for release March 7, 2003
Need a New Job? Reinvent Yourself
I don’t know what you think of when you hear the words, “government bureaucrat,” but Jane, according to a description given to me by a friend, was a woman who had worked all her life for the government. Jane’s work was institutional, pushing papers, conforming to forms and regulations. Officially the definition includes, “an official who is rigidly devoted to the details of administrative procedure,” and Jane fit the part. She apparently looked the part, too. I picture a grey straight suit, no-nonsense hair cut, plain pumps.
But when Jane retired, she launched a second career, and began painting the most beautiful paintings with bright colors: everything she had not been for all of her life. She let her hair grow, and took to wearing the wild bright colors often favored by artist-types.
This caught my friend’s imagination: what kind of person and talent was pent up all those years, he wondered. Maybe it wasn’t so much pent up, but rather a natural evolving. Perhaps she loved being a “bureaucrat” but decided to reinvent herself. Maybe it is what she always wanted to do when she retired.
Ever since I spent time around the hospital nursery (when I was a new mother), I have thought it would be great fun to work in a hospital nursery. Maybe I will retire to a hospital nursery: that would be reinventing myself.
Sometimes such efforts at midlife change do not work out very well. Yet you learn much from the experience. My father at the age of 52 sold his farm after farming successfully all of his adult life. We moved 900 miles to northern Florida where he and some friends started a mobile home factory. He was voted in as president. It always kind of blew my mind to think of his transition from farmer to factory president. The transition was probably ill advised, as the factory ultimately had to close its doors within five years. But he weathered all these changes very well without becoming unduly depressed, probably because the career change was of his own choosing. Overall, it was not a negative experience for our family. He returned to farming until his health made him retire many years later.
In the newsletter Bottom Line, Joanna Laufer and Kenneth S. Lewis write about persons who changed careers in midlife. According to a Roper survey, most people aged 45 to 74 do plan to work some during their retirement years, and the authors say, “Our research shows that more people in this age group are choosing to make life and career changes in order to follow their hearts’ desires.” (December 15, 2002).
One story I liked is about a woman named Rosemary, who enjoyed growing herbs. After she quit her job for a major retailer, she went into business for herself and founded a company called, (you guessed it), “Thyme From Rosemary,” supplying organically grown herbs and vegetables to top chefs. The local paper asked her to write a gardening column, which led to speaking engagements and giving cooking classes. Finally she wrote a book on growing and using herbs. “I’ve been able to make a living at what I love,” says Rosemary. “What could be better than that?”
That seems to be what it’s all about: doing something you love. If that has not been possible during your working years, when the demands of food, rent, maybe college payments, and braces keep you from quitting your “day” job, at least during your retirement years you should try to do what you enjoy.
Sometimes midlife changes are forced upon us. Stacy was faced with divorce and single parenting, and making a living when she had no skills. She had not gone to college, and for the kinds of jobs she wanted, she knew a college degree would be crucial. So she found a college where she could complete a great deal of her diploma at home, while working and also being present for her children. She eventually got her degree in psychology, and now works for a child and social service agency in Alberta.
Sometimes people are simply suffering burnout in their job, especially when they’ve held an emotionally or physically demanding job, or a position with much stress and a crazy pace. Pam had a very stressful job as athletic director at a small private college. Even though she really enjoyed sports and her job, the stress left her tired, frequently sick on her stomach, and sleepless. She had always been an outdoorsy type, so she made a drastic job switch and worked awhile for a landscaping business. She enjoyed the fact that she could leave her job at work, but after a few years, found a new job as director of an animal shelter. A natural affection for animals was another deep love of her life.
Maybe these stories and ideas will plant seeds that will help you blossom into fulfilling and meaningful work—now, later, or through volunteering.
For a free copy of a booklet, When Your Work is Killing You, write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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