What do you do when you’re suddenly unemployed over age 45? Here’s what one woman did when she had this career setback. Joan bravely shares her struggles and what she learned from job loss at 50 in this guest post.
Joan’s Story of Job Loss at 50
It was surreal. 21 years. Gone. That’s how I felt. It was gone, over, done. I never dreamed that I would, or could, lose my job. It was unfathomable. But here I was, out the door. I asked myself: “What now? With no degree, did I need to think of a career change?” No, I told myself, “stay calm and try to figure out what you are going to do next. And quickly.”
Exactly what was I supposed to do? I was living in Manhattan (high rent), a single female, 49 years old, out of work, and I didn’t have a college degree. As the Vice President of Application Support, I had worked hard to get to that position, but not one I would feel comfortable interviewing for. I was too much of an introvert to even imagine that.
Assessing any Baggage
Yes, I had “baggage” from my last job, but it’s not what you might think at first. My baggage was that I loved that job. I had a support job that allowed me to help solve technical problems. To me, it couldn’t get better than that. I was given some terrific opportunities to learn and grow. It took years to build enough knowledge and gain a good reputation and I was grateful for every moment.
And I was smart enough to know that my knowledge was specific to my company and not easily transferable. On top of that, the level of peer support I had been used to was going to be very difficult to replace.
Is Job Loss at 50 an Opportunity to Change Careers?
My first step was to ask myself what exactly did I want to do? And I started my research with that thought in mind. At first, I changed my mind so many times that I thought I would never focus. One thought was to return to programming. I had taken several programming classes when I was younger, and I liked it. So, I toyed with the idea of learning more current programming languages. But I soon talked myself out of it, thinking that I’ll be older than everyone in the class and besides, entry-level programming at 49. No, I thought, that’s not for me.
Then I thought about being a manager. But being a manager of what? I had no formal technical training so how would I get an interview? “Hello, my name is Joan and you should hire me to be your applications manager?” No, I thought, no one would hire me. I had no formal managerial training and my technical training was very specific to application support. I knew that if I was going to be in competition for a job with someone more qualified (and who wasn’t), I simply didn’t know enough to get hired.
And of course, I had other wild ideas about a complete career change. But with every idea, there was a myriad of reasons why they wouldn’t be right for me. Mostly it was more about feelings than anything concrete, but I listened to my gut.
Give it Lots of Thought
Going back to the drawing board, I decided to take a different approach. I tried to figure out what I needed – not just financially, but personally. My big prerequisite was that, like my previous job, I had to really enjoy what I was doing, and I had to enjoy the people I worked with. My dad always told me that I was very lucky to find a job I was so happy with, and not to be disappointed if it didn’t happen again. But I had faith, even with this job loss at 50.
Armed with enthusiasm, I began checking the newspaper and several websites for job openings to find ideas. I looked to see the types of jobs advertised, what companies were looking, and if anything was located south of New York. Born and raised in NY, I love it, but the winters can be difficult. I was seriously thinking about getting away from freezing temperatures. And this career setback meant I had time to make that move happen.
Daydream a Little Too
As I was day dreaming about my perfect job, I started to reminisce about a day that always reminded me the level of effort my job required. I was working in the “project room” on a Saturday. This was normal for a Saturday, but this day was different. I walked into work around 10 in the morning and since my task was to install a few patches so the team could begin testing on Monday, I figured I’d be out around one o’clock. This would give me time to grab some lunch and plenty of time to run errands.
So, after backing up the system, I set to work. Time flew and I realized I was a little hungry, so I looked up at the clock to see if it was lunch time yet and almost fell off my chair – it was 8 pm! That’s how project work affected me. Time didn’t matter, only meeting the deadline mattered.
After You Find Your Passion
That was it! That was my passion – the work I loved to do most was project work. Learning new applications, planning a project, forming teams, seeing tasks getting completed, and meeting challenging deadlines. Yes, even the long days were thrilling to me.
My career to date, before that job loss at 50, had centered around classes to learn specific technical applications. I never had formal training that lasted more than a day or two. The thought of going back to school gave me butterflies. I was feeling scared and excited at the prospect, while self-doubts went through my head about it being too late, I had too much to learn, and I wouldn’t interview well, I didn’t know the terminology. Scary thoughts and I was thinking everything all at once. But I knew I had a good track record so now I needed to learn how to talk the walk.
The scary part was the interviews. What if I can’t get through the interview? How could I handle the rejections? I needed to learn more.
So, my next step was to find out more about my options: certificate, degree, what? And what about the schools? What were the classes going to be like and how much was it going to cost? I needed to find out what the requirements were to be a project manager (PM). But, for the first time after my career setback, I had a purpose and a goal. And it felt great!
Find a Good School
Doing more research, I found that the University of Phoenix offered a Certificate in Project Management. That was what I wanted, rather than a long degree; it would take less than a year and didn’t sound too difficult. I applied for my loan and registered for class.
It was an online class so I naively thought that it would begin as soon as I signed on the dotted line. I was disappointed that classes didn’t begin for several long weeks. This time seemed like an eternity to me. Didn’t they know I wasn’t working and this time off was the perfect time to study. I wanted to scream!
When I called the school to see if they had classes that would start sooner, the person on the phone gave a little chuckle and said they wished that all their students would be as enthusiastic. They said sorry but that was the first available class. I would have to wait.
Projects, Yes! Keeping Busy after Job Loss at 50
After patiently waiting, OK, maybe not so patiently, the six 5-week courses finally began. The online class took a bit to get used to, but it was a lot of fun. I had an opportunity to work with people from around the country and they worked at some prestigious companies. We worked individually on projects that lasted the week and then several additional projects during the course as part of a team.
Projects! I was so happy that I had projects to work on again! And I loved them. My life had meaning after the career setback. We learned about team building, risk management, purchasing, our leadership style, and basically lots of topics I had no idea were related to project work. Formally learning about the role of the PM connected the dots for me. This education, together with my experiences, made me want to be a PM more than ever.
So, if you are interested in going back to school after job loss at 50, you may want to give online classes a try. You soon become skilled at work remotely. And chances are that you’ll get an opportunity to meet people from different parts of the world, so it’s very exciting too. But you should note that even though you aren’t travelling to school, it’s just as tough. For me, even though it took many hours of difficult work, the fact that I was working on something that I really loved was a bonus. I highly recommend online classes to bounce back from a career setback.
Stay Motivated in School
I wanted to relax many times during those 5-week courses, but I kept thinking of how embarrassed I would be if I didn’t do well. I had too much experience with project work that telling my family and friends that I couldn’t do well with these courses was not an option for me.
Having a loan to repay was also motivation for me. It would be too upsetting for me to have to pay for an education and not use it after job loss at 50. I like to build on successes and I continually reminded myself to build on the success of that first class. I kept thinking that I just couldn’t slip up. This way of thinking made me determined that anything less than a 4.0 was unacceptable.
With Hard Work Comes Great Rewards
Attending the 6th class, a former employer called with a job offer. They were looking for a PM. I didn’t have my certificate yet, but I was going to be a PM. Wow! Me, a PM. I was walking on air!
Now here I must tell you that this job lasted only a year. But, the good news is that was because the team did such a great job meeting the deadline, I was recommended for an even better opportunity. They needed a project manager for a large corporate project. I would be installing the same system for several more newspapers around the country.
This turned out to be not only a wonderful opportunity to work on something I loved, but to meet amazing people. The one aspect about project management is that you work in teams which is an incredible way to accomplish your goals and meet lifelong friends. I continued on with the company and provided application support for the systems I implemented as a PM for 8 years after the projects were over.
If I had not lost the job that I loved so dearly, I never would have had the opportunities I had or met the people I did. I never would have been a PM, but would have always wondered if I could do it and if I would be any good at it.
Be Kind to Yourself
Of all the takeaways from my story, I hope you realize that questioning yourself and doubting yourself are not necessarily a bad thing. Use self-doubt to realize what you are good at and build on your successes. These are your stepping-stones and will help you lift yourself up after a career setback. You can accomplish great things, but it has to start with one belief. You.
My wish for you is that you find your strengths, pursue them and defy all odds! Chances are you will amaze yourself!
Job Loss at 50: 7 Steps to Take if it Happens to You
1. Take some time to feel better.
Leaving a job without already having a new one is unsettling. While this is not a reason to feel sorry for yourself, it is the perfect time to think about you.
Yes, it’s important to get a job right away, but it’s also important for you to get your confidence back. It may not be a consolation to you now, but believe it or not, losing a job may be a new door opening for you. Read: 21 Great Successes Who Got Fired.
Because I skipped this important first step, it took me quite a while to get over my career setback. Don’t let that happen to you if you have a job loss at 50 or any other age. If you need it, talk to someone. Vent. Get it off your chest and move on.
2. Address your baggage.
You may think you’ve addressed your baggage, but you haven’t really until you learn how to deal with it. Don’t just realize what your baggage is, but learn how to carry it gracefully. By graceful I mean it’s personal, don’t be the person that makes it obvious to anyone that will listen.
3. Think about you.
What would make you happy? What would you like to do? Spend some time soul-searching. What is off your list of potential jobs? Narrow down your search and think about the possibility of the career change you’ve been thinking about lately.
4. Consider job loss at 50 as an opportunity to further your education.
You don’t have to stick to what you have always done. Think about a career change. Really think about it. Take a few classes to find out what you enjoy doing. You may find that you have a few inexpensive options. Check into colleges that let you audit a class. That’s a great option if you aren’t sure what to do.
If you live in the US, the Small Business Association can help you, and their classes are reasonably prices. Other countries may have comparable services, so do some research to find out what resources are available in your location. A side benefit is that during the interview you can say what you are doing to take advantage of this time unemployed. Recruiters like to hear about the creative ways you are using your down-time after job loss.
5. Read some technical or leadership books.
Make a list of the books you’ve always wanted to read but never had the time to open before this career setback. You can work a good book into your next interview. This shows potential employers that you are both enthusiastic and energetic.
Once you narrow your focus, see what is out there for you. And if you aren’t getting satisfaction within a reasonable period, go back to Step 3.
6. Job Loss at 50: Don’t beat yourself up.
Realize that things are not always within your control. Furthermore, the process may take a bit longer than you hoped originally. Be patient but persistent.
7. Relax and find your passion.
Did you ever sleep on a problem and wake up with an answer? Our mind is a wonderful thing. If you give it enough material to stimulate thought, then relax a little, your subconscious will work on the problem. So as much as reading “career” material and having a hobby is important, relaxation time is also necessary to de-stress..
And here’s more about that downtime. Are you stepping away from the job search to enjoy your hobbies? You should. Don’t give up the things you previously did for your sanity. Read a book, take in a movie. Take a day off to think about anything except the job search and the career setback.
Finding a job is hard work so learn to fit it into your day with enough time with family, friends, hobbies and downtime, and you will soon be enjoying a wonderful, fulfilling career.
Remember, when you second-guess yourself then you’re back to the Step 3 again. You can also consider looking at this list while you have a job, even if it’s only a reality-check to be sure you are in the right place for you. It’s your career so be sure to invest in it wisely.
How Would You Reinvent Yourself?
I hope you enjoyed this article and have found some things you can try to make your career more enjoyable. They worked for me when I had an unexpected job loss at 50. May you build on your successes for a long, successful career. Wishing you the best life has to offer!
About the Writer
Realizing her dream of moving south, Joan is happily living in South Texas about 16 miles south of Houston. About 3 years ago, to work off minor aches and pains from all the desk-work over the years, she started exercising.
Learning that exercises and nutrition go hand-in-hand, Joan has been researching related topics. Shortly after another career setback, she pursued an interest in learning more about website design.
Combining these passions, she began working with a PE teacher and personal trainer, and is sharing information about making lifestyle changes people can make to improve their health. You can see her work at Professionals Health Connection.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to reinvent yourself? Did you choose a different career or stay the course? What resources did you use to help you with job loss at 50 or any other age?