This article is part of a month-long series about transitions; at least one story per week will focus on new ways of living and thinking about ourselves.
Recently I decided to go back to work, the hourly-pay kind of work. I mean my boys aren’t boys anymore, and in a couple of too-short years, they are off to college or wherever. My husband is in the process of retiring, so it seemed like a good time to get out of the house. Besides, I’m not getting any younger, and I hadn’t had a straight job in 30 years. It was time for me to consider what the next phase of my life might look like. I’ve held a number of successful freelance positions: a jingle singer, a song writer, a recording artist, a publisher, a mother, a wife.
These were all jobs of passion, but this time I wasn’t looking for a career, just little diversion, something I could walk away from if I wanted to. The last time I had an hourly-paying job I was 22 working at the front desk of a hotel in Chicago. I was single with no responsibilities. Everyone I worked with was young, and so was I. Jump back into the young working world now? I hardly knew where to start.
Midlife Soul Searching
So some months back, I did some soul searching to narrow down what I might want to get out of a job at this point in my life. Part-time. Good pay. Something I’m interested in. Nothing I have to take home emotionally or physically. Something new, perhaps, and challenging enough to make me use my brain. Something I might even enjoy.
I wanted part-time work. Good pay. Something I’m interested in. Nothing I have to take home emotionally or physically.
I considered working at the school district, but I knew I would have no enthusiasm for it once my kids were gone. I thought about going back to graduate school since I would probably be a much better student at this age, but after adding up what it would cost and how I would likely never make that back, it seemed a poor investment. I am willing to go out on a limb, but within financial reason.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just keep writing songs and lasso back that music career in which I’d been so successful. I have had a #1 song for God’s sake. Tempting, but that wouldn’t work for a number of reasons. For one thing, to really chase music again, I would need to travel to where my connections are—Nashville. That would take me away from my family during these precious last years while my sons still live at home. Also, it’s very youth driven and hard for a woman to remain relevant in the music biz as she ages. Sigh. And frankly, the subject matter of my songwriting at this point in my life might not be good match for young artists these days.
Holes In my Résumé: A Stacked Deck?
I have heard that the deck is stacked against older women, especially ones who have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time. Countless articles have lamented that being a mother is severely undervalued, unless of course you’re Beyoncé. I had to face it. This might be an uphill battle. Perhaps I couldn’t be too picky after all. I allowed myself a moment of self-pity then I quit dwelling on the negative crap. How can I change the outcome if I don’t put myself out there, scary as that may be? So I scraped together a really short list of options. I’m good with money management, but that sounded less than satisfying. I’m very good with technology—my VCR never blinked 12:00.
I had to face it. This might be an uphill battle. Perhaps I couldn’t be too picky after all.
I knew a guy who worked at a technology company, and when I talked to him about my interest in working there, he lit up. It was a better reaction than I could have possibly hoped. So what the hell, I would submit a resume….if I had one. Crap! I needed a résumé? Enter every insecurity I ever had. I threw something together highlighting my career in music and how I had used technology all along, possibly an obvious attempt to veil the gaping hole in my work timeline. I added my years of volunteering in the kids’ classrooms and the PTA. I tossed it all up in there and hit send. It took about a week, but they offered me an interview.
The First Interview
The first interview was fun (not), a large group of mostly male, almost-enthusiastic 20-somethings and me. I felt like their mother—I was at least twice their age. Yikes. Even the lovely young woman who conducted the interview was more than 10 years younger. We were asked a few questions and went around the group answering. I was oddly relaxed as I listened to the “kids’” responses. On my turn I tried to be sincere, thoughtful, and honest in my answers. I talked about how working on the PTA board and with the school gave me experience in listening and problem solving where sometimes a solution seemed unlikely. Seriously! I talked about my PTA experience with a group of 20 somethings, at a job interview. WTF? I had been reduced to this.
Seriously! I talked about my PTA experience with a group of 20 somethings, at a job interview. WTF? I had been reduced to this.
Whatever, I thought, sure that I’d blown it. This was probably just a good opportunity to relearn how to interview. I really started wondering if I would be able to get a job after all this time. So no one was more surprised than I when, after a month and five more interviews, I was hired. Yes, five interviews, for an hourly paying job. Geez! Times, they had surely changed.
In hindsight I suspect the company did appreciate my life experience. Maybe they saw me as settled, dependable, and empathetic, all qualities that are helpful when dealing with customers, especially in technology.
Long Days On My Feet
I’ve been working now for almost a year, and I can say that I not only like it, but I’m good at it. I admit, though, that there have been some adjustments. I work long shifts on my feet, so comfy footwear suddenly became a priority. If only shoes were all it took to feel like I had the energy of a 20 year old. Ha! The truth is I’m often exhausted at the end of a long day and need my sleep to function, at least 6 or 7 hours of it, not including late-night pee breaks. My younger co-workers don’t need sleep—they bounce back even after pulling an all-nighter. They’ve invited me to go out with them, but I would need to find a designated sleeper.
My family misses all those little Mom extras I used to quietly perform in their wakes.
My family has had to adjust to not having me to kick around anymore. They miss all those little Mom extras I used to quietly perform in their wakes. My youngest son has started making my special chocolate chip cookie recipe, and he’s even improved upon it. Both boys have jobs now and are beginning to be more self-sufficient. Still, it never fails that they forget to bring something to school, and now I can’t bail them out, which is actually a good thing. And my husband, well, he’s just trying to keep out of my way while I find my new center.
Adjusting My Midlife Perspective
The biggest adjustment for me is perspective. Since my previous music business work involved my lifelong passion, I have had to tweak my work fulfillment expectations. I’m no longer pushing my brand like I once did as a songwriter, and I don’t own the copyrights to what I sell. This is a tough one because to some degree I am less invested. I miss the euphoria of finishing what felt like a great song and getting immediate positive feedback from my peers. I am still working through some of that, and I know it’s not realistic to think this job could feel like that career. I’m trying to appreciate it for what it is.
I’m trying to assimilate into this world of young people who were born as much as 30 years after me.
Still, working with millennials could have been a challenge—based on the endless articles that describe their short attention spans as employees. But to a large degree I have found them to be conscientious and intelligent. They treat me like I’m one of the gang. They talk to me about what’s going on in their lives—everything from romantic calamity to the latest rap music to video games—and ask about what’s going on in mine. They can relate to my stories about my teenage kids perhaps because they recently were teenage kids. I find myself truly interested, and I don’t hold back doling out motherly advice. Most seem to love it or hide their irritation well.
An Honorary Millennial?
Some days I feel like an honorary Millennial, but more than that I believe I’m somewhat of a bridge between generations. Technology, like the music business, is significantly youth driven, but every age is trying to embrace it. Simply by my presence I lend some amount of inspiration to customers, who at times may feel overwhelmed.
At the same time, I’m trying to assimilate into this world of young people who were born as much as 30 years after me. My peers are eclectic in every way imaginable, e.g. race, politics, religion, gender preference, hair color, skin color, tattoos, and yes, age. I am glad I’ve been given the opportunity to embrace their uniqueness. It’s mind opening to be part of such a rich and diversified environment and better still to feel necessary in that ecosystem. They matter to me, and I matter to them.
Sure, I miss being my own boss, but these are good trade offs. It’s a brave, new world and I’m just happy to be part of it at midlife AND make some bank.