matter of choice, and making sure that you have a choice, is the point.
If you're over 50 and as unnerved by the article as I was, take a look at some of the advice that Julia and other experts gave me to share with you. These simple tools will calm your fears, inspire you to pursue your dreams and should be required reading for all adults, especially those over 50:
- Name Your Passion. Think about what gets your juices flowing, your brain cells percolating, and makes you jump out of bed in the morning. Putting a name to it will help you form a plan to harness that passion.
- What Will Your Legacy Be? If you haven't left your personal stamp on the world yet, now's the time to think about what it should be. The question, "How do I want to be remembered?" will help you figure out your priorities.
- What's Your Motivation? Money is one motivator, but a desire to help others can be very powerful, too. Why not put them together? Julia believes that the two are not mutually exclusive.
- Who Are You Anyway? It's important to have a good understanding of your character, nature, work ethic and strengths and weaknesses. Do you want to work inside, outside, working closely with people? Knowing this will clarify a lot.
- List Your Skills Every one of us has something to offer the world. Take stock of your talents, skills, experiences and contacts to get a better idea of what you are truly qualified to do.
- Do You Need New Skills? Keep your skills up to date, and learn new ones if you need to, especially if you're considering moving to a different career.
In her book, and work, Julia talks about how there are different paths that can lead you to "what's next" in your life. While writing my book, I talked with many women about the different paths they took after they turned 50, which included going back to school for a Ph.D., starting a small business, taking a sabbatical from a job to sort things out, volunteering at something before committing to it, and staying put in a career that has been, and continues to be, rewarding.
The future is unknown, so try to control it as best you can. The essential thing is to decide what you want to do, and then stay healthy and fit so you can do it for a very long time. Keep your spirits and confidence up, watch your finances, stay connected with others who can help, support and encourage you, and you will be ready for whatever comes next.
I still love my New York Times, but in a demonstration of protest, tomorrow, I will read the New York Post.
Look for Julia Moulden's weekly columns on The Huffington Post, and please follow both of us on Twitter. If you're on Facebook, get in touch so we can continue the conversation.
Best of Everything,
Follow Barbara Hannah Grufferman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BGrufferman